Social Stability at Risk: Analysis
Social instability has re-emerged in recent years as a prominent concern. As discussed in Part 1, social instability is again the most interconnected global risk (see Figure 2), ranking in the top 10 over both 18-month and 10-year time horizons (number 5 on the 10-year time horizon; see Figure 1.1 and number 8 on the 18-month horizon, not displayed). Profound social instability additionally ranks among the three most likely global risks to occur in Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (see Figure 3).
Although statistics related to social instability vary – particularly because the terminology used to describe instability fluctuates widely – data suggest there has been a rise in protests over the past two decades. As illustrated in Figure 3.1.1, protest intensity has reached a new and higher plateau since the most recent spike, associated with the 2011 Arab Spring. The Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) Project notes “elevated protest activity of the last three years” in comparison to the previous “two decades of relatively reduced protest action.”1 Its data suggest we are again approaching 1980s protest levels, when causes of social turmoil ranged from Cold War tensions and anti-apartheid sentiment to the Tiananmen Square protests.
Figure 3.1.1: World Protest Intensity
Source: Computations and illustration by Kalev Leetaru, 2015, based on the GDELT data set (http://gdeltproject.org/). Notes: The World Protest Intensity score is the total number of protest events divided by all events seen that month. The timeline in this figure is created using data collected from print, broadcast, and web news media worldwide from over 100 languages (http://gdeltproject.org/). The data are normalized for the exponential rise in media coverage of the past 30 years. Part 3.1 was contributed by Alexandra Lopoukhine, Silvia Magnoni and Nicholas Davis, World Economic Forum.
Social stability is being challenged by multiple and profound transformations that affect most countries worldwide. These transformations result from fast-paced technological progress, globalization, wealth and income concentration, shifting demographics, lack of job opportunities and a changing climate. Together they are creating new opportunities, expectations and sources of frustration. Social instability is not per se always a negative factor, because it can drive towards another and potentially better new equilibrium. Ensuring that these transformations result in positive outcomes will require profound changes to institutional and policy frameworks – but as citizens’ demands become more sophisticated, they also call into question the capacity and willingness of political and business leaders to respond.
Societal Change Mechanisms under Pressure
Many societies try to channel the stress associated with societal transformations into constructive dialogue, enabling those affected to be and feel heard by their fellow citizens and those in authority. Common mechanisms for individuals to raise public awareness of issues and ask for change include organizing or signing petitions, donating to or joining social or political groups, and standing for election.
However, not all societies have constructive mechanisms in place to handle appeals for change. Faced with disquiet over societal transformations, some respond by closing down debate, deliberately or inadvertently stifling individuals and groups that question existing structures. To some extent, social stability is in the eye of the beholder: in some societies, a peaceful mass demonstration would be regarded as threatening, subversive and provocative; in others, it would be regarded as an example of constructive change mechanisms working as they should.
It is not clashing attitudes per se that cause social instability – there will always be citizens demanding change. Rather, social instability can emerge when transforming attitudes come up against institutions that are unsuccessful in their struggle to peacefully incorporate them into the broader social and political context. Around the world, trust in institutions is plummeting. The most recent edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer found that in a higher proportion of the surveyed countries than ever before in the barometer’s 15 year history, people were distrustful of both governments and businesses. Even NGOs are not immune – although they still command more trust than the public or private sector, the 2015 Edelman Trust study showed a declining sense of trust in those entities, too.2
Social Stability at Risk
The global risk of social instability is heightened by uncertainty about whether existing structures will be able to constructively resolve pressures when (dis)empowered citizens’ demands threaten to undermine a country’s political stability (see Box 3.1.1 for a definition of (dis)empowered citizen). With more (dis)empowered citizens organizing and mobilizing, governments and businesses alike need to come to terms with the ways in which they may be exacerbating the root causes of citizen discontent. They must understand the risks and work out how to adjust to a changing operating environment and a new societal landscape.
Box 3.1.1: The (Dis)Empowered Citizen: A Definition
The term “(dis)empowered citizen” describes the dynamic that is emerging from the interplay of two trends: one empowering, one disempowering. Individuals feel empowered by changes in technology that make it easier for them to gather information, communicate and organize. At the same time, individuals, civil society groups, social movements and local communities feel increasingly excluded from meaningful participation in traditional decision-making processes and disempowered in terms of their ability to influence and be heard by institutions and sources of power.
