Interview by Gemma Daou, Doctor of Philosophy
G: Hello! Martin Prévost, you are the founder of the Democracy’s Roots project. Can you tell us who are you?
M: I was born in the Brussels-Capital region, of French parents, with a father who worked his entire career in the Common Agricultural Policy CAP. So I was immersed in multiculturalism and developed a very great interest in the European Union, which is an example of democratic society throughout the world. I studied mathematics, physics and economics at several universities. One of my best experiences was traveling alone, with my backpack, through 6 Latin American countries for almost a year. I have worked in several diverse companies which further strengthened my capacities and participated in several entrepreneurial projects internationally.
G: How did you come up with the idea for Democracy’s Roots?
M: I was studying statistics at a distance university in Spain at the time. I was immediately fascinated by the value of what I call “answer comparisons”. I was already working in startups and I brought this mathematics closer to civic innovations. I have always had a huge interest in politics. The thoughts that led me to launch Democracy’s Roots were primarily mathematical, although I am now riding the rising tide of new civic innovation technologies. I have of course developed the models over time and thanks to the various aids found on my entrepreneurial path.
I would like to mention two experiences: the switch to Hack For Belgium 2017 and the switch to Boost Your Project, an incubator, over the first five months of 2018. So I have been developing ideas for a very long time, but it is mainly lately that I gave more interest to the project in my professional agendas.
G: Could you tell us what new Democracy’s Roots brings to democratic practice?
M: We promote the principles of participatory and digital democracy, and this based on the results of the platform. We have therefore developed an innovative calculation method to be representative. On the one hand, we correct the user community through targeted marketing, so that it is representative of the distribution of the voters concerned, and on the other, we statistically correct the responses based on our analyzes of the user data and the distribution of voting intentions at the level of the political power concerned. We therefore arrive at very precise results representing the results of a total participatory democracy, or even, we can assert the results of our platform as being those of the citizen’s will.
What I appreciate and which is of interest to politicians as well as to citizens is that by comparing the results of the platform with the actions of politicians in exercise, for a topical question, we arrive at the difference between citizen will and political action. It should be remembered that within political institutions, Democracy’s Roots will not suppress the needs of politicians and civil servants. We propose ourselves as a tool that “improves” democratic practices in a digital and participatory manner.
G: What means of communication and information does Democracy’s Roots offer?
M: On the home page, three informative panels are added: the personal data panel that can be personalized so that everyone can find themselves quickly, according to the news, and according to their personal interests and desires, and it is also the main link to personalize his user image on the platform, second we have the news panel which is configured to be linked to responses and personal interests, and lastly we maintain the Democracy’s Roots blog which aims to inform about Democracy’s Roots, the platform and the organization, or to inform about the workings of the political world such as, for example, how constitutions work, including voting techniques, or how the political sphere works with the platform.
For each question or questionnaire, the user has the choice to remain anonymous or to be visible to other users, and that at the same time, everyone is offered to leave a comment; this is what leads to a list of comments per question accessible on the answers page (except during votes via platform). The user also has access to a discussion wall on the answers page to continue to develop his ideas and/or take part in the debate. There is a list of contacts to easily find them, and through this personal page, the user can chat with one or more people, and take advantage of a videoconference system. It is also possible to create a discussion group around a subject, an idea, a question or a questionnaire, a person or an organization. To disseminate his ideas, we suggest that users use an adapted and customizable blog. We still have pages, before or after the answers to the questions, which offer a list of external links concerning the subject(s).
And, the various response comparison systems are important so that the user can compare themselves to others, which is important for understanding the diversity and differences of viewpoints, which are therefore here quantified by viewpoint, according to its own user responses. To follow in real time all his actions on the platform, all the information related to his actions, in connection with his civic status, and of a general nature concerning him, all the messages are in chronological order listed in his message box, which greatly facilitates the use of the platform for all users.
We insist on the large amount of methods to learn, communicate and debate on the platform. On the one hand, so that each user has the means to adopt habits according to their preferences. On the other hand concerning our clients, in addition to the quantitative results to measure the citizen’s will, it is also important to give them back the general ideas on the subject or subjects according to the different points of view.
The various discussion, debate, and information systems were also created with the aim of fostering dynamism and synergy within the entire user community and fostering links between the user’s community of the platform and various other outside communities also interested in the topics discussed.
G: How does Democracy’s Roots leverage computer technology to make the platform work optimally?
M: There is big data management, that goes without saying because we have to deal with all the statuses, the responses of the users that we want as many as possible and the management of discussion places. We favor algorithms and AI Artificial Intelligence, which are essential to study data, accelerate the various processes, make them optimal, and give meaning to the platform. There is also the semantics which is very useful to supplement the information. And again, the “block chain” technology which has great promise for securing and making citizens’ responses transparent. There are European studies and tools that are very useful to us, such as the e-Id, the secure digital European identity.
In addition, in the long term, thanks to technologies, we will be able to propose to governments to allow votes in elections or referendums through our platform. You have a reduction in costs, an increase in speed, a focus on the security and transparency of votes.
G: What does this imply for the comparison system?
