Leveraging Technology to Promote Active Citizenship
“A hackathon creates a space for exchanging ideas and expanding your network,” declared Ahmed, a Tunisian from the Nabeul governorate who participated in the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) first Hack4Democracy (H4D) camp. “At first, [a H4D camp] doesn’t seem very different from a standard hackathon. But here, technology is mixed with democracy while combining useful information with fun content!”
The H4D initiative was implemented by IFES in partnership with the Tunisian Youth Forum with the aim of increasing young Tunisians’ participation in public life through technological innovation. The camps are intensive all-day events where Tunisians aged 18 to 30 from all regions of the country come together to design high- and low-tech democracy service projects. The H4D camps encourage young Tunisians to develop innovative technological solutions, build their business skills and knowledge of democracy and transform ideas into startup initiatives.
As part of the H4D initiative, young Tunisians propose ideas for “hacks” – prototype mobile solutions (web or smartphone applications) to address problems related to citizenship, local governance, decentralization, democracy or elections and then develop these concepts in a fast-paced, competitive atmosphere. During the three-day competition, teams of three to four work from early in the morning to late at night to refine their projects, with support from four coaches who mentor and assist them with concept and skills development. The H4D journey culminates with the final pitch on the last day, where the fully developed projects are presented to a jury composed of representatives of investment funds, computer scientists, government officials, directors of incubators and accelerators, and successful young entrepreneurs. The jury members evaluate each project, provide feedback and select the three best projects. Of the three winning teams, only the first-place team from each of the six camps will participate in the grand finale, during which the best project will be chosen. The project that wins the grand prize will then be developed by IFES.
Young Tunisians tend to be very active online, yet are increasingly disengaged from civil society and political processes. These camps provide an opportunity to motivate young people to generate innovative new ideas that promote youth engagement at the local level generally, while increasing participants’ personal levels of engagement and teaching them what it means to be an active citizen and change agent. At the camps, young Tunisians are able to operate in their digital comfort zone –laptops, tablets and smartphones – where they have less trouble expressing themselves, providing constructive feedback and making decisions.
The camps offer great networking opportunities, helping participants make connections with prominent business people, government officials and others who can help develop their ideas further. Two teams have already succeeded in turning the projects they conceptualized into reality. ElectBot, a chatbot that helps users register to vote and learn about candidates and their platforms, which was proposed during the first camp, has been developed. The second project that was developed was the Run4Democracy game, a smartphone game that encourages youth to register and vote.
The Hack4Democracy grand finale will take place from September 15-17 and will coincide with the International Day of Democracy celebrations organized by IFES on September 15. Additional information about the Hack4Democracy camps can be found on the H4D Facebook page and website. The camps are supported by funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.