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At the end of 2013 Bloomerg Philanthropies Foundation announced a competition for European cities with over 100 thousand residents on a project that makes a significant contribution to solving the important, universal problem of a city. A few ideas were discussed in Gdańsk municipal office that could be raised, but ultimately the application was filed on 31 January 2014 using the idea of Lech Gorlewicz, then still a high school junior.

Apart from Gdansk, 154 cities of 28 countries in Europe submitted their applications. A few months later, it turned out that the brave idea of Gdańsk got to the final of the competition. After several months of work in the form of a workshop with the Bloomberg Foundation,  final application was filed on July 31, 2014. Over these months, the idea evolved considerably and its final form was preceded by a number of workshops, meetings with officials and residents. 

A project called “Democracy Accelerator” identifies the problem: 

an unsatisfactory level of cooperation between city residents and city officials.

The application developers describe the problem as follows:

"Europeans are losing faith in local democracy. The key problem of civil society is the lack of communication skills and the ability to build citizen - government relationships. City dwellers do not identify with the decisions of democratically elected local authorities, and the level of social trust in the authorities is declining. The "Democracy Accelerator" aims to incorporate active citizens in the process of public management with the purpose to build a new, quality relationship between the local government employees and active residents of Gdańsk. This will be done with the use of a platform proposed in this project.”

What is the idea of the “Democracy Accelerator”?

The residents of our city do not know the mechanisms of the budget and the procedures that city officers are obliged to respect. Unaware of the motives of officials’ actions, they feel marginalized by them. Anger and disappointment caused by this phenomenon often blocks the possibility of substantive dialogue and cooperation. Due to the resulting over the years distance and lack of effective communication channels, the officials have difficulty understanding the thinking of residents. We need tools that will allow active residents of the city to work together with government officials, rather than activate the actions criticising their conduct. Clear rules of cooperation to build a more perfect city in which social dialogue takes place will restore faith in the democratic processes and strengthen the sense of unity and empowerment of Gdańsk society.

 The " Democracy Accelerator " is the idea of the city with Solidarity Movement traditions, a chance to share information about the needs and capabilities of both sides to take actions for the benefit of  local society. It is a tool which every citizen can use to implement his or her idea. However,  it assumes activation and personal commitment of the residents and an increase in the responsibility for the affairs of the city. Residents will be to some extent partners in the decision-making process, and no longer passive recipients of decisions taken by the authorities.

The idea is based on three basic pillars of operation: an online platform running on open-source code, structured processes inside the office and a team of officials dealing with a system that supports projects reported by residents.

To realize an idea, the initiative group reports it via the internet platform. The initiative will be characterized, budgeted and the percentage of inhabitants, on whom the project will have a real impact (the number of people who will benefit from the project realized) will be determined.

The next step is to build a community supporting the reported idea, intended to justify the need for implementation of the proposed initiative.

In the next stage the initiative group will start working with a coach (an official designated to the idea , a guardian of the project), who will act as a member of the community to support the idea, but who will also explain to the initiators any possible challenges that the project may encounter when faced with formal and legal procedures. 

The dialogue between the coach and the project initiators  will be completely transparent through the use of tools such as RSS feeds or alerts on social networking sites.

At this stage of the project will be refined by the residents of the city in the democratic process carried out with the software modeled on the Liquid Democracy.

The next phase is voting. For the project to be implemented,  it must earn the appropriate number of votes in favor. Collecting votes will take place only in electronic form via the platform Accelerator. Necessary amount of support will be calculated as a percentage of the community, which would benefit from the investment (a local, district, and city level). If the project gets enough support the cooperation of experts, officials and residents starts, aiming to initiate the process of seeking to implement the initiative.

" Democracy Accelerator " in addition to the strengthening of social capital through increased knowledge of the management of the city and its finances, community organizing ability and willingness to dialogue with the government will introduce a number of changes in the structure of the office activities. Greater openness and direct contact with residents will be a catalyst of change seeking to deepen democratic mechanisms. Open-source nature of the platform will allow other cities for a quick and inexpensive implementation of the idea.
Through the use of Accelerator the inhabitants will realize that all they need to change the city is enthusiasm, cooperation, and one brilliant idea.

What kind of problems are addressed by the Democracy Accelerator?

In recent years, statistics illustrate that the level of social trust of European citizens in relation to the activities of public institutions is moderate or low. In the years 2002-2012 it dampened somewhat. The consequences of this are: poor motivation to participate in the elections and bottom-up initiatives and particularism.

As evidenced by the Eurobarometer survey from 15% to 75% (depending on the city) of the population says that municipalities spend money inefficiently. A large part of the population does not identify with ideas, plans and investments taking place in the city, and which are decided by the democratically elected authorities.
This state of affairs is due to the break of ties between officials and residents.
Residents do not have the knowledge on the workings of the budget and the office, which leads to their disappointment and anger. On the other hand, officials do not have effective tools of dialogue and analysis of the needs of the community. The distance between the two sides and the lack of effective tools for an independent action lowers the level of social activity of resigned inhabitants.

