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TEDGlobal 2014

Pia Mancini: How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era

October 7, 2014

Pia Mancini and her colleagues want to upgrade democracy in Argentina and beyond. Through their open-source mobile platform they want to bring citizens inside the legislative process, and run candidates who will listen to what they say.

Pia Mancini - Democracy activist
Using software to inspire public debate and enable voter engagement, Pia Mancini hopes to upgrade modern democracy in Argentina and beyond. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I have the feeling that we can all agree
00:12
that we're moving towards a new
00:15
model of the state and society.
00:18
But, we're absolutely clueless as to what this is
00:20
or what it should be.
00:25
It seems like we need to have
00:27
a conversation about democracy
00:29
in our day and age.
00:32
Let's think about it this way:
00:34
We are 21st-century citizens, doing our
00:36
very, very best to interact with 19th century-designed
institutions
00:40
that are based on an information technology of the 15th century.
00:47
Let's have a look at some of the
00:52
characteristics of this system.
00:53
First of all, it's designed for an information technology
00:56
that's over 500 years old.
00:59
And the best possible system
01:02
that could be designed for it
01:05
is one where the few make daily decisions
01:06
in the name of the many.
01:10
And the many get to vote once every
couple of years.
01:12
In the second place, the costs of
01:17
participating in this system are
01:19
incredibly high.
01:21
You either have to have a fair
bit of money
01:22
and influence, or you have to devote your entire
01:25
life to politics.
01:30
You have to become a party member
01:31
and slowly start working up the ranks
01:33
until maybe, one day, you'll get
to sit at a table
01:37
where a decision is being made.
01:41
And last but not least,
01:43
the language of the system —
01:45
it's incredibly cryptic.
01:47
It's done for lawyers, by lawyers,
01:49
and no one else can understand.
01:52
So, it's a system where we can
01:55
choose our authorities,
01:58
but we are completely left out on how
those authorities
02:00
reach their decisions.
02:03
So, in a day where a new information technology
02:06
allows us to participate globally
in any conversation,
02:10
our barriers of information are completely lowered
02:16
and we can, more than ever before,
02:19
express our desires and our concerns.
02:23
Our political system remains the same
02:26
for the past 200 years
02:29
and expects us to be contented with being
simply passive recipients
02:33
of a monologue.
02:38
So, it's really not surprising that
02:40
this kind of system is only able to produce
02:43
two kinds of results:
02:46
silence or noise.
02:48
Silence, in terms of citizens not engaging,
02:52
simply not wanting to participate.
02:55
There's this commonplace
[idea] that I truly, truly dislike,
02:58
and it's this idea that we citizens are naturally
03:02
apathetic. That we shun commitment.
03:06
But, can you really blame us
03:09
for not jumping at the opportunity of going
03:10
to the middle of the city in the middle
03:13
of a working day to attend, physically,
03:15
a public hearing that has no impact
03:18
whatsoever?
03:22
Conflict is bound to happen between a system
03:24
that no longer represents, nor has any dialogue capacity,
03:28
and citizens that are increasingly used
03:34
to representing themselves.
03:37
And, then we find noise:
03:40
Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico
Italy, France, Spain, the United States,
03:42
they're all democracies.
03:48
Their citizens have access to
03:50
the ballot boxes. But they still feel the need,
03:52
they need to take to the streets in order
to be heard.
03:57
To me, it seems like the 18th-century
04:02
slogan that was the basis for the formation
04:07
of our modern democracies, "No taxation
04:10
without representation,"
04:13
can now be updated to "No representation
without a conversation."
04:16
We want our seat at the table.
04:23
And rightly so.
04:27
But in order to be part of this conversation,
04:30
we need to know what we want to do next,
04:32
because political action is being able
04:35
to move from agitation
04:39
to construction.
04:41
My generation has been incredibly good at
04:43
using new networks and technologies
04:47
to organize protests,
04:49
protests that were able to successfully
04:52
impose agendas,
04:54
roll back extremely pernicious legislation,
04:56
and even overthrow authoritarian governments.
05:00
And we should be immensely
05:03
proud of this.
05:05
But, we also must admit that we
05:07
haven't been good at using those
05:09
same networks and technologies
05:11
to successfully articulate an alternative
to what we're seeing
05:14
and find the consensus and build
the alliances that are needed
05:20
to make it happen.
05:25
And so the risk that we face
05:27
is that we can create these huge power vacuums
05:29
that will very quickly get filled up by de facto
05:33
powers, like the military or highly
05:37
motivated and already organized groups
05:40
that generally lie on the extremes.
05:43
But our democracy is neither
05:46
just a matter of voting once every
05:48
couple of years.
05:51
But it's not either the ability to bring millions
onto the streets.
05:52
So the question I'd like to raise here,
05:58
and I do believe it's the most important
question we need to answer,
06:01
is this one:
06:05
If Internet is the new printing press,
06:06
then what is democracy for the Internet era?
06:10
What institutions do we want to build
06:14
for the 21st-century society?
06:17
I don't have the answer, just in case.
06:21
I don't think anyone does.
06:25
But I truly believe we can't afford
to ignore this question anymore.
06:26
So, I'd like to share our experience
06:31
and what we've learned so far
06:33
and hopefully contribute two cents
06:35
to this conversation.
06:37
Two years ago, with a group of friends
from Argentina,
06:39
we started thinking, "how can
we get our representatives,
06:43
our elected representatives,
06:47
to represent us?"
06:49
Marshall McLuhan once said that politics
06:53
is solving today's problems with yesterday's tools.
06:57
So the question that motivated us was,
07:02
can we try and solve some of today's problems
