The decisions we make determine the solutions we create and ultimately shape the world we’re living in. Marc Zuckerberg, CEO of the world’s largest social network, raises an important question when he presented Facebook’s global vision this February: ‘Are we building the world we want?’
A fundamental question. In the search of an answer, we must seek answers to questions such as: Does our society and our political processes reflect our values? Who’s in charge of making the decisions that shape our societies? Do the decision-makers come up with solutions that best reflect the values of our societies?
Our society can only reflect our collective values if we as citizens are involved in the political decision-making process and, equally important, if we actively participate in them. We must create a Civically-Engaged Community. Only then can we ensure that the solutions reflect our values.
A new decision-making process needs to be established where citizens participate in political processes. And here are 5 reasons why.
#1: WANT TO FIND THE BEST SOLUTION? INVOLVE THE PEOPLE AFFECTED BY THE PROBLEM.
Involving the people affected by a decision in the decision-making process may sound self-evident. But if we look at how most bureaucratic decisions are made, it’s not what happens in reality.
And it’s not only because governmental institutions don’t involve citizens - by the date of writing, in 2017 the European Commission hosts 55 public consultations, of which 31 are currently open, including ‘Mid-term evaluation of European Citizen Programme’, ‘Public consultation on creative Europe Programme’, and on ‘Building a European Data Community’. Citizens often don’t know about these public consultations or simply don’t get involved.
Yet, the people who are affected by a decision are usually more connected to the topic than experts. Thus, they may offer a diversity of lived experiences and valuable information, interpretations and perspectives about the topic.
The Accidental Invention of Tea Bags
A great example that shows the usefulness of this decision-making principle in action, is the invention of tea bags.
In 1904 the American tea trader Thomas Sullivan sent tea samples in little silk bags to his clients. Instead of opening the bags, the clients put the bags including the tea into hot water. Assuming that these were supposed to be used in the same way as the metal infusers that were common until then.
And ta da - accidentally, tea bags were invented. Sullivan didn’t come up with that idea: It was the customers ‘misuse’ of the samples that created the tea bag we all know today. Equally important, Sullivan responded to the comments from his customers that the mesh on the silk was too fine. Realizing an opportunity to improve his product, Sullivan then developed sachets made of gauze - and created the first purpose-made tea bags.
# 2: TAP INTO NEW, UNEXPECTED SOURCES
Sometimes the best solution might not be found by the most obvious source, or by experts of the discussed topics. Sometimes the best solution is submitted by an unexpected source.
How a Self-Taught Clockmaker Solved a Global Nautic Problem
In the 18th century a clockmaker solved one of the world’s most sought-after maritime problems at that time: He found a solution for accurately measuring longitude while being on sea, something that has cost many ships to sink and thousands of people to die in the open sea. In 1714 the parliament announced a reward of £20.000, an equivalent of around 3.000.000€ today, to anybody in the world who could determine longitude within 30 minutes of time. John Harrisson, self-educated carpenter and clockmaker, was the one to solve the problem.
Opening up the decision-making and innovation process can lead to unexpected solutions by unexpected sources.
By allowing people with a different background, skill set or expertise to participate in your decisions, you might end up with a solution that you’d never have thought about. And that’s great - when that’s the solution that best solves the problem.
# 3: GET MORE DIVERSE IDEAS
Who do you think will come up with the best and most widely accepted solution to a community problem? Experts or the community itself? Well, usually the answer is: neither one or the other.
The key to developing the best and most widely accepted solution is to ask a diverse group of people for their ideas: 50% of policy decisions made in collaboration of government and civil society actors would not have been made by bureaucratic actors alone, according to Carey Doberstein’s study on Collaborative Governance Decision-Making. The data revealed that by collaborating, both parties bring in diverse knowledge and perspectives to the issue at hand. Thus, leading to solutions that would not have been selected nor created without the collaborative effort.
How the City of Vienna Became Smarter by Involving its Citizens
In 2014 Vienna started the award-winning project ‘Digital Agenda Vienna’, asking their citizens in a public consultation to submit ideas on how to use technology to make Vienna smarter. Using Discuto, over 170 ideas have been submitted through and discussed among experts and the public. By today, eight solutions have been developed based on the submitted ideas, including a mobile city app that allows citizens to access city services and information anytime. The project ‘Smart Kids’ connects Vienna’s IT companies to pupils by sending IT professionals to schools to give workshops on programming. The city authorities said that without involving the citizens heavily in all phases from idea generation to execution, they wouldn’t have developed the ideas they came up with in the end.
By involving a more diverse group into our decision-making, naturally we’ll receive more diverse ideas than sticking to our established group. Different experiences trigger different ideas. In addition, through discussion, questioning, and collaboration the members can identify more complete and robust solutions and make better decisions in the end.
# 4: MEET THE DEMAND OF OUR NEXT GENERATION
In today’s connected world, citizens want to participate, collaborate and be part of creating solutions that fit to their own lifestyle and needs.
Technology plays a major role in the new, collaborative decision-making process. As Don Tapscott, an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, says: “There are tools now: wikis, blogs, microblogging, ideation tools, jams, next-generation project management, what I call collaborative decision management. These are social tools for decision making. These are the new operating systems for the 21st-century enterprise in the sense that these are the platforms upon which talent works, and performs, and creates capability.”
Policy makers and governmental institutions need to open up their decision-making network - not only to meet the need for civic participation, but also to create solutions that work for the changing demands of our future generations. Collaborative decision-making platforms make it easy for citizens to get involved while administrators leverage technology to stay on top of the moderation and gathered input.
# 5: INCLUDE THE PEOPLE WITH THE MOST EXPERTISE
The more complex a decision or challenge, the more likely it is, that we need people with different expertises and specializations. Given that we live in a global day and age, why shall we narrow the input to the experts our group has available?
Nowadays, communities are evolving faster than ever - cross-border, cross-corporation, cross-industry. On a daily basis, people connect via digital platforms and social networks like
Coming back to the starting question: ‘Are we building the world we want?’. In order to say ‘yes’, it’s time for a new decision-making process that is rooted in collaboration.