JOIN A UNIQUE EXPERIMENT: How can we save democracy in a post-COVID 19 world?

Have your say on how to save democracy in a post COVID-19 world

Join the discussion on our open Facebook group or email your comments through to Mark.Evans@canberra.edu.au.

At the end of last year we started writing a book entitled Ten Ways to Save Democracy commissioned by Palgrave Macmillan. We were writing in the context of the lowest level recording of public trust and satisfaction with Australia’s democratic arrangements set against a global democratic malaise, the rise of debased semi-democracies and the Brexit debacle in the United Kingdom. Democracy was under attack on a global scale and there was an urgent need for a book that provided an understanding of the dynamics underpinning the pre-pandemic crisis and mapped out potential pathways to renewal. Then COVID-19 hit.

Unsurprisingly COVID-19 has compelled us to rethink how we approach the book. The intrinsic value of democracy has not diminished but how it is practiced is transforming in a range of different ways as we write. The emergence of the virtual Parliament in the UK and the National Cabinet in Australia are just two institutional examples in this regard. We have also witnessed a renaissance in public faith in science and evidence informed policy-making. Even the media has enjoyed renewed confidence in its reporting, particularly public broadcasters. 

Most significantly, after a decade of disappointment with digital democratic innovation, governments and citizens around the world  are beginning to embrace opportunities for digital participation. More and more citizens appear to be up for digital citizenship than ever before. And, governments are increasingly recognising the need to institutionalise citizen voice in pandemic recovery processes. Select Committees in the UK Parliament, for example, have used online “evidence checks” to scrutinise the basis for policy. The evidence checks operate for one-month and use targeted outreach and social media strategies to invite comments from knowledgeable stakeholders and members of the public about the rigour of evidence underpinning new policy proposals.

In Taiwan, a participatory governance process called vTaiwan has been initiated by civic rights activists in collaboration with government ministers with the aim of building consensus on legislative proposals related to the digital economy before they are introduced. vTaiwan combines large-scale online participation with smaller digital gatherings.

There is also the need to address democratic deficits that have emerged during crisis management processes themselves such as the erosion of civil liberties due to the withdrawal of certain individual rights. This has included the right to vote caused by electoral disruptions in Ethiopia, as well as 15 US states. And Texas and Ohio governments have moved to delay non-essential medical procedures that include abortions impacting on women’s pro-choice reproductive rights.

We have also witnessed increased state surveillance through the use of smartphone location tracking, facial recognition and social media monitoring undermining freedoms of expression and association and exacerbating imbalances in military-security-civil relations.

In short, how we understand and practice democratic renewal has come into sharp focus over the past few months. 

WE THEREFORE NEED YOUR HELP to ensure that we are focusing on appropriate conceptual issues, drawing on the right areas of reform in terms of strengthening democratic practice and identifying credible pathways to reform. For example, knowledge of any stellar international examples of democratic innovation during the pandemic that will be durable post-pandemic would be particularly welcome.

We propose the follow format for our deliberation.

Over the next six months we will post a draft chapter of the book every three weeks and request comments on each chapter via this open Facebook group. If you’re not on Facebook but would still like to participate, email your comments through to Mark.Evans@canberra.edu.au.

We will then synthesise the comments, post a rejoinder on the lessons that we will draw upon for subsequent redrafting of the chapter and publish the next draft chapter for comment.

We will also convene regular live chats and panel discussions around key sections of the book.

You can access the draft introduction to the book (PDF, 453KB).

And to give you a sense of what we are proposing the book looks like; see the structure of the book (PDF, 358KB).

Thank you for helping us with this unique experiment at this crucial time and for being a true champion of liberal democracy.