The intersection between technology and politics might be most immediately associated with US, especially since rumours started circulating about Mark Zuckerberg running for President. However, here in the UK, there are a range of exciting startups working to improve our political system in various ways.
Since the controversy of Brexit, the application of the power of technology to political matters has gained momentum, with innovators seeking to make politics more accessible, representative and progressive. We’ve compiled a list of the most inspiring UK organisations working in this area.
Founded in 2010 and coordinated by Sym Roe and Joe Mitchell, Democracy Club is a community of people working on projects designed to improve our democratic system in a variety of ways. The Club crowdsources and maintains a list of political candidates; runs a polling station finder; builds information services that help voters find out more about political candidates; maintains an updated register of elections - local and national - happening across the UK; and collects photographs of election leaflets in a public archive. There is no better starting point if you’re interested in the work being done at the intersection between tech and politics - find out more here.
Newspeak House is a building in Bethnal Green, London, owned by founder Edward Saperia. In 2016, Ed decided to utilise the building as a “hackspace for politics”. In essence, Newspeak House has become a hub for activists, technologists, entrepreneurs and other innovators to collaborate on ideas and projects that, among other things, have the potential to improve the UK’s political system. One of Newspeak House’s core principles lies in the idea that technology, developing as rapidly as it is, has the potential to modernise and improve our political institutions. To this end, as well as general work and events space, Newspeak House runs a Fellowship programme for people working on particularly promising ideas. You can check out any upcoming Newspeak House events or read more about it here.
mySociety is a UK-based social enterprise that builds a range of digital technologies which empower political engagement and innovation. These are focused around three key themes:
- Freedom of Information: Alaveteli is a platform that allows anybody to run a freedom of information (FOI) website in their own jurisdiction. Each website publishes all requests and responses online, boosting transparency.
- Democracy: mySociety has built an impressive range of tools here. Pombola collects and presents information on politicians and parliamentary transcripts and matches voters to politicians who represent them. TheyWorkForYou does likewise, deciphering parliamentary activity to demonstrate exactly how MP’s vote and stand on various issues. YourNextRepresentative allows people to crowdsource and display details of electoral candidates. WriteInPublic allows people to email their representatives at all levels of government. And last but not least, SayIt published transcripts from all levels of government in a form that is searchable and shareable.
- Better cities: While strictly speaking these tools are perhaps more civic rather than political, they are still aimed at engaging citizens in governance projects. FixMyStreet is a map-based reporting platform. Mapumental is a map focused on journey times, not distances. And MapIt offers point-to-point boundary-mapping software, thereby matching users with the right services in their constituency.
In addition to all of this, mySociety also takes a leading role in research, and even organises an annual civic-technology conference, most recently held in Florence earlier this year. You can check out all the interesting work they do here.
Founded by ex Liberal Democratic leader, Paddy Ashdown, in the summer of 2016, More United is a crowdfunding platform that allows users to support progressive politicians from across the political spectrum. Motivated by the ever-growing divisive sentiment in the UK, More United hopes to bring people together and tackle intolerance in society. The platform’s name was inspired by the words of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered in June 2016.
The 5 values that More United requires the MPs they support to uphold are:
- Opportunity: fighting for a fair economy that bridges the gap between rich and poor
- Democracy: seeking to provide citizens with genuine input into policy-making
- Environment: tackling climate change and protecting our environment
- Openness: welcoming immigration and working closely with the EU
- Tolerance: looking to build a diverse society which celebrates and respects diversity
Read more about the platform, or get involved here.
Swap My Vote
Swap My Vote seeks to tackle the fact that, due the UK’s current voting system, a high proportion of votes are wasted. In 2015, over half of votes cast went to losing candidates and therefore received no direct representation in parliament. The idea that votes won’t lead to direct representation contributes to voter apathy and lower turnouts. Swap My Vote seeks to tackle this problem by adopting a sharing-economy approach, allowing voters to swap their votes with somebody elsewhere in the country to ensure that each voter can cast their vote where it counts most.
Find answers to your questions on how 'Swap My Vote' works here.
Launched in 2016, Crowdpac is a tech platform designed to boost political engagement in three key ways:
- By building algorithms that provide accurate information about politicians, elections and the political issues at stake. This includes mapping candidates across the political spectrum and matching users’ views with candidates, who are also invited to use the service
- Through a crowdfunding mechanism that allows users to fund candidates and campaigns.
- By reducing the barriers to standing for office through the provision of information and guidance.
Head over to the Crowdpac website to find out more.
WebRoots Democracy (also known as the Institute for Digital Democracy) is a think tank with two notable differences: it is voluntary, and led by young people. Its focuses is the intersection between technology and democracy, aiming to contribute ideas and evidence-based technology policy proposals for the modernisation and enhancement of the UK’s democratic system.
Watch this short video to get snapshot of what WebRoots Democracy is all about, or find out more:
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Originally published September 12, 2017