The column Millennial Voices provides a platform for young people (past and current students at the Cave Hill Campus) to express their views on issues related to national, as well as regional developments. Effective citizenship requires that all members of society are able to contribute to constructive dialogue on areas that impact political life and social well- being. Democracy requires that liberty be actualised in various ways, inclusive of freedom of speech.
by Devaron Bruce
With the country in election mode, Barbadians’ consciousness about the importance of political engagement is now heightened. This presents an opportune time to discuss the immediate state of political engagement and what it could potentially resemble in the foreseeable future. As a small developing island confronted with a host of civic, social and economic issues, the level of political engagement leaves much to be desired. Some have attributed this to political apathy and Barbadians’ so-called passive nature.
Yet, when interacting with the most apathetic and passive individuals among us, thoughts, feelings and opinions on what they envision for the future emerge. Expectedly, the more civically engaged also have their ideas for the future but are more active in their pursuit to have these ideas realised.
Despite the existence of these thoughts, feelings and opinions, citizens are regularly left disenchanted and unsatisfied with political outcomes. If citizens’ will and desires are to be of greater value, increased attention must be placed on existing systems and mechanisms that can transform this will into actions and outcomes.
Political outcomes should be the consequence of a political and administrative process that originated from thoughts. Thoughts form public opinion which one expects would then be translated into action or influence. This influence is transformed into communicative power through the process of elections. Subsequently, election results filter to the administrative and legislative institutions that then produce political outcomes.
Due to practical considerations, there is prolonged disconnect between citizens’ opinions and election cycles. This process is increasingly becoming outmoded as elections have become the gatekeeper of thoughts rather than their canvass.
Previously, allowing for broad based participation and capturing popular opinions could only be achieved through the process of elections. However, having elections multiple times in close succession is impractical.
Yet, capturing these opinions are less dependent on infrequent election cycles due to the emergence of new technologies. The advancement and proliferation of communicative technology and social media platforms have begun to alleviate some of the impracticalities that prevent broad based participation on a frequent and consistent basis.
The emergence of communicative technologies can also have a major role in the daily operations of governance. Within our societies, there exist numerous persons with deep knowledge, useful ideas and expertise, whose contributions can provide solutions for better policy outcomes. Therefore, during the conceptualization, administration, implementation and feed-back stages of policy, communicative technologies can provide an enlarged platform to facilitate boarder involvement.
Despite these new and promising possibilities with communicative technology, those who lead our political institutions are failing to adequately capitalize on these new possibilities. Seemingly, our citizens have also been finite in their imaginations as advocacy to rethink the old and narrow paradigms of their engagement and involvement in governance remains meek.
The necessary components of thought and technology are undoubtedly readily available. We have seen locally and abroad how the use of communicative technologies have had positive effects in governance. Whether it be hashtag movements or viral videos, the visibility and social pressure that these platforms provide can bring positive results for ordinary citizens.
Although these approaches can be effective, they are often responsive or have utilised a name and shame technique for political recourse. What is now required is a transformation of our understanding of governance where broad citizens’ input is not grievance based or comes after policy actions. Instead, a re-imagination of our institutional and administrative arrangements where governance becomes a consistently shared responsibility and a two-way street rather than a them-versus-us, top-down approach is necessary.
Communicative technology can provide the technical capacity that can make this re-imagination a functioning reality. Only then can a genuine citizen-centred governing democracy, with improved political outcomes be achieved.
As conversations rage about the importance of participation, simultaneous discussions should also be had over re-imagining participation and how such a model would be fashioned.
(Devaron Bruce is currently pursuing graduate studies in Political Science at the Cave Hill Campus, firstname.lastname@example.org).