Novel Online Approaches to Citizen Engagement

by Rebecca Rumbul

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The UK is a world leader in developing and implementing civic technologies. mySociety was one of the first NGOs to coalesce around the principles of access and empowerment of citizens through emerging technologies, having begun life with their first launch, the ‘FaxYourMP’ project back in 1995. There are, however, lessons to be learned in how to embed such innovations within a wider and more diverse environment. Civic technologies in New Zealand and Australia, whilst operating at a lower-volume scale, operate within an environment of greater ethnic diversity and anecdotally seem to engage higher proportions of users from groups under-represented amongst users in the UK, namely young people, women, and individuals with non-white ethnicities. Aligning user demographic breakdown with population averages not only solidifies the legitimacy of such platforms as genuinely democratic tools, it ensures that a broad spectrum of interests and issues within communities are catered for equally by government agencies. mySociety’s long-term mission is to understand the impacts of civic technologies. To do that, we need to understand how we can engage everyone in society, not just digital enthusiasts. This research sought to examine how civic technologies in New Zealand and Australia are used, and how the structural political, educational and digital environment contributes to the use of civic technologies by diverse communities.