Beyond economic uncertainty, the risks for countries include: (1) undermined legitimacy of the government mandate; (2) increased social polarization; (3) political impasse and the impossibility of actuating reforms, where relevant; and – under more severe circumstances – (4) possible disintegration of a country’s governmental system and other cascading risks that might easily emerge in a truly globalized, interconnected and complex world. An inclusive society with empowered societal actors who are aligned behind a joint vision for the country is a strong signal that a state is stable and confident, with greater transparency, lower corruption and a stronger rule of law – all important factors for doing business.3
From an economic perspective, businesses benefit from a stable social and political environment for running their operations. They operate according to forecasts and scenarios that factor in socio-political risks, and instability increases their operational costs, reduces margins on investments and undermines local networks. Social and political unrest can cause losses in revenue, property damage, roadblocks, bureaucratic delays, overall economic slowdown and an unconducive business environment. For businesses, more specific risks include (1) reputational risk and other dangers to brands; (2) potential loss of market share; (3) product boycotts; and (4) disruption of established business models.
Particular risks to businesses may arise when local contexts and relationships change when people feel unable to effect change as citizens and look for ways to do so as consumers. Business models consequently need to adapt to new demands and expectations. Increasingly customers want to know not only about a business’s own performance in areas such as child labour and environmental impact, but also about the operations of its entire supply chain. They expect to have a voice in all aspects of its operations, from how production processes are set up to how distribution operations are developed and investment decisions around community initiatives are taken.
Drivers of (Dis)Empowerment
Social structures around the world are being transformed on three levels. First, at the individual level there are changes in how people feel and how they perceive the world and identify with particular values; this is combined with people’s increased ability to express and transmit their views, which in turn influences behaviour. Second, at a collective level, rapid changes in how social groups form and solidify have taken place, and in how these groups debate and develop common values and viewpoints and how they interact with other stakeholders. Third, often driven by and in response to the individual and collective levels, formal institutions such as governments, businesses, religious institutions, the media and civil society organizations are also changing the way they relate to and interact with both groups and individuals.
These evolving structural forces create new patterns of communication, relationships, collaboration and expectations, which in turn – in combination with emerging technological, economic, political and environmental drivers – create new structures of empowerment and disempowerment.
Many countries have recently seen mobilizations against inequality, persistent unemployment and deteriorating economic environments. From the Arab Spring to the anti-austerity protests in Europe, people have vocally rejected the consequences of what they perceive as a distorted and non-inclusive economic and political system. Demands for reforms to tackle corruption, in both politics and business, are being heard across the globe. Policies that neglect or deepen inequality can exacerbate the combination of less sustainable economic growth, weakened social cohesion, and citizens feeling disenfranchised from democratic processes.
Changes in society, regulatory policies and business practices are crucial to address our changing climate. In recent years a “climate justice” movement has emerged from frustration with a lack of leadership, evident in international negotiations characterized by long talks, vested interests and the ultimate incapacity to curb the effects of global warming, despite progress at the COP21. Continued sluggish progress or a lack of any progress at all will increasingly fuel protests, especially as extreme weather patterns make a progressively greater impact.
The last three years have seen more elections and government collapses in major market economies than in all of the previous decade.4 Approval ratings of political leaders are sagging, and established political parties across Europe are facing declines in membership and a need to reconsider how they engage with the electorate.5 Labour unions are not doing any better: although increasing in Asia and South America, membership has been declining in Europe and North America, particularly in the United States, where the unionized workforce hit a 97-year low in 2013.6 A proliferation of alternative political parties – some of them extremist or nationalist – has challenged established governance systems without necessarily delivering the outcomes hoped for by citizens in terms of improved transparency and equality. Indeed, a high turnover of governments or strong separatist movements can end up making policy-making less stable and worsen distrust in governance structures.
The perceived inability of governments to respond to major global challenges – from climate change and internet governance to food security – is eroding confidence in authorities. Combined with a sense of diminishing separation between the private and public sectors, governments are perceived to be either unable or unwilling to regulate the activities of large corporations, for example by closing tax loopholes. Political leadership is seen to be colluding with, or even interchangeable with, business leadership, as “revolving door” practices shape the relationship between business and government. Citizens’ view that their own voices are being ignored by political leaders is exacerbated – even apparently validated – by the perception that the wealthy enjoy privileged access to decision-makers.7
Technology amplifies dissatisfaction caused by other drivers. Social movements are facilitated by digital tools that allow the individual citizen to be heard and also allow rapid mass mobilization, cyber-activism and globally connected social movements that span traditional geographic and political boundaries (see Box 3.1.2).
