What will it take for young communities to realise their political power?

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Source: Ashoka

Or why we need a more 17th-century approach to politics….


Over the past six years Bite The Ballot has laid the foundations to evolve the relationships between individuals, communities and decision making. Where some only see barriers, we search for solutions, and although our level of resource does not yet match our vision or desire, we are making progress.

Our goal is to cease to exist and we are carefully planning how we ensure some of our most successful campaigns become redundant. This will happen when political engagement and changemaking has become a habitual part of the fabric of a modern day society.

I am not talking about the politics we have now, our current mirage of a democracy is the main reason many do not get involved. Our education system is redundant and is failing generations of young people leaving school unprepared. They enter the real world as consumers not citizens, nor are they equipped to ensure their opportunities match their aspirations.

We have a huge opportunity here in the UK, but for too many ignorance is seen as bliss and it’s easier to say ‘nothing will ever change’ than to consider doing something about it. But with meaningful engagement, our youngest citizens can be the difference. If we empower generations of citizens with hope, resilience and a strong sense of responsibility, they will ensure the desires of the people are at the heart of the decision-making process.

If we engage on mass we will shake the foundations of our current politics, expose its flaws, and most importantly drive forward solution-focussed approaches to change. One way in which Bite The Ballot is doing this is by creating safe spaces for discussion among people who are different. Different interests, class, culture, religion and above all cognitively diverse.

How have we done this?

Well, we took a ready-made idea straight off the shelf…. okay this particular idea was on a 17th-century shelf, and needed a modern-day reinvigoration.

I am talking about coffee houses and tea rooms, and the 17th-century tradition of coming together to discus the news of the day, gossip and politics. Last year we piloted a series called DeCafe [Democracy Cafe], which brought together 600 people across 50 locations in the UK. Working in collaboration with Starbucks UK, Reluctantly Brave and a whole host of community partners we brought this tradition back.

We breathed new life into community discussions around issues that many realised for the first time were…. political.

People shared their thoughts, concerns and solutions and understood that we can care about the same things and want different outcomes. The most important thing however, is to have the conversation. The simplicity here is what makes DeCafe special. Imagine if you have attended one of these events, discussed with strangers a whole variety of issues and heard their opinions on them.

If in the future the political outcome is one that they preferred rather than your own, you now have a personal understanding, as to why other outcomes are desired. You now have perspectives you can draw on when discussing these issues in the future.

The modern-day aspect of DeCafe is digital engagement — it has to be as we are enabling the most connected generation that have ever walk the face of Earth. So we have to ensure we feed their demand for digital engagement as a means to ignite political conversations. This was achieved through our gamified web app ‘Verto’.

This app allows individuals to swipe right if they agree, left if they disagree, with statements on a range of topic whilst receiving instant feedback. Verto builds a profile that enables them to compare their views to their local community, the nation and those wanting to represent them. Last year Verto saw 389,000 unique users play the app and the data was incredible. Bite The Ballot now have insight into people’s opinions across 39 different political topics; broken down by age, gender and location. The one glaringly obvious conclusion, from the data extracted from Verto, is that young citizens are not all left wing, they are in fact different across a whole range of issues.

Verto will launch on Monday March 21st to aid Londoners in deciding which Mayoral candidate shares their views on different issues. Our call to action is simple: stand up, get registered and admit ‘I am political’.

This is a guest blog, authored by Ashoka Fellow, Michael Sani. You can find Bite the Ballot on Twitter. For more news on the world’s leading social entrepreneurs you can follow Ashoka on Twitter.

This piece was orginally published on Virgin.com on 14th March 2016.