New democracy is something you can do!

Kalle Nieminen of Sitra’s Synergise Finland development program blogs about new implementations of democracy.
The word ‘synergy’ implies energy, interaction, dynamics and the interest in new ideas. Synergy is created when people get active, creative, proactive and enthusiastic. Sitra’s Synergise Finland development program looks for solutions to today’s challenges from these perspectives. The first forum was held in spring 2011, focusing on the concept of new work. The topic of second forum, and the theme of this blogging, was new democracy.

We believe that, with cooperation across traditional social borders, it is possible to invite something new and answer to really hard main questions about today societies. New democracy forum brought together 30 people who looked issues about the theme from very different viewpoints. They worked together trying to find ideas and concrete solutions to renew democracy. What did they learn? What did we do? And what is the future of democracy? Here is a small summary about the results of new democracy forum.
Paradigm is changing. When we speak about New, we accept that we have something that is old. In this case old democracy is voting every four or six years. As one attendee of forum says: “Do you want to play football, in a game where you are able to touch the ball every six years?” Ways of influencing are century old. In these days people want to participate and have a conversation, not just to see what somebody else has decided inside big fancy building.
Democracy of the day is communal, open and visualized. New democracy is something you can do, not just something you watch from television.
There are lots of projects going on at grass roots level, which government should notice and take seriously (see this: This grass root movement is what we want to call democracy. Finnish Ravintolapäivä (restaurant day) is a really good example of these kind of projects. Bunch of people just think that everybody should have a right to run a restaurant. So they invented this day when anybody could pop up the restaurant. By doing so, they are testing and showing the limits of governance and starting a good conversation about the issues they saw being wrong in the society.
In New democracy forum we also want to do something concrete. Beside of think tanks we want to promote testing culture. Testing culture means that, when you have an idea you don’t start three years lasting outlining, drafting and planning. Instead of that, test it. Test or pilot could be as small as you want. It don’t have to cover the whole idea, just one corner is enough. Main point is that you test it! Test it as soon as possible. Testing is best way to learn something new and validate ideas.
In this case we made 12 pilots. Regarding the testing culture, we had these 12 ideas about, how to promote democracy. We put our hands to the plough and start doing. It was worth a go! Below I summarize couple of tests, more you can read here (In Finnish, sorry).
Social hub was one of the most successful pilots we made. Idea is that we need free of charge social hub in addition to commercial hubs. In our pilot we found free and empty old office that was waiting for renovation. We bought some coffee and wired up the Internet. After one week, there were over 15 players working with their own projects, but together. Pilot lasted for three weeks and was a great success! During these weeks city of Helsinki noticed that this kind of action could be okay. We also found the organization, that wants to continue work with Social hub.
Another test we made was participative budgeting. An idea behind this is that community can directly decide how to spend part of the public budget. First we visualized Sitra’s budget. After that we committed to spend 115 000 € in a way that participants of forum decided. After open conversation and decision-making event, the money will be used to speed-up three projects. What did we learn about this pilot? Obviously the challenge in this kind of budgeting is, how a big organization like Sitra could change it into a long-lasting culture.
Read more about New democracy forum.
Sitra’s third Synergies Finland forum will start in the autumn. Third forum will concentrate in sustainable economy.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions!
Kalle Nieminen
Trainee at The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra

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