Last month, I attended the annual OECD Forum in Paris (this year’s theme: “Bridging Divides”) where representatives of governments, civil society organisations and the press come together to discuss and debate issues affecting their member countries and the wider world. This year was a little different, though: Holly Richards (OECD public affairs manager) and Vincent Finat-Duclos (OECD Better Life Index project manager), whom I’d met at TICTech a month earlier, had decided to run a Civic Tech Hub with its own track of talks.
Although the space they had been allocated was just a little wooden amphitheatre and screen in the atrium, it attracted a huge amount of interest and most of the talks ended up standing-room-only.
— Ludwig Kayser (@LudwigKayser) June 6, 2017
Talks ranged over all sorts of subjects, from how the Better Life Index has helped engage the OECD with the public of their member states, to how computer coding collaboration platforms could be used to more effectively draft legislation, and even how to use blockchain mechanisms to decentralise democracy while securing it from malicious manipulation. A full list of the talks on the Civic Tech track can be found on the programme site (the farthest right-hand column), though sadly they weren’t among the talks that were filmed for posterity.
All great things start small and it has been suggested that the track’s success may mean that civic tech may find a more central role in OECD Forum 2018. Here’s hoping!
One of the most intriguing things I learned at the forum was in one of the main plenary talks. Virgile Deville of Democracy Earth* told us how the Colombian government has forged a peace deal with the leftist insurgent group FARC. They then ran a referendum last year in the hope of getting a retroactive public stamp of approval for the new state of affairs, but it was unexpectedly defeated by a slim majority.
Democracy Earth went on to perform their own polls on the matter, breaking down the initial yes/no question into a set of more nuanced queries. From this research, they found that the public were in fact strongly in support of a peace deal – as long as this would not involve integrating insurgent leaders into the government. This reiterates a lesson that those of us with an interest in public consultation should take to heart: the way questions are framed can have a significant effect on the kinds of answers we get, and complex and multi-faceted issues rarely come down to crude binary choices. You can read about all of Democracy Earth’s intriguing findings on the Columbian referendum here.
[* Edited 27/07/17. Because of my atrocious note-taking skills, I originally attributed this research to the Pew Research Centre, who at the same conference had been showing us fascinating but unrelated stats about public economic confidence in OECD countries. The insight that Democracy Earth gleaned is extremely important and they deserve credit for the excellent work they did. Many thanks to Nuria Villanova from the OECD for pointing me the right way.]