IofAM: Digital Democracy
As a trade association manager, how many times have you been asked your membership’s view on a particular issue, policy, or piece of legislation, only to realise that you are completely in the dark? And, in all honesty, how many times have you responded to such an enquiry – possibly from the press – with your own best guess; hoping that the majority will tow the party line and follow you over the barricades into the thick of battle? We’ve all done it, and because we’re all seasoned campaigners – with our ears to the ground – we generally get away with it. But what if your judgement call goes awry? Second guessing the mood of your constituency is a risky business, and careers can be seriously dented by getting it wrong. Why not limit the risk by asking your members what they really think? The answer to that question is that to do so would be costly, time-consuming, and wasteful. But what if it was none of these? Enter the Digital Democracy!
Recently, during a fascinating IofAM instigated discussion, which utilised SMARTvote devices to take quick polls from the floor and encourage discussion around various points in their presentation Luke Ashby and Munni Musa from Electoral Reform Services (ERS) asked delegates to consider if digital technology could be applied to democracy. Along the way they demonstrated that online voting is an effective way to reduce an association’s printing costs, provide wider communication choice for members and be more environmentally friendly.
However, not everybody is comfortable with computers and it is vital in a democracy to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised: the right mix of communication methods need to be employed. Maximising communications and using social media within an election context is a powerful way to raise the profile of an election and foster engaging discussion with the electorate. Digital democracy is about much more than just social media, however. For example, the effective capture and use of data allows for targeted communications and buy- in to cost saving online elections.
The discussion also focussed on other barriers to voting online. These include lack of trust in the security of the process; technophobia; and voter fatigue or cynicism. However, as more commercial transactions take place digitally, and security improves, electorates are becoming increasingly comfortable with online voting. And this might be just the opportunity to learn what they really think!
Electoral Reform Services are the UK’s leading independent supplier of ballot and election services, whose expertise is recognised worldwide as independent scrutineers of voting as authorised by Parliament. Working for not-for-profit organisations and government bodies, typical assignments include leadership or board elections, proxy voting, independent scrutiny of AGMs, membership votes, employee representative elections, housing ballots, referendums, and elections of pension scheme trustees, board of governor elections, community consultations and independent audience vote verification.
The Institute of Association Management (IofAM) is an independent professional body made up of managers and senior staff responsible for the management, development and governance of trade bodies, professional institutes, societies, chambers of commerce, voluntary organisations, charities and other representative groups. The purpose of the Institute is to develop, promote and share best practice for the benefit of IofAM members and all those involved in the governance of associations. To achieve its objectives, the IofAM offers a forum for education, training and development, dissemination of information, networking, and research.