At the end of the day democracy is about the people and it relies on everyday people having a direct voice and impact in the political process. This is the short story of how the Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) is taking that idea into the modern digital world.
Earlier in the summer SDP released a mobile version of their Citizens’ Panel (Kansalaispaneeli in Finnish and in the app stores). The idea of the Panel has always been to collect insight and feedback from the Finnish people concerning specific social and political issues within the country. Now with the release of a mobile version of the Panel, it’s much more convenient for the average person to participate. The importance of the Panel cannot be understated. Everyday people can give their insights directly to one of the major political parties. This is significant because the Panel is not just an email questionnaire, Facebook group or a Subreddit chat with low participation rates and or random unorganized opinions. The Panel, via the mobile app, takes the shape of more traditional surveys, but without all the hassle. Where people’s comments and feedback is categorized and quantified to be seen directly by the party as useful data.
For instance, one of the topics under discussion in the Panel was people’s opinion about the current elderly care system. Were people happy with the system? Did people worry about their aging parent being taken care of, and so forth.
The app makes it really easy for people to take a minute, or less, to give feedback on this topic and others. By the same token SDP receives quantitative data from thousands of the app users within a few days. Making it super easy and fast for the party to look at the data and say “hey, this is what the people think and feel about elderly care. What can that mean for how we represent the people politically.”
The application has been active for over a month and already has a couple of thousand users and tens of thousands of responses. The application has been enthusiastically received and SDP has collected extensive feedback from the application. Even to the point that one question, concerning employee protection laws for small companies, received such a large amount of feedback that SDP raised the topic during a Parliamentary session. This could be a sign of things to come, an issue being directly commented on by the people and then within a matter of weeks the issue being debated in Parliament. "TheCitizens' Panel provides a single platform for being heard and participating in the party's decision-making" says SDP's Communications Manager, Iida Vallin. “We look forward to using the Citizens’ Panel in the preparation of the SDP Parliamentary Election Program!"
In the current environment of divisive politics, cultural wars and fake news perhaps this is a practical way for the average person to be more directly involved in shaping politics, a way that doesn’t involve becoming an activist or favor the loudest voices. A way for politicians to actually feel the pulse of constituents, a way for people to take a little step close to being involved in the political decision-making process.