#DearDemocracy at the
Global Democracy Forum

San Sebastián, 16 to 19 November 2016

Renat Kuenzi, head of the specialist #DearDemocracy editorial team

Brexit, right-wing populists and right-wing extremists grasping for power in Germany, France, Austria and the Netherlands. 8 November, and Trump is elected the new US president: 2016 was one long, loud wake-up call for democracies and for the world as a whole.

One week after the US election, the Basque city of San Sebastián in northern Spain hosted 200 experts from 30 countries, who met for the 6th Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, sometimes referred to as the “World Economic Forum of democracy”. Attending for the second time following the 2015 event in Tunis were journalists from #DearDemocracy, the specialist editorial team for direct democracy, which SWI swissinfo.ch has adopted as its primary focus issue.

Traditionally, the Forum focuses heavily on the practice of democracy. Indeed, the first of the three main themes of the conference was “cities as drivers of local democracy”. The other two were “the role of the media in direct democracy” and “the Brexit plebiscite and the challenges for direct democracy”.

The Forum‘s pragmatic approach is designed to support the development of practical solutions. One example of this is the Austrian capital of Vienna, which is currently giving thought to how to increase civic participation in large conurbations, which will soon be home to two-thirds of the global population. The city set up a container in a local square, with a few chairs and tables, and asked people about their needs. Good ideas received city grants of up to EUR 8,000.

We reported on events at the Forum in four languages: Spanish, English, German and Arabic. The “home” Spanish team played a particular part in this, producing guest items and curating dossiers on the relevant issues as early as the spring of 2016.

We published coverage of San Sebastián on swissinfo.ch, our special #DearDemocracy platform, and on Facebook and Twitter. Three preview articles provided the build-up to the event, and we also blogged live about the debates and posted video interviews while the event was in progress. It was all rounded off by our concluding review.

#DearDemocracy/swissinfo.ch believes that the Global Forum is the ideal platform on which to present ourselves internationally. Six points, in particular, highlight the importance of this event:

  1. The “World Economic Forum of direct democracy” is the largest independent conference promoting popular participation in the political process around the world. In the interests of the credibility of #DearDemocracy, we had to attend. Democracy is measured by how it is applied in practice. Coverage of democracy arises from contact and debate with people, and not from an isolated editorial office.

  2. The work of those writing about democracy depends entirely on personal networks, which provide a source of inspiration, fresh ideas and new topics. Furthermore, contacts are important as “democracy hubs”, distributing content on social media and enlarging the #DearDemocracy community.

  3. The Forum gave us an opportunity to present #DearDemocracy four times in an official capacity. In addition, six journalists engaged in important networking work in a whole series of informal meetings.

  4. In a globalised world, democracy can sometimes be dismissed as navel-gazing. That is why there is a need for international dialogue within the network created by the Global Forum. #DearDemocracy sees itself as a link in this network. Our expertise and the ten languages in which we work make swissinfo.ch a key hub in promoting a common understanding of democracy as a sociopolitical asset.

  5. We regard direct democracy as a key element of “Swissness”. We firmly believe that, with its rich and unique body of democratic experience, Switzerland can serve as an inspiration to other countries. That has never been truer than today. The enormously positive feedback to the contributions made by Swiss experts and researchers shows how attentively other countries listen to our expertise on fine-tuned, “made in Switzerland” democratic processes. Strange though it may seem, it is true to say that Switzerland is a serious contender in the world democracy championships.

  6. “Sleeper” contacts can quickly be activated as journalistic resources, such as correspondents or civilian journalists, especially when there are signs of major democratic developments in their countries.