Supporting digital democracy projects from Germany through a funding competition and a network aimed at peer-to-peer learning. The funding comes from the Robert Bosch Foundation and the Ministry for Family Affairs. It runs from 2017 to 2019.
This case study is part of a report we published in April 2018, exploring how “super nodes” support DSI initiatives to grow and scale. You can read the full report here.
Super node: betterplace lab
Issue to be resolved
The project works from the premises that digitization can enrich democratic processes and increase participation also among the less politically engaged. The project wants to enhance the positive impact that digitization can have on our democracy in terms of i.e. increased transparency and participation. Also, it wants to tackle the difficulties that small, not yet established initiatives face due to lack of funding and peer to peer support during the implementation of their project ideas.
Demokratie.io provided a less bureaucratic funding opportunity for small projects working on innovative (digital) projects that further democratic participation. Moreover, it created a space for networking, peer-topeer learning, and support during the project implementation phase. We launched an innovation competition where organisations could apply for funding by submitting their innovative project idea. The project had to have a digital component, an innovative approach, and an aim to strengthen democratic processes. A template for demokratie. io was the Prototype Fund, which has successfully been taking a similar approach for different types of civic tech projects.
Role of the super node
Betterplace lab responded to an invitation to tender by the Ministry of Family Affairs and then managed to enlist the Robert Bosch Foundation as a funding partner. Overall, there is funding available of 200.000 euros. In order to reach as many people as possible (also outside our usual network) with the funding competition, we used social media ads as well as personalised communication via different channels (both online and offline). The competition attracted 50 applicants of whom 5 winners were selected and granted 20.000 euros. Apart from the funding competition, the project aims at building a network and offering capacity building through a kick-off event, two workshops, and regular check-ins throughout the project implementation phase. Transparency is ensured through regular blog posts by the lab and project teams as well as through regular updates via other communication channels (newsletter, Facebook, Twitter). Projects are encouraged to document their „learning journey” on the project’s blog in order to engage in a communal reflection process. A Slack channel has been created for the winning projects so as to communicate amongst each other as well as with the lab.
- 5 projects have obtained their funding of 20.000 euros each and have attended the kick-off event as well as one of two workshops (on measuring impact). At the moment of writing, they are starting to implement their project ideas.
- Created a space for peer-to-peer learning and exchange of ideas among projects.
- (expected) Successfully implemented innovative democracy technology projects that contribute to strengthening German democracy.
- (expected) Strong network not only among civic tech actors but also with the established democratic institutions and actors.
- By August 2018 all projects from the first funding round are expected to have implemented their project ideas.
- The second funding round will start autumn 2018 where 5 other projects will have a chance to win 20.000 euros each.
One of the bottlenecks of the Demokratie. io was the fact that, in order to be eligible for funding, the applying projects needed to be registered non-profits. Since obtaining this required legal form generally is a lengthy process, many applications did not meet the competition’s requirements. This meant that promising project ideas had to be rejected, which stood in the way of the idea of supporting small, exceptional and innovative initiatives.
The applications for the funding competition were reviewed by betterplace lab and an external jury. It turned out that using a point system to evaluate the applications has some drawbacks. Members of the jury had very different approaches to using the point system—ranging from very generous to restrained—and this made comparing the projects difficult. The lesson would be to add a qualitative aspect to the evaluation process as well as more time for discussion amongst jury members and the lab. This will be considered in the second call for project applications