From Slovakia: “Houston, we have a problem, but we also have a potential solution”

Our societies are hyperpolarized; democracies are in crisis; people are losing hope in the system. These symptoms of societal crises are present everywhere but, in Slovakia, the problem is particularly acute.

The latest Globsec Trends 2022 showed that 49% of the population of Slovakia agree that, “having a strong leader who does not need to bother with elections or parliament is good for my country”. Decline in the trust is also underlined by the Eurobarometer, which tells us that 62% of people in Slovakia aren’t satisfied with the way their democracy works.

These results might be interpreted with Anne Appelbaum’s idea that, if the public discourse is dominated by the cacophony of disagreement and hatred, then the harmonizing voice of autocracy becomes more attractive. The end of history is therefore a fiction.

These alarming symptoms, which we see in Slovakia, but which are experienced all around the world, led us to create DEMDIS. We’re a civic organization striving for Pol.is-driven consensus; we strive to find and increase trust in democratic processes.

Presently, we number approximately 30 people – all us are determined to create a stronger society through the cultivation of a better public discourse.

Inspiration of our project comes from the amazing work of vTaiwan. Ideas emanating from this inspirational democracy gives us hope – that things could be done better. By creating an inclusive, transparent and fair process of deliberative democracy, we know that we can build trust in our system.

The main driver of DEMDIS is that democracy is a discussion. Therefore, due to the poor quality of the public discourse in Slovakia, the move towards autocratic measures intensifies. We are deeply concerned about this.

With the ever-increasing side effects of the digital revolution, public discussion tends to divide itself into online and offline worlds. Even though only a third of the Slovak population are on social media this constitutes the primary or secondary source of our information about the world for so many of us. Angry and unhelpful discourse on social media has a widespread negative impact. The shift in the tone of voice of political actors into more a hatred-oriented speech changes influenced the media. We believe that without a change in the way we participate in the online trade of ideas, to expect any improvement in our offline communication is naïve.

For these reasons DEMDIS is trying to change how we use technologies to propel public discourse in a better direction. Using Polis, we are creating a fairer, more open and more meaningful discussion online discussion, which will positively bleed into the offline discussion. With the right use of online tools, we can achieve our aims.

To the achievement of these goals, we’re thankful to open-source software Pol.is. This innovative tool helps us to effectively aggregate different opinions, and finding most valuable consensus. During the last year of our work, we managed to create 8 discussions, in which thousands of people participated. Polis proved our thesis that could generate qualitatively more meaningful results about our discussions, without using social media. And this applies, also, to the most polarizing topics. From lockdown measures, through to Covid vaccine mandates, to the fight against disinformation and hoaxes, we managed to find a rough consensus and shift the public discourse in a most productive manner.

Each Polis conversation we ran convinced us that, with the right use of technology, we’re able to create trust in a fair, open and meaningful discourse. And with we can positively influence the possibility for improvements in our democracy.

At DEMDIS, we appreciate the work of any organization, such as The Crowd Wisdom Project, which understands the challenges of our societies and are trying to overcome them. We are happy to cooperate more with the Crowd Wisdom Project, to share our ideas about how to do things better. For these reasons we’ll be bringing you updates about our work with Polis through these articles.

There is a lot to talk about. Starting with the challenge of increasing the number of participants, through the results of our Polis conversations, to designing the way of transforming ideas to norms. We’re glad to have the opportunity to share our experiences with the international community and to open a more intensive discussion about the possibilities of a technology-enhanced democracy. Stay tuned! And let’s make discussion great again!

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