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Sketching out a civics app

As a part of my civics app I’m doing some background research. When I first planned to do a civics app in my #100DaysOfCode challenge, it was a way to incorporate my background as a political science graduate with my passion for code. I had no particular focus other than I wanted to work in something from my academic background. As the Black Lives Matter-movement further illuminated the injustices that exist in the USA today, along with the hollowing out of the informal structures of the Presidency, I felt the need to do something to empower people who feel left out from the political processes that affect them. This is a very large task. And how do programmers deal with large tasks? They break it down into manageable chunks. My initial chunking gave me this: my native country Sweden and empowering individuals in the political landscape here.

Where is the need most urgent and how could an app or website meet this need? This question led me onto some reading.

Francis Fukuyama argues that democracies are built upon three principles: democratic processes, rule of law and the modern state. In his article “Why is Democracy Performing so poorly” (Journal of Democracy Volume 26, Number 1 January 2015) he concludes that while it is comparatively easy to implement deomcratic processes, the major challenge is implementing a modern state, where focus is on an impersonal relationship with the state. This impersonal relationship would mean that states treat people equally on the basis of citizenship. But a challenge to democratic states is to keep up with the growing demands of its citizens.

However, this is a pretty large overview. Does Sweden have this problem of treating people equally?

In a Freedom House scoring on Political Rights and Civil Liberties, Sweden scored top points 2019. Sweden, along with Finland and Norway are the few countries to achieve full points in Freedom House’s scoring (Freedom House, 2019). Paired with a citizenry who scores low on nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-religious minority attitudes (Pew Research, 2018) it would appear that Sweden doesn’t have any democratic problems. But taking off the rose tinted glasses reveals that there is dissatisfaction even here. Many voters have voiced their dissatisfaction with the political parties in Parliament by casting their vote on a right-populist party in the latest national election (Freedom House, 2018).

There is room for improvement for the political processes in Sweden. In “Elections are (not) exciting: Need for cognition and electoral behaviour” (Scandinavian Political Studies Volume 42, Issue 2 June 2019) Jacob Sohlberg describes a problem where people who enjoy cognitive challenges are more prone to involve themselves in political processes and where experts and politicians cater to this audience. This leaves people who have a hard time to engage with the political processes left out of the political communications. In the worst case it could lead to people being left out of the political processes or seeking simple answers that doesn’t remedy the situation.

So where am I going with all of this? Well, mainly it’s that I have found a need, but I now have to narrow down how to communicate politics in an easy way as to improve civic efficacy.

In a licentiate thesis “Civics in a changing society” (2015) Emmy Jonasson Ring describes how civics competence is synthesis of pluralistic view, critical thinking, autonomy and reflexivity (see the image up top). This breakdown of civic efficacy is something I perceive as actionable. It’s possible to take one of these categories of civic efficacy and build upon. My choice is reflexivity.

Reflexivity in civic efficacy means that a citizen is aware of the political processes that affect them and how to potentially get involved in them. It’s a sense of a political self. My goal is to promote a view where a person feels important in the political space. Constraints are to keep it simple, no jargon and no walls of texts.

I think it will be important to visualize where we currently are in the political calendar. Visualize differences between political levels, policy levels and political parties. I think it will also be important to get a person to reflect on what is currently important in a national discussion. Maybe through multiple choice or by grading something as not important to very important. There are more considerations to be had, but I can start to sketch out some ideas.

From just a general theme of civics down to a mission to improve civic efficacy through reflexivity in a simple manner - I now have a direction to sketch out some app ideas. More on this further on.