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Embracing Digital Democracy: A Call for Building an Online Civic Commons

December 07, 2016 by John Gastil, Robert C. Richards Jr.

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Recent advances in online civic engagement tools have created a digital civic space replete with opportunities to craft and critique laws and rules or evaluate candidates, ballot measures, and policy ideas. These civic spaces, however, remain largely disconnected from one another, such that tremendous energy dissipates from each civic portal. Long-term feedback loops also remain rare. We propose addressing these limitations by building an integrative online commons that links together the best existing tools by making them components in a larger “Democracy Machine.” Drawing on gamification principles, this integrative platform would provide incentives for drawing new people into the civic sphere, encouraging more sustained and deliberative engagement, and feedback back to government and citizen alike to improve how the public interfaces with the public sector. After describing this proposed platform, we consider the most challenging problems it faces and how to address them.