Power to the people: using digital technologies for direct democracy 


  • Nesta launches research exploring the tools transforming political engagement 
  • Panel event debates opportunities for UK politics, with experts and representatives from Labour and the Green Party 


Democracy faces new and global challenges: new notions of expertise, fake news and a disillusioned electorate. Yet, a report today from Nesta, the innovation foundation, shows how a number of governments and parliaments around the world are using everyday online platforms, forums and other digital tools in innovative ways to achieve broader participation, contributing to a richer public sphere for argument and debate. 


Forward thinking governments are a minority against global threats to democracy, warns Geoff Mulgan, Nesta’s chief executive: “Sector after sector has been transformed by digital technologies - from shopping to music, finance to tourism. But here in the UK, parliamentary democracy has largely resisted these changes and remained offline in an online world.  Around the world parliaments, parties and cities are showing that digital tools can support better and more legitimate decisions - we now need to catch up.”


The report - ‘Digital Democracy: the tools transforming political engagement’ - brings together the best in global case studies where technology is helping to boost democratic engagement and empower people in new ways. It assesses how - and to what extent - digital tools are being used by parliaments, municipal governments and political parties to improve the quality and legitimacy of their decision-making. 


The paper presents projects which combine online and offline initiatives, improving what can be achieved from both - examples include: 

  • Madame Mayor, I have an idea: an online participatory budgeting exercise in Paris where local residents can campaign and debate how the City budget is spent; 
  • vTaiwan: a consultation process, born of the 2014 Sunflower Movement, designed to crowdsource opinions and create large-scale deliberation on complex policy-issues;
  • e-Democracia/LabHacker: a parliamentary unit and website to improve government transparency and public understanding of the legislative process in Brazil, creating ‘serious games’ and appealing data visualisations. 


To coincide with the launch, Nesta is hosting a panel debate on how digital tools and technologies could strengthen UK democracy – featuring CEO of Nesta Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Good Things Foundation Helen Milner OBE, Labour MP Chi Onwurah, chief executive of the Green Party of England and Wales Nick Martin and writer and broadcaster Sue Cameron.


Digital technologies alone won’t solve the challenges of apathy, distrust and the widening chasm between the public and the political class. But without making the most of new digital tools to upgrade democracy there is little chance of persuading the public that democracy truly serves their interests,” said Geoff Mulgan.


The new paper builds on Nesta’s work leading the D-CENT project (2014-2016), which developed a set of open-source, privacy aware tools for digital participation which are now being used by city governments across Europe. 


To read the new report, visit: Digital Democracy: the tools transforming political engagement 




Media interviews available and on request 


About Nesta: Nesta is a global innovation foundation.  We back new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time, making use of our knowledge, networks, funding and skills.  We work in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. We are a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment.  To find out more visit www.nesta.org.uk

Nesta is a registered charity in England and Wales 1144091 and Scotland SC042833.

For more information, please contact Kasia Murphy in Nesta’s press office on +44 (0) 207 438 2610/ [email protected]