Originally co-founded by Harvard University’s Dr. Archon Fung and UBC Political Science Professor Mark Warren, Participedia has compiled the largest database of its kind on democratic innovations. The project, an international network of researchers, educators, practitioners, and policymakers who use an open-access crowdsourcing platform, similar to Wikipedia, was designed to share research and information about democratic innovations around the world.
UBC Political Science and the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions led the first SSHRC Participedia Grant, worth about $2.5 million, awarded in 2014. Professor Mark Warren was the Principal Investigator for this grant, which will be finished, roughly, mid-summer.
“The goal of the Participedia Project is to support the expansion and deepening of democracy, particularly in those dimensions that engage citizens—their knowledge, their capacities, and their energies,” Warren says. “The project is now more urgent than ever, with electoral democracy is under increasing strain in both mature and relatively new democracies—from forms of nationalist populism that mobilize disaffected citizens to exclusionary systems that leave social problems unaddressed.”
During Phase 1 of the project, which received a $2.5 million grant from SSHRC, contributors compiled more than 1,800 cases and 330 methods of participatory democracy around the world on Participedia.net. These range from deliberative “mini-publics” (e.g. citizens’ assemblies) and popular assemblies (e.g. participatory budgeting), to protests, e-democracy, and land reform movements.
“ During the first phase of the Participedia Project, we were able to show that it is possible to crowdsource relatively high-quality information about democratic innovations, something that had not been tried in the social sciences when we first started.”
Working with another $2.5 million in grant funding from SSHRC and other sources, Phase Two of Participedia will build on the work of the past six years at McMaster University under the leadership of Bonny Ibhawoh.
UBC Political Science and CSDI are both partners on Phase Two. Mark Warren will co-chair the research committee with Matt Ryan (Southampton) and co-chair one of the new research clusters (Democratic Representation) with Francoise Montembeault (University of Montreal).
“During the first phase of the Participedia Project, we were able to show that it is possible to crowdsource relatively high-quality information about democratic innovations, something that had not been tried in the social sciences when we first started,” Warren notes. “The model makes it possible to mobilize knowledge relatively quickly and to do so on a scale that would not be possible with a traditional research team. Moreover, the model produces surprises, collecting innovations of which we had no awareness. Having demonstrated that this model works, Phase Two will be expanding from participatory governance to more comprehensive coverage of democratic innovations, in the hope that we can help the democratic project to deepen and thrive.”
In addition to its initial focus on participatory governance, the project’s network will expand its focus to include five new areas:
- Human rights
- Democratic accountability
- Democratic representation
- Democracy across borders
- Democracy and digital communications
In particular, the next phase of work will focus on the challenges of democracy in the Global South, which refers broadly to the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Researchers and contributors will also address how non-Western democratic innovations are documented and analyzed by researchers.
“The project is now more urgent than ever, with electoral democracy is under increasing strain in both mature and relatively new democracies—from forms of nationalist populism that mobilize disaffected citizens to exclusionary systems that leave social problems unaddressed.”
“In many cases, people have been innovating for decades, but there are long-standing inequities in how their work is understood by Western researchers,” says Ibhawoh. “As well, we want to document civic engagement even in places that aren’t traditional democracies, like China – our primary interest is citizens and their investment in their government.” Warren comments that “the move to McMaster will help the project to expand the networks that support and use Participedia, add significant resources, and strengthen the leadership of Canadian universities in the global democracy project.”