Box 3.1.2: Digital Government Technologies: The (Persisting) Challenges of Inclusiveness and Engagement
The ability to leverage technology to improve relationships between governments and citizens depends on citizens being able to use that technology. In OECD countries in 2012, for instance, less than a quarter of people aged 65–74 said they interacted electronically (internet portals, social media) with their government, compared to more than half among the 16–24 age group on average across the OECD (Figure 184.108.40.206). To fully exploit the potential of digital technologies, governments should take steps to address existing digital divides and avoid the emergence of new forms of e-exclusion. As well as age, gaps persist in the level of uptake by education level and living area.
The two main reasons for e-exclusion are lack of physical access and limited technological skills. Therefore, alongside the development of a well-functioning digital government infrastructure, a crucial component of an effective digital government strategy is action to increase the population’s ICT literacy, raise awareness of existing online opportunities and boost the comfort and familiarity of all age groups with the use of digital channels to interact with governments. A multi-channel approach to service delivery, providing services by various offline (e.g. in-person contact, postal mail) and online means (e.g. websites, mobile-based applications) in an integrated way, is more likely to guarantee access to public services to all citizens.
Governments can take further steps to use digital channels to foster engagement through the full policy-making cycle. Most governments still view social media as an additional tool to broadcast traditional communication messages. According to a recent OECD survey, fewer than one in four governments try to leverage social media for more advanced purposes such as transforming public service delivery or opening up public policy processes to key stakeholders.[fn1a]OECD 2014.[/fn] The 2014 OECD’s Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies provides principles for governments to harness new technologies to increase openness, transparency and inclusiveness of processes and operations, and to foster greater citizen engagement and empowerment. Government bodies need to identify and support businesses and citizens who can form a digital government ecosystem that promotes dialogue and exchange.
One important development has been the use of Open Government Data to make public data sets available to citizens to enable more informed engagement, greater social accountability of government, and opportunities to create public value by putting information into the hands of citizens. The OECD OUR Data Index assesses governments’ efforts to implement open data in three critical areas – openness, usefulness and re-usability of government data.2a
Figure 220.127.116.11: Citizens Using the Internet to Interact with Public Authorities by Age Group, 2012
Source: OECD ICT Database; Eurostat Information Society Statistics (database).
While voter participation rates are steadily declining, especially among the young, digital technology is providing new ways for people to mobilize and challenge existing power structures to articulate an alternative. This was most visible in the 2011 wave of youth-led revolts from North Africa to South America, but there is general evidence of an increase of citizens’ movements worldwide in the past couple of decades. Studies of online content dating from 2010 and 2012 indicate a positive relationship between political content and youth who were previously politically disengaged.8
Online protests, strikes, cyber activism, and online petitioning and boycott campaigns are increasing. For example, the online activist and petition network Avaaz.org grew by around 40 million members in eight years, and Change.org now has 80 million users. Although some cynicism exists around “clicktivism”, which can be seen as merely a form of virtue signalling, such web-based activist organizations have often complemented online activism with offline activities,9 thereby amplifying their impact. As the world becomes more connected, mobile and networked, protests that might once have been geographically limited can spread ever more widely and quickly.
Repressive Reactions Fuel Social Disruption
Clear arguments can be made for governments to oppose some citizen movements, such as those that disregard human rights.10 In most cases, however, many different perspectives on what constitutes the social good can be valid. To establish trust and ensure broadly sustainable development, a country’s businesses, citizens and government need jointly to elaborate a common viable national vision.
Rather than looking for ways to win back public trust, however, many governments have eroded that trust further by responding harshly to protests: closing down space for civil society, demonizing protestors and harassing activists. In recent years, the space available for citizens’ actions has shrunk in many countries. The CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report shows that core civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly were violated to a significant degree in at least 96 countries during 2014.11
Technology is empowering governments as much as citizens, notably to employ surveillance tools on their own populations – and sometimes those of other countries. In some cases, governments breach their own laws, as with the British intelligence agency spying on international NGOs outside of proper procedures.12 Increasingly laws are being reformed to legitimize data collection and cyber oversight, such as Canada’s Bill C-51, which originally called for removing barriers to sharing security-related information.
