A communicative Experiment on Digital Democracy

TA-SWISS , the Foundation for Technology Assessment, has entered into a communicative experiment: it is seeking public discussion space before the results of the Digital Democracy study are available. In the Politforum Käfigturm, one can participate in the workshop process – SocietyByte visited the analogue part of the exhibition.

“Digital Democracy – An Interactive Journey into the Political Future” – the promise of the current exhibition at the Politforum Käfigturm, is on the one hand an exhibition in the classical sense (with artefacts and an exhibition scenography), but on the other hand also an individual experience, because visitors are invited to undertake a parallel journey through the exhibition spaces themselves with the help of their own smartphones. However, the interaction that the exhibition promises is only possible if several people are on site at the same time, and this interaction in turn takes place in an analogue way by being asked to share one’s thoughts with other visitors. The spatial situation in the Käfigturm is very demanding, as it is very small and on several floors. In order not to be crushed in these narrow conditions, the exhibition’s scenographers have kept to the motto “less is more”. You almost have to look for the objects, they are so sparse. The exhibition also requires a strong accompaniment in the form of a web app that provides contextual knowledge and guidance so that one can concentrate fully on the three individual rooms.

Youth and digital participation

In the first room, we look into numerous mirrors and watch ourselves reading the questions on the mirrors. “How do you think about anonymous digital participation?”. The project was developed by the umbrella organisation of Swiss youth parliaments, it is one of three TA-SWISS projects that are currently still being implemented and will not be published in the classic form until the summer. Young people and politics are a difficult couple, because on the one hand the participation of young people is below average, and on the other hand decisions in politics affect their lives in the long term. The exhibition in the Käfigturm – the setting between research and the communication of research – does not show the results of the TA-SWISS study(s), but rather the questions asked. It is relevant questions that are asked, but rather in an explorative form. A research setting that undoubtedly contributes to a broader perspective, but does not lead to a tangible result, we suspect. For the visitors, the questions therefore offer a starting point to think about why they are interested in politics, how they get involved and whether social media, for example, has a lasting influence on decision-making.

From gamification to democracy

In the second room, we are also confronted with questions, but in a somewhat more advanced and condensed form. The thesis – the condensed thinking about presumed connections about the future of digital democracy, was the intellectual starting point for visualisations. Pupils of the School of Design Bern visualised the theses of GFS Bern; with a gamification approach, the theses can finally be assigned to different visualisations. You are rewarded with a score if you “swipe” correctly. This is a matter of taste, but the approach is interesting and consistent. Finally, at the top of the tower, you land in the scenario technique of Dezentrum. Two senses are served: on the one hand, futuristic objects that you can examine like jewellery in a showcase, and on the other hand, you listen to a science-fiction-like narrative that follows a utopian democratic narrative. These narratives are reminiscent of the rule-free discourse developed by Habermas. In this respect, the exhibition ends less dystopian than one might have expected due to the numerous political scandals surrounding Facebook or Cambridge Analytica. The exhibition is small, compact and appears very tidy. That is refreshing. Also refreshing is the approach of TA-SWISS to start communicating with citizens in addition to the tendered projects before the study results are available. The exhibition provides not only easy access to an explosive topic that has yet to take shape intellectually. The numerous accompanying events of the Politforum are therefore also recommended, practically all of which can be accessed via the livestream.

The exhibition can be seen until 2 October at the Polit-Forum Bern Käfigturm Marktgasse 67. Further information can be found here.

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AUTHOR: Thomas Gees

Dr Thomas Gees is a lecturer at the Institute Public Sector Transformation at BFH Wirtschaft. The historian heads the specialist group "Public Sector Innovation", which supports the public sector in strategic issues of digitalisation and organisational change as well as digital skills.

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