M: The comparison system is useful for comparing yourself, positioning yourself against others, but also finding new friends with the same interests, which is very useful, for example, to find a politician with the same ideas as yourself. For the answer comparison system, the user can choose to compare on all the questions answered, a questionnaire or on a specific question. The system can be filtered according to research: a citizen, a politician or an organization, by level of power, type of question or under which ministry of the executive it seeks to filter.
When we talk about organizations (political parties, NGOs, ASBLs, unions, think tanks, Lobbies, etc.), they are strongly advised to answer the questions so that users can compare themselves to them. But it should be understood that their answers are not taken into account in the final result because members of these organizations can also have a user account. Ideally, so that each user has only one account and that we have a follow-up of civic status according to the various constitutions, we favor registration with the identity card. We allow organizations the possibility of having multiple accounts, it can help them to choose and adopt several strategic methods of communication through the platform.
G: How are the questions asked?
M: These are the different levels of power, who hire the services of Democracy’s Roots, who can propose questions according to their news and their agendas. We also offer them three exceptional cases: urgent questioning to promote resilience, digital votes, and question groups to help citizens know who to vote for. In addition, citizens are invited to propose questions themselves. When a large number of users ask to ask the same questions on a certain topic, we can then direct them to the community. For the latter case, we must agree with the authorities involved to know from what number of citizens asking the same question, can we submit it to the community?
G: How do you protect users on the platform?
M: We apply a moderation system to the various places of discussion to prohibit profanity, hatred, verbal violence or other atrocities. In addition, the answers to the questions are accessible in different forms: by graphic or geographic comparisons of the answers. Of course, in the case of municipalities there is no geographical comparison. The results are always corrected. In each case, of response or comparison, a title is linked to it so as not to confuse or propagate “fake news”, as with shares on social networks.
G: What is the relationship between civic status and the questions a citizen can answer?
M: The platform model is created to be functional at all levels of political power at the same time. For example, in my case, French and adult living in Saint Josse-ten-Node which is a municipality of Brussels-Capital, I would have access to questions from the European level and other supranational levels, from the French national level, from my French region, as well as to questions from the municipality of Saint Jose-ten-Noode. The model adapts very well to all democracies, as for example in Belgium, we have the level of regions but also the level of linguistic communities. In addition, by using the e-Id, we do not change the various constitutional varieties such as change of address or sex.
G: How do you protect yourself against abuse of the system?
M: Certainly the Democracy’s Roots organization needs a charter to protect itself. The watchwords are: “Transparency, Independence, Neutrality and Security”. Everyone who works for or with Democracy’s Roots must abide by this charter. We leave to all people the capacity to complain in a case of non-compliance with the charter. It is therefore easy to deduce from this that it is strictly forbidden to sell, exchange or give away user data, including user responses (user responses can only be viewed with the user’s approval in question on the platform). We emphasize here the importance that we have, and for our clients and for all users, of having political science professionals who make the links between the two, and therefore who manage the questions and the results in a neutral and objective way, (they must therefore mainly manage the composition of questions and the introductions to the questions, as well as interpret the quantitative results and the study of different points of view).
Transparency: transparency is an important vector of trust for users, partners and customers. Independence: Democracy’s Roots must be independent from partners, including financial partners, so as not to hijack the project, or that there is no abuse of the proposed system. Neutrality: The platform needs to be accessible to all regardless of the political and ideological orientations of each. Security: this is an important factor at all stages of model construction, including the IT sector; especially since we use sensitive user data.
G: What is your competition?
M: There are several types of civic innovations promoting participatory democracy: those which propose a questionnaire before elections to know who to vote for, those which propose information on a certain level of power by highlighting its topicality and its agenda, those which make the heuristic of votes: “for or against” legislative assemblies, those which propose to discuss with a targeted politician, those which moderate the debates,… We wish to “federate” its skills or technologies because Democracy’s Roots makes a heuristic of these and brings other possibilities and additional tools.
We also have civic innovations which sell platforms adapted to municipalities. It should be noted that they do not promote participatory democracy, but more precisely, they promote decision-making in consultation with the citizens who use these platforms. In addition, Democracy’s Roots’ platform model works best at high levels of political power because it is necessary to have a “big” community of users who answer questions. We therefore opt for “alliances” with this competition which operates at the municipal level.
There is also the political pollster sector. Through the innovations that we bring, we leave with enormous competitive advantages. We promote the will of the people rather than estimates of interest. We are counting on a larger user community compared to the average number of respondents from this competition. We plan to “hugely” reduce costs and increase speed as tools for policy analysis.
Lastly we still have pollsters or those who petition the internet. We must of course adopt a competition watch with them, but do not feel impacted by it because it is based on private interests for political lobbying purposes.
G: What is the goal?
M: The first long-term goal is the institutionalization of participatory and digital democracy at European and 27 national levels. And in the extreme long term, institutionalization at the global level.
“Democracy’s Roots °: the revolution of the digital and participatory democracy!”
Democracy’s Roots brings a new vision to the political world, promoting digital and participatory democracy; thus promoting the will of citizens. The model works at all levels and types of democracies. And since citizens respond in their privacy with a minimum of outside influence:
“Democracy’s Roots has the potential to create a worldwide democracy based on the will of citizens!”
What I mean by that is that by promoting the protection and rapid geographic expansion of Democracy’s Roots, we can connect all the citizens of the planet through democracy.
G: Thank you for your cooperation!