How design makes a difference in democracy

By Horizon State

The focus is on the citizens and how they want to interact with government, not the other way around.

“The world around us is changing at an exponential rate, but the way that we govern ourselves hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, which is a paradox.”

Like many of us, Nimo Naamani, Chief Technology Officer of community engagement startup Horizon State, is observing growing political unrest all over the world. People have diminishing trust in the establishment, he tells GovInsider.

But with the technology available now, his company is designing ways for governments to build up trust again, especially when it matters most - during voting or elections. The focus is on the citizens and how they want to interact with government, not the other way around. “We’re taking this opportunity to catch up,” Naamani says.

Designing for the better

Naamani believes that well designed services produce better outcomes. Citizens expect to have the same kind of experiences with public services as they do with their favourite website or app. “Too often, the experiences just aren’t up to scratch”, he observes. Services should be built around the user’s needs, not around what government agencies think the service should look like, he adds.

For instance, in 2009, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower wanted to improve its service centre experience. By first understanding the difficulties and frustrations that visitors faced when trying to navigate its centre, the Ministry could redesign various interaction points, according to Agnes Kwek, who is now Singapore’s Design Ambassador.

The result was that the Ministry drastically cut waiting times by employing an online appointment system, and 95% of visitors were attended to within 15 minutes.

In the US, on the other hand, non-profit health care provider Kaiser Permanente re-designed its nurses’ workflows so that they could work more efficiently and effectively. The provider developed software that allowed nurses to access and update patient information throughout their shifts, rather than at set times. Staff had more accurate knowledge of their patients, resulting in shorter prep times and better care.

Mobile voting

Put simply, citizens want government services that are convenient, seamless, intuitive, and fast. But how can this be achieved?

Naamani and his team at Horizon State have built a blockchain-powered citizen engagement platform that enables e-voting and mobile voting which is inherently secure. “People want to be voting from their phones; people want their technology to be on the go,” Naamani declares.
“People want to be voting from their phones; people want their technology to be on the go.”
This takes on increasing importance today, as for the last 25 years, the average global voter turnout rate has dropped by more than 10%, according to a 2017 World Bank report. Two important contributing factors were apathy and decreasing confidence in the democratic process, the report said.

Horizon State wants to ensure people can vote on their mobile phones anytime, without having to queue up at a polling station. There is also the safety angle to consider: “Doing it can actually be quite risky. It’s not uncommon for riots to occur; sometimes people lose their lives”, Naamani notes.

The transparency of the platform - where vote counts are published to thousands of computers at once, making it virtually impossible to hack - means that voters can actually see how they can make an impact.

Mind the gap

Naamani has a much bigger vision for the platform, which goes far beyond voting and polling. “We want something much more robust than a simple voting or deliberation application, and we want to actually integrate and involve many governments,” he says. The vision is to “reduce the gap between government and citizens, and improve the quality of dialogue”.

Voting happens in cycles every few years, but waiting that long to tap into voter sentiments is a wasted opportunity, he believes. Platforms like the one that Horizon State has developed allows agencies to kickstart “a more frequent and meaningful dialogue with people”, and one which can happen practically in real time. This way, people can have their say on matters that affect them, their loved ones, and their communities, right as events unfold, Naamani explains.

The developing world has shown keen interest in the platform, and these are typically the ones that are rapidly leapfrogging their counterparts. “These economies are growing fast,” says Naamani and are driven by the desire to overhaul their democratic processes to address the needs of their people.

Democracy is being disrupted just as much as any industry today, and citizens have growing expectations of their governments. One answer is to design systems that are transparent from the start, so that trust is always the most important factor.