Just as protestors are learning tactics from one another, anti-protest legislation is often inspired by experiences in other countries. A growing number of governments have implemented similar measures imposing limits on peaceful assembly and protest, narrowing the definition of what is considered permissible civil society and media activity, banning civil society organizations from receiving foreign funds for certain activities, and making new registration inordinately complex. CIVICUS has drawn attention to the shrinking space for civil society organizations seen lately in autocratic regimes, emerging democracies and democratic countries alike.
In combination with surveillance practices, such measures are creating a growing sense of limitation on citizens’ freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported that, in 2014, 50 countries placed restrictions on overseas funding for NGOs.13 The Committee to Protect Journalists has recorded a disturbing number of restrictions of press freedom in many countries.14 The combination of large commercial interests and weak governance can give rise to businesses being perceived as complicit in government repression of civil society – a perception fuelled by action against organizations and activists protesting against the activities of such large industries as construction, extractives or agribusiness.15 In Cambodia, for example, the government has been criticized for arresting and imprisoning campaigners against widespread land grabs that see subsistence farmers evicted from the land they farm to make way for large-scale industrial farms.16
In many cases, the repression of citizen movements reflects a profound uncertainty among governments and businesses about how to deal with the questioning of established societal, economic and political structures. Leaders may be unsure of what policies to implement, or they may be constrained by internal challenges from implementing changes in a timely manner; either situation can result in doing nothing – a response of hoping that protests will pass.17 However, any kind of failure to respond adequately to citizens’ demands merely adds to their sense of disenfranchisement from traditional change-making methods.
As the rise of technology enables citizens to harness new connections and form communities that transcend geographical limits, a socially destabilizing vicious circle could become entrenched: growing expressions of anger are met with increasingly harsh responses by governments, which in turn further fuel citizens’ feelings of disenfranchisement and discontent.
What Can Be Done? New Approaches and Risk-Resilience Strategies
A range of innovative responses by governments, businesses and civil society organizations can build resilience to the risk of social instability. Just as new technologies are playing a role in driving the risk, so can they also be used to mitigate it, minimizing the frustration of individuals and groups by creating a transparent and inclusive enabling environment with responsive forms of governance. This section presents innovative and emerging developments that can be taken by three different stakeholders: governments, businesses and civil society.
First, governments have the opportunity to re-empower citizens politically, opening up space for dialogue and participation, embracing transparency and accountability, and looking to enlist citizens as collaborators in public service.18
Bland “participation washing” approaches – described as the attitude of listening to requests but not actively addressing them – are not enough to truly contribute to more stable societies. Technology-based innovations could offer options to modernize public service management and delivery, as happened in the small Spanish town of Jun, which increasingly administers its municipal services and communicates with citizens through Twitter.19 Equally importantly, the creation of a trust-based space for multistakeholder partnerships represents a building block for effectively managing risks (see Innovative Response 1) and successfully achieving good governance and inclusive development.20 The effectiveness of such approaches depends on successfully tackling e-exclusion (see Box 3.1.2).
Second, businesses have opportunities to win trust, build resilience and minimize the risk of disruption by committing to transparency, responsibility and higher standards along their supply chains in areas such as worker rights and environmental sustainability, and by collaborating with citizens in new ways.
Under pressure to deliver more proactively and effectively on corporate social responsibility (CSR), businesses are going beyond traditional and often-criticized CSR models to look for economic opportunities in socially and environmentally conscious business models based on innovative and people-centred partnership approaches (see Innovative Response 2). An example of the recent emergence of Hybrid Value Chain (HVC) models, representing a complete shift in the way businesses and civil society interact,21 is the Viste Tu Casa (Dress Your Home) programme in Colombia: an established tile manufacturer worked with the cofounder of a human rights organization to create employment for women and reach new clients by raising awareness of the hygiene benefits of tiling kitchens.22 By leveraging the core assets of civil society organizations and businesses, HVC partnerships generate risk resilience and new revenue sources for businesses, improve the livelihoods of low-income populations and help to meet the basic human needs of populations with which civil society works.
Third, civil society has the opportunity to find ways to leverage new technologies and collaboration models to strengthen social fabric; improve services and shared spaces; make socio-economic frameworks more cohesive and inclusive; and improve the ways in which stakeholders interact, deliberate and act.
