“Fostering public debate and building a shared future” was the central theme in the lab I visited. Two completely different initiatives were presented- “questionnez vos elus” and the “It’s all about freedom” campaign in the Philippines.

Offline or Online?

You have to meet people where they are. Where are the people nowadays- offline or online? The World Forum for Democracy addresses the need to rewire democracy in the digital age. But are all the citizens digitally active? Do all the people have access to technologies and internet?

The answer is clearly NO! Not even half of the world’s population has access to the internet. In the European Union it is also only 63 percent of the population that is connected to the Internet, according to Robert Walter (Member of the UK parliament). Still, for the people who do have access, it is crucial to rethink the structure of our institutions and to establish an interaction between citizens and those institutions and politicians.

Inform, mobilize, and bringing together

FACEP, a non-profit association in France launched a project called questionnez vos elus, which aims at creating trust between citizens and the elected people. ‘How is that possible?’ one might ask. The essence of the project is to create an interactive website where citizens have the opportunity to pose specific questions to politicians. By reducing the power distance between citizens and institutions, citizens might feel like their voice matters more which could consequently result in an increasing political participation. As nice as that sounds, what is the actual impact of such an interactive platform?

Is the interaction on the website superficial or is it contributing to fostering public debate?

Moussa Laraba gave the example of Obama who has around 40 million followers that want to interact with him on social media. Does Obama have time to respond to all the questions and comments? Of course not. In order to facilitate the desired interaction, Obama outsources his answers by assigning people to do the job of interacting with citizens. This in return totally interferes with the idea of linking citizens with politicians.  Nevertheless, the conclusion of the discussion was that an initiative like this is beneficial for the creation of trust, information, and mobilization.

“The greatest freedom of all is the freedom of no responsibility”

This was said during the discussion about the “It’s all about freedom” campaign supported by the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation in the Philippines. Despite the support of the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation, the project is completely designed and implemented by Filipinos. What is freedom? During the discussion it became apparent that freedom is rather subjective. One participant raised the opinion that “the greatest freedom of all is the freedom of no responsibility”. While this is rather discussable, other participants raised questions such as: can one be free when living in a corrupt state? or can one be free when living below the poverty line? Irrespective of the fact that freedom has different meanings for different people, the main aim of the project is “to foster debate on different issues related to the concept of freedom, identify social and legislative restraints to freedom, and develop and promote policies to enhance political and economic freedom”.

According to Minerva Salao, their aim is to foster public debate by having fun and not by simply revealing statistics. Politics should be more fun and not so “dense, boring and intellectual”. It is important to include the youth and to translate the concept of freedom into everyday language. “Freedom is a culture and a character”- a necessity for practicing democracy. The notion of fostering public debate is picked up by the organization of freedom runs, for instance. The major outcome of such events is the strengthening of ties with senators and members of the House of Representatives.

Sharing, participation, sustainability

The essence of this lab was that the sharing of notions and beliefs and the active participation of citizens and politicians in the interaction process constitute sustainable ways of practicing democratic principles and building a shared future. A concluding statement was: Learn from others but do not copy! Be inspired, but make sure it adapts to your situation.