Lack of civic engagement is a source of fragility and the potential demise of any democracy. Many governments and organizations have tried to solve this problem by pumping more information and more data at citizens in the name of transparency and engagement. What the government expects in return is feedback and engagement from citizens. But what if that doesn’t work?
The potential for new technologies to bolster feedback loops is game-changing. Over the past two decades, a growing body of research suggests links between ICTs and economic growth, social development, and higher levels of democratic participation.
Public consultation is an essential component of a well-functioning democracy. Governments at all levels (municipal, state, federal, etc.) should consult with residents and meaningful engagement can enhance citizen’s ability to affect public policy development and decision-making in their communities.
As Vice President of Development and Impact at vizzuality, I help connect-the-dots between our environmental and social impact clients and our project teams who design and develop engaging digital tools that tell stories through data.
“Feedback is great but if you just lived and breathed it – it’s hard to hear.”This insight from one of my clients perfectly captures a major barrier to closing feedback loops. Hearing feedback is hard. Accepting the feedback someone gives you, really considering it and then incorporating it into your actions, is a scary and deceptively difficult thing to do.
In today’s complex world strategy needs to be built around questions, not plans. Plans are fine when you already have all the answers and it’s just a matter of organizing resources to execute. But we do not have answers for many of the complex questions we face in aid and philanthropy. Closing feedback loops means accepting we do not have all the answers. And to do that, we need new approaches.
Market development programmes operate in highly complex environments. This isn’t new insight. We spend countless hours and resources analyzing markets. We attempt to create systemic change through behaviour change. We meticulously monitor our progress and (usually, always) prematurely demand results. We acknowledge the need to experiment – to learn better about what is happening ‘on the ground’ and adapt our interventions accordingly.
Like spaceflight, truly putting citizens at the heart of development – whether in the US or internationally – can seem impossibly complex. It is one thing to set out to close feedback loops, to want to genuinely adapt based on what citizens tells us they want and need.