07:04
with the tools that we use every single
day of our lives?
07:08
Our first approach was to design and develop
07:12
a piece of software called DemocracyOS.
07:15
DemocracyOS is an open-source web application
07:19
that is designed to become a bridge
07:22
between citizens and their elected representatives
07:25
to make it easier for us to participate
from our everyday lives.
07:28
So first of all, you can get informed so every new
07:34
project that gets introduced in Congress
07:37
gets immediately translated and explained
07:40
in plain language on this platform.
07:43
But we all know that social change
07:46
is not going to come from just knowing
07:49
more information,
07:52
but from doing something with it.
07:53
So better access to information
07:56
should lead to a conversation
07:58
about what we're going to do next,
08:00
and DemocracyOS allows for that.
08:02
Because we believe that democracy is
08:04
not just a matter of stacking up
08:06
preferences, one on top of each other,
08:08
but that our healthy and robust public debate
08:11
should be, once again, one of its fundamental values.
08:15
So DemocracyOS is about persuading
and being persuaded.
08:19
It's about reaching a consensus
08:23
as much as finding a proper way
08:26
of channeling our disagreement.
08:29
And finally, you can vote
08:32
how you would like your elected
representative to vote.
08:34
And if you do not feel comfortable
08:38
voting on a certain issue,
08:40
you can always delegate your vote
08:42
to someone else, allowing
08:44
for a dynamic and emerging social leadership.
08:45
It suddenly became very easy for us
08:51
to simply compare these results
08:52
with how our representatives were
08:55
voting in Congress.
08:57
But, it also became very evident that
08:58
technology was not going to do the trick.
09:00
What we needed to do to was to find
09:04
actors that were able to
09:06
grab this distributed knowledge
09:09
in society and use it to make better
and more fair decisions.
09:12
So we reached out to traditional political parties
09:18
and we offered them DemocracyOS.
09:21
We said, "Look, here you have a platform
that you can use to build
09:23
a two-way conversation with your constituencies."
09:28
And yes, we failed.
09:32
We failed big time.
09:34
We were sent to play
outside like little kids.
09:37
Amongst other things, we were called naive.
09:42
And I must be honest: I think, in hindsight, we were.
09:44
Because the challenges that we face, they're not
09:48
technological, they're cultural.
09:50
Political parties were never willing
09:53
to change the way they make their decisions.
09:55
So it suddenly became a bit obvious
09:59
that if we wanted to move forward
with this idea,
10:01
we needed to do it ourselves.
10:05
And so we took quite a leap of faith,
10:08
and in August last year, we founded
10:10
our own political party,
10:12
El Partido de la Red,
10:14
or the Net Party, in the city of
Buenos Aires.
10:16
And taking an even bigger leap of faith,
10:20
we ran for elections in October last year
10:23
with this idea:
10:28
if we want a seat in Congress,
10:29
our candidate, our representatives
10:32
were always going to vote according to
10:34
what citizens decided on DemocracyOS.
10:37
Every single project that got introduced
10:41
in Congress, we were going vote
10:44
according to what citizens decided
on an online platform.
10:45
It was our way of hacking the political system.
10:50
We understood that if we wanted
10:54
to become part of the conversation,
10:56
to have a seat at the table,
10:58
we needed to become valid stakeholders,
11:00
and the only way of doing it is to play by the
system rules.
11:03
But we were hacking it in the sense that
11:08
we were radically changing the way a political party
11:11
makes its decisions.
11:15
For the first time, we were making our decisions
11:16
together with those who we were
11:20
affecting directly by those decisions.
11:22
It was a very, very bold move for a two-month-old party
11:27
in the city of Buenos Aires.
11:30
But it got attention.
11:32
We got 22,000 votes, that's 1.2 percent of the votes,
11:34
and we came in second for the local options.
11:38
So, even if that wasn't enough to win a
11:43
seat in Congress, it was enough
11:45
for us to become part of the conversation,
11:47
to the extent that next month,
11:50
Congress, as an institution, is launching
11:54
for the first time in Argentina's history,
11:57
a DemocracyOS to discuss,
12:00
with the citizens, three pieces of legislation:
12:02
two on urban transportation and
12:06
one on the use of public space.
12:08
Of course, our elected representatives are not
12:11
saying, "Yes, we're going to vote
12:14
according to what citizens decide,"
12:16
but they're willing to try.
12:18
They're willing to open up a new space
12:20
for citizen engagement and hopefully
12:23
they'll be willing to listen as well.
12:26
Our political system can be transformed,
12:29
and not by subverting it, by destroying it,
12:33
but by rewiring it with the tools that
12:37
Internet affords us now.
12:41
But a real challenge is to find, to design
12:43
to create, to empower those connectors
12:48
that are able to innovate, to transform
12:51
noise and silence into signal
12:55
and finally bring our democracies
12:58
to the 21st century.
13:00
I'm not saying it's easy.
13:02
But in our experience, we actually stand a chance
13:05
of making it work.
13:08
And in my heart, it's most definitely
13:11
worth trying.
13:14
Thank you.
13:15
(Applause)
13:16

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Pia Mancini - Democracy activist
Using software to inspire public debate and enable voter engagement, Pia Mancini hopes to upgrade modern democracy in Argentina and beyond.

Why you should listen
After a disappointing brush with traditional political parties in Argentina, Pia Mancini realized that the existing democracy was disconnected from its citizens -- and that no one was likely to fix it.
 
In response, Mancini helped launch Democracy OS, an open-source mobile platform designed to provide Argentine citizens with immediate input into the legislative process. To promote it, she helped found the Partido de la Red, a new party running candidates committed to legislate only as directed by constituents using online tools for participation.
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