A source of inspiration for engaging and empowering citizens could be the “citizen science” movement, in which scientists have found ways to use digital technologies to engage citizens in scientific research activity. Popular platforms, such as Zooniverse,23 are taking science out of labs and integrating hundreds of thousands of knowledgeable volunteers in collaborative, people-powered research. Citizen science gives participants a sense of belonging to an effort that creates positive, lasting change – it combines advancing scientific knowledge with educating citizens, raising awareness of issues, and encouraging wider participation in democratic debates about how science-related policy-making is done (see Innovative Response 3).
Fundamental demands are being expressed by people around the world, both as citizens and as consumers. Their hopes and expectations can potentially lead to improvements in governance and corporate systems, creating momentum to adapt new practices, norms and government policy. When other stakeholders listen, citizens can be enlisted to co-create the future they desire. That is the promise of the empowered citizen – but it is a promise that can be met only when the rate of transformation and innovation in government, business and civil society structures matches the rate of transformation in society itself.
Three Innovative Responses to Encourage Inclusive and Stable Societies
When people mobilize and social stability is threatened, resilience becomes critical. In a world facing huge challenges, it is imperative to ensure that institutions, communities and individuals are prepared and able to respond to unexpected disturbances. The relationship between citizens, governments and businesses needs to be designed to create a more inclusive and stable environment.
While recognizing that much more can be done in this space, the following pages explore three types of innovative response aimed at creating more transparent and open societies: re-empowering individuals, introducing citizen-centric business innovations and paving the way for critical grassroots activism. These responses intend to provide a source of inspiration for pioneering and original ways to promote social inclusion and ensure stable societies.
1. Innovative Finance for Social Outcomes
As governments struggle to reconcile budgetary pressures with increased social demands, innovative models of collaboration have been put in place to tackle major societal challenges. The recent rise in impact investing and social impact bonds (SIBs) sees businesses and governments partnering to address pressing issues that prevent citizens from enjoying stable, equal and diverse societies.
The SIBs funding concept is a type of “pay for success” model where financiers invest capital in public projects, usually aimed at measurable improvements in social outcomes for at-risk individuals, with the goal of reducing government spending in the long term.24 SIBs create a coalition of actors willing to share the investment risk to deliver projects that address social and environmental problems that might otherwise generate significant risks for companies, governments and individuals.
SIBs have been particularly useful for pioneering new approaches to persistent and costly social ills. From partnering vulnerable young people with toddlers to mentor as a way to address youth unemployment through personal empowerment to tackling homelessness by providing accommodation,25 employment and medical support, SIBs have fundamentally shifted how social service programmes are structured, impacting both governmental authorities and non-profit organizations operating in the social sector.
Inspirational stories abound, with the £5 million Peterborough SIB in the United Kingdom in particular heralded as an example of fruitful public-private financial collaboration.26 Launched in 2010, the United Kingdom’s first SIB was designed to reduce reoffending among short-sentence male prisoners. Private investors face the upfront investment costs – and associated risks – of providing a not-for-profit organization with capital to carry out interventions. They are paid back a financial return by the government if social outcomes are improved based on some standard measurement; recently released evaluation results indicate that investors are on track to receive returns in 2016.27 The Peterborough project – as is often the case for pilots – has gone through alternate phases of progress and hindrance, while overall being recognized as a key test for opening the way to the SIBs market to come. In November 2015, the UK government expanded its commitment to SIBs by announcing an allocation of £105 million for new SIBs aimed at enhancing financial support for locally designed schemes.28
Positive quantitative results for the Peterborough pilot, which generated global attention for the SIB model, affirm that private investment in critical social service programmes can be an effective way not only for a vulnerable population to receive services but also for investors to diversify their investment portfolio to make financial as well as social returns.
SIBs hold substantial potential for many developing and emerging markets around the world. In India, an empowering girls programme is currently being piloted in 200 schools.29 In Mozambique, the malaria performance bond has been designed to increase funding for malaria interventions over 10 years and protect up to 8 million people from infection.30 Several states in Latin America are experimenting in this area: for example, the Mexican state of Jalisco has been working on the design of a programme to move single mothers out of poverty, while Brazilian states such as Minas Gerais and Cearà are exploring SIBs to address prison reform and improve school completion rates.31 The Israel Arab Workforce Development SIB, currently in the development stage, aims to increase employment opportunities for Arab citizens of Israel, who are expected to represent 20% of the state’s population by 2020.32
Many private sector investors, however, still believe that SIBs entail too much risk for too little potential pay out. With this in mind, incentivized crowdfunding has been emerging as an option for the next generation of SIBs. Crowdfunding platforms such as Ethex, MicroGenius, Abundance and Trillionfund already have the technical profile and access to investors to facilitate the crowdfunding process and engage citizens in impact investing.33
By involving people more directly in funding social investments, this crowdfunded SIBs model has an even greater chance of revamping public service delivery structures towards more effective and responsive approaches – citizens who invest in the initiatives gain an incentive to raise public support for them, and volunteer their time to help them succeed. Rigorous, increasingly crowdfunded SIBs could transform government, putting people in charge for the benefit of citizens and society.
