Democra-tech is leaving the lab.

There was a time when societies had less access to information. There used to be a small minority of influencers who had strong sway on people’s opinions. But times have changed. Technology has empowered more individuals to have stronger voices and make them heard, whether through blogs, online communities or crowdfunding. And whilst many ’cause-based’ and ’cause-funding’ platforms exist such as FundlyGo Fund Me and Change.org, combining opinions and direct action on a single platform in an engaging and interactive way has been a challenge.

Enter Brigade. Last week saw the launch of Brigade (in Beta), a platform backed by Silicon Valley heavyweights Ron Conway and Marc Benioff and Sean Parker that has been dubbed the ‘Tinder for politics‘. Brigade allows people to easily share their beliefs on any issue, influence policy and organise with others (supporters) to take action. At its core, Brigade aims to bring to civic life into the realm of engagement that other social platforms have in our lives – Facebook for friends, Twitter for interests, LinkedIn for work, Brigade for politics. This will be no small feat as James Windon – President at Brigade has pointed out from his experiences with Causes.com:

Civic duty is the brussels sprouts of the internet. Everyone knows it is good for them but most people don’t like the taste.

How does Brigade work?

Brigade is addictive. Spend 5 minutes on the platform and you will understand why.     It starts by allowing users to track trending topics, express opinions on the topics they are interested in and compare opinions with friends and supporters. For example I have been following the recent discussion about ‘Internet Policy’ on the platform where opinions like “Comcast and Time Warner should be allowed to merge” or “The FCC should regulate the internet as a public utility” are divided as to whether people agree or disagree with these positions opinion.

It also allows users to create their own opinions and ask supporters to take a position. Very quickly you can see where you stand on popular topics like immigration, discrimination, drug policy, gun policy and health care. The ‘Tinder-like’ feature comes into play as you scroll through other users and see how similar your positions are – (e.g. I share 75% same view on topics as Ron Conway).

A new business model for democracy

Politics is big business particularly in the US. Billions are spent on campaigns and electoral process. The Economist published a piece last year highlighting that the 2012 US elections including congressional races cost up to $7Bn. US elections are expensive because the US is a big, rich country and reaching a population of 300 million in competitive markets costs a lot. Even in Australia where it is compulsory to vote, the 2013 election cost almost $200m. Brigade offers the ability to short-cut the information disequilibrium between constituents, lobbyists, political parties and politicians. Think of Newspoll or Gallop poll on steroids, your local politician being able to poll constituents on local issues or never having to recieve a political flyer in the mail again not to mention enabling voting. What it comes down to is – how much would a politician or lobbyist pay for information on how key constituents might vote on their proposed legislation?

Democra-tech and organisational governance/culture

The acts of sharing opinions, taking positions and organising action is very similar to governance in organisations. Whilst enterprise social media (e.g. Yammer) has prevalence in many companies, often these platforms focus on social aspects of the workplace rather than decision making. A ‘Brigade for work’ may have the effect of matching employees to decisions, interest groups, polling opinions of parties with interests in strategic or operational decision making and increasing productivity (we could all use few less meetings!). It may also provide a unique view of organisational culture.

The future of Democra-tech

A new form of Democra-tech is leaving the lab. In addition to Brigade there are other platforms aiming to bring democracy to the fingertips of citizens such as DemocracyOS. Whilst these platforms represent strides toward an ideal of E-Democracy particularly in terms of engaging citizens on civic issues the true test will be whether Democra-tech can achieve sustained engagement like its social media counterparts. As Millennials become politically minded it may just stand a chance of engaging them an new generations in the issues they care about and how those issues impact their communities.

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