Traditional mechanisms of political accountability were showing signs of distress before the coronavirus global crisis. In the past five years, we have seen citizens resorting to new ways of holding decision-makers accountable for their actions. By maximizing the Internet, social media, and new civic tech applications, citizens started to monitor public officials by posting their opinions, views on different issues, and demands on Twitter, Facebook, or petitions platforms like Change.org.
Argentina is no stranger to this shift in citizen engagement. Last year more than eight million people signed petitions targeted at candidates during the entire electoral process. Through “Argentina Elecciones 2019,” a new tool and movement page created by Change.org, Argentinians had a platform to engage with the electoral candidates. Since launching the page, it has gathered 86 responses from politicians as of writing. The list included candidates from the most important electoral districts, such as Buenos Aires and Cordoba.
The project has since become something like a lab for digital accountability aimed at massively connecting and engaging voters and candidates online. But it was much later on when we realized how this project helped set the stage for more (and perhaps more significant) citizen and decision-maker engagement in Argentina.
In 100 days petitions received 67 responses from decision-makers
When the Coronavirus crisis reached Argentina in early March, the government decided to enforce a very strict lockdown. The rapid response was extremely positive from the healthcare perspective. Still, it created a lot of opportunities for the citizens to reach out to their policymakers regarding specific challenges they were facing regarding the lockdown.
So we replicated the steps we took in 2019 during the elections season. Not long after, Change.org users flooded the platform with petitions and signatures, while decision-makers responded in full force with very concrete answers to their campaigns. In 100 days, petitions concerning the coronavirus received 67 responses from decision-makers, including the Chief of Staff for the City of Buenos Aires, the Argentine Ombudsman, the head of the opposition party in the National Congress, members of the legislature, among many other public officials and politicians.
To add another, more dynamic layer to the support we were providing our petition starters and users, we started running Instagram Live sessions with city councilors from the City of Buenos Aires. We invited them to showcase their work and guide them through Change.org’s decision-makers tool to communicate more effectively with their constituents. Following this format, we are now planning to expand this new wave of conversations with politicians from Córdoba, Mendoza, and Santa Fé.
The post-pandemic world will pose challenges as well as opportunities for democracies. Politicians are becoming more open to responding to citizens’ demands on new platforms online, targeting citizens interested in real concrete solutions. This new era might just be the beginning of a transition from traditional democratic accountability mechanisms to new and innovative tools for “digital accountability.”