2. Citizens beyond Consumers: Business Innovations for Social Change
Companies have developed many ways to give individual customers incentives to be loyal to their brands, such as reward cards or money-off coupons for repeat purchases. Many companies also see value in spending to position their brands as socially or ecologically conscious, for example by supporting community development projects.
Technology is increasingly making it possible to combine these ideas, which enables companies to provide incentives for individual customers to perform actions that benefit the community or environment. This is a way for individual businesses to profit by improving brand image and enhancing customer loyalty, while at the same time contributing to community or environmental resilience and engaging consumers in their own sustainability policies. These win-win situations lead to more accountable and transparent practices.
The apparel retailer Patagonia is an example. The company has reinforced its brand identity and image with a well-received campaign encouraging consumers to repair more frequently.34 By trading the risk that customers might buy a bit less of their product, Patagonia is betting on gaining a bigger market share by attracting values-oriented buyers who want to shop at values-driven companies. By asking people to keep products longer, the company has made manifest its values and involved customers in the achievement (and watchdogging) of its own sustainability goals.
Similarly, the US-based Recyclebank is paving the way for environmental behaviour change. By recycling, its 4.4 million members in the United States and the United Kingdom can earn discounts from over 3,000 major consumer brands. Sensor technology on recycling containers and trucks enables the company to track how much recycling households are putting out for curb-side collection, and reward community members accordingly.35
Increasingly, it will be possible to move beyond education, individual actions and pledges and to use the Internet of Things to reward verified behaviours. It is possible to imagine citizens signing up to have data collected by their appliances and utility companies. These data would be shared with consumer brands prepared to offer rewards for eco-friendly behaviour such as using less water, turning the thermostat down or switching off lights in unused rooms. Sensors could be fitted to a household’s cycles and cars, and rewards offered when data show that the bicycle, not the car, is being used during rush-hour periods.
For small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, another emerging opportunity to win business by contributing to more cohesive and sustainable societies is offered by community currencies such as the Bristol Pound in Bristol, United Kingdom;36 the TradeQoin in the Netherlands;37 and Berkshares in Massachusetts, United States.38 The motivation behind such currencies is typically to encourage citizens to spend locally and to reward them when they do, thereby strengthening the local economy by making it more diverse and resilient.
An estimated 250 community currencies are available at the global level, from Kenya and Brazil to Japan, with more to come.39 For local small and medium-sized enterprises, active participation in community currencies represents an opportunity to stay relevant through changing consumer markets and to demonstrate solidarity with local authorities and citizens’ organizations, which are typically the driving forces in their establishment.
Although local currencies are a less obvious fit for major consumer brands, it is possible to imagine incentives for environmentally conscious behaviour being offered to consumers in the form of local currency rather than discounts – thereby associating the brand not only with ecological issues but also with attempts to strengthen local communities.
With the growth of smart technology and social media, behaviour-change-focused business models will become more mainstream. These models represent a new approach for businesses and citizens that encourages dialogue and interaction and that strengthens a relationship based on collaboration, trust and transparency. By serving customers and engaging citizens – as individuals with specific values, ambitions and aspirations, regardless of their age, geography, education, income or social status – businesses can potentially build their brands while simultaneously creating positive social impact.
3. Novel Ways to Engage Citizens: Putting Them in Charge through Science
In recent years, “citizen science” has been gaining attention as a way to engage citizens in scientific activity, with endeavours ranging from air pollution assessments in Europe to chimpanzee counting in Tanzania. The proliferation of digital technologies has provided scientists with innovative ways to engage the wider public in science and expand resources for research. Similarly, it has provided citizens with new venues for developing online collaborative projects aimed at collecting quantitative analytical data to improve transparency and outcomes in public decision-making mechanisms.