The work mechanism of an idea.

A Democracy Accelerator is to operate in the following manner, divided into phases:

1) The notification of the project by the online system.
         The application form follows: 

- Define what the project is, who is addressed to, what changes it will bring, justify the benefits for residents,
- An estimated number of inhabitants affected by the project, scale of the project: local, district, citywide
- Posting photos / videos promoting the idea - possible, but not necessarily
- Approximate valuation of the project based on the list of urban (a powerful tool to help estimate the cost of the project, an integral part of the platform)
- Identification of the statutory tasks of the municipality in which the project and part of the city budget, the project concerns
- A few lines related to legal issues (element dependent on the tasks of the municipality) necessary to develop, license, permission, administrative elements to overcome in the project
In case the project does not meet the legal requirements independent of the municipality regulations, the author receives support in the form of a handbook to overcome difficulties with examples of activities that other organizations have performed encountering the same problem. 

Condition for the transition to the next step: filling out a form and the absence of legal objections.

2) Inspiration Phase.
2.1. project is located on the site
2.2. site users have the opportunity to evaluate the project and discuss it at a special mini-forum
2.3. initiators are building a community around your idea by supporting discussion and future updates
2.4. the design is refined under the influence of population suggestion

3) Coaching Phase.
3.1. the coach joins the initiators and with them keeps in touch with the community
3.2. coach together with the community and the initiators improves the project
3.3. the process of community and project building progresses further
3.4. an opportunity emerges to declare one’s own contribution in the form of voluntary work / money / sponsorship
3.5. a feasibility study and evaluation of the project is conducted

Condition for the transition to the next stage: completion of all formal procedures

4) Collection of support votes:
4.1 number of votes for the meeting will be calculated based on the number of inhabitants impacted by the project. Projects will be categorized into local, district and citywide categories. These ideas will need to gain the support of 50%, 6% and 0.5% of the population respectively.
4.2. both initiators and the community gathered around the project lead efforts to gather maximum number of support votes. 

Condition for the transition to the next step: to gather the required number of votes in favor

5) Implementation.
Depending on the type and size of the project it can be voted on by the City Council.
5.1. the project is entered in the budget
5.2. Officials with the initiators and stakeholders begin cooperation in order to implement the project in the form expected by the community.

Many European cities, including Gdańsk, introduce civic budget. Our solution is an extension of its idea to include the new opportunities related to universal access to the Internet and social networks. It develops its potential for processes that build social capital in many areas. From the knowledge on how the office of the city works to building the capacity of communities on communication skills. Citizens’ Budget as a tool only available for a few weeks a year does not allow for the full potential, enthusiasm and creativity of the city's population. In addition, its claim nature instead of encouraging to engage in investment projects, reinforces the passive attitude of city residents. The Democracy Accelerator will also affect officials. It will broaden their experience of working with the residents which will result in a better understanding of their needs and mentality. It will also be a catalyst for positive change in the method of the City Hall operation.
In addition to the civil budget, Gdańsk offers cooperation by the so-called Local Initiatives. In this framework, the city supports investments co-financed or co-sponsored by the locals. Among other things, the city has committed to building a number of playgrounds, provided that the local community will help maintain the investment for two years. Another example is the construction of roads financed by the residents of the city.
Accelerator consists of the elements used in crowd-funding, NGOs, political parties or corporations.
The most daring feature of the project is a fusion of different co-operation schemes in distant areas in a sustainable system that is a fair, handy, transparent and universal tool for building a more perfect city and society.

The idea for the “Democracy Accelerator” was preceded by projects: Open data/ Open gov. - Open Gdańsk - a program to share information held by the office, so that every citizen should have access to it.
City Price List - basing on the popularity of the tool, which in a user-friendly way  shows costs and prices of city budget expenses, we want to use this experience in a web-based tool.

The idea could be successfully implemented in other cities in Europe and the world, because the problem is universal, and our solution can be adapted in any large city. For other cities to implement the system quickly and at low cost, the City of Gdańsk undertakes to provide the platform code in the formula of open-source software.

The final final decision will be announced in autumn 2014. 

The application was prepared with the approval of the City Mayor Paweł Adamowicz, in cooperation with Bloomebrg Philanthropies, city officers, and city residents, by a team of the following three representatives of the City of Gdansk: Piotr Kowalczuk, Żaneta Kucharska, Tomasz Nadolny and the idea author - Lech Gorlewicz , who in the meantime, graduated high school with flying colors and was accepted to college of his choice.

Date of publication: 07.09.2014 00:10
The last modification: 07.09.2014 20:03