A great many aspects of daily life are amenable to a citizen science approach because science and data impacts everything from the food we eat to the policies we try to influence. Although many of the highest-profile citizen science projects are limited to “crowdsourcing” – that is, to citizen participation in data gathering or monitoring exercises led by scientists – citizen engagement occurs on an ascending scale (see Figure 3.1.2). In recent years a number of “extreme citizen science” initiatives have emerged in which citizens take the lead in pursuing locally important goals by asking research questions, collecting and analysing data and using them to influence policy-making.40
Citizen science is more than just a new outlet that engages public-spirited citizens who have an existing interest in science. It is increasingly seen as a tool that could enable a more participatory democracy by empowering individuals and communities to analyse, understand and ultimately take ownership of the issues that affect them, enabling them to propose concrete and actionable solutions to decision-makers.41 Citizen science projects have the potential to keep public authorities accountable, influence the way they spend public funding, and inform them about community priorities and needs.
“Factivism” – evidence-based activism42 – can come in many forms. Recently, an open research investigation of the New South Wales pecuniary interests register for the 2013–2014 fiscal year has forced political figures to correct their disclosures of interests to the Australian parliament and thereby comply with current regulation, which requires the declaration of all directorships and shareholdings.43 In Iceland, a group of enthused citizen scientists parsed a huge database of documents and sentences to investigate for bias by assessing a potential link between the way judges vote and how often they incarcerate.44 The analysis showed that a particular judge suspected for bias with his conviction rate of 95% was instead within the statistical norm vis-à-vis all other colleagues of the Reykjavik district court. Other examples include crowd-reading of published oil contracts to promote more transparency in the extractive industries,45 and leveraging open data by re-calculating the published accounts of municipalities to explain arcane budgets more clearly to citizens.46
A key citizen science initiative running in conjunction with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the Open Seventeen Challenge, through which citizens can pitch crowdsourcing projects to tackle SDGs via the use of open source data.47 By unlocking the power of the grassroots efforts of citizens around the world, the challenge aims at identifying ideas and proposals to hold all stakeholders – including businesses, governments, NGOs, media and international organizations – accountable, while also delivering on the UN global goals. This initiative sets a precedent for a new way to interpret monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, by entrusting citizens to play a role in these processes while leveraging the power of hyperconnectivity.
These examples show how a citizen science model of grassroots activism can create new ways for citizens to engage, facilitate a wider range of lay participation, and enable bottom-up community participation. More and more often, fact-based debates and activities precede street action and complement conventional activism with increased general awareness and understanding of the policies and interests at stake. While recognizing the intrinsic limits of data and statistics (they can be “based on a firm foundation of wet sand”), and the need for citizens to interpret them reasonably and accurately, citizen science is pushing citizens closer to deliberation mechanisms and decision-making authorities.
Figure 3.1.2: Participatory Levels of Citizen Science
Source: Based on Haklay 2012.
ACT Alliance. 2011. “Shrinking political space of civil society action”, June. Available through Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law (KPSRL) at http://www.kpsrl.org/browse/browse-item/t/shrinking-political-space-of-civil-society-action
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Ashoka. No date. “Hybrid value chain framework”. http://fec.ashoka.org/content/hybrid-value-chain-framework
Bachmann, I., T. Correa, and G. de Zúñiga. 2012. “Profiling online political content creators: Advancing the paths to democracy”. International Journal of E-Politics 3 (4): 1–19.
BIREG LLC. 2013. Pay for Success Bonds. http://www.payforsuccessbonds.com/
Bono. 2013. “The good news on poverty (Yes, there’s good news)”. TED Talk, TED2013. filmed February 2013, https://www.ted.com/talks/bono_the_good_news_on_poverty_yes_there_s_good_news?language=en
Bradner, E. 2015. “How secretive is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” CNN Politics 12 June 2015. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/11/politics/trade-deal-secrecy-tpp/
Bridges Ventures. 2012. “Teens and Toddlers partners vulnerable young people with a toddler to mentor, creating transformational change in the young person’s life”. Portfolio. http://bridgesventures.com/portfoliolist/tt-innovation-programme/
Carothers, T. 2015. “The closing space challenge: How are funders responding?” November. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/11/02/closing-space-challenge-how-are-funders-responding/ikrg
CIVICUS. 2014. State of Civil Society Report 2014: Reimagining Global Governance. Johannesburg, Geneva, New York, and London: CIVICUS.
2015. CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report, June. http://www.civicus.org/images/CIVICUSCivilSocietyWatchReport2015.pdf
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