Active Citizenry Blog

Discussion in 'CONNECT-TECH' started by Keke M, Sep 6, 2016.

  1. What is an "Active citizen"?

    I’ve been thinking about this term active citizenry in the context of the Connect –Tech programme that Yowzit has launched. For those of you who don’t know, Connect-Tech is a civic technology programme in South Africa whose aim is to insert greater

    citizen voice into public decision making. The programme is supported by Making All Voices Count. In our daily conversations about the goals of the programme, I find myself constantly talking about creating an active citizenry. It occurred to me recently, that I didn’t have a precise definition of what I meant with the term. What does is it really mean to be an active citizen? Is there a broad acceptable definition that spans across communities? How do you recognise an active citizen from other less active ones?

    Working on this project, I have the privilege of partnering with ground breaking civil society organisations (CSO’s) that are working tirelessly to improve their communities. I’ve been impressed with the passion and dedication these groups bring to their work. Their willingness to listen to and substantively engage with local communities around everyday issues that impact their lives is unparalleled.

    It’s fair to say that these groups represent the gold standard of active citizenry. But not everyone can dedicate the same level of energy to improving their community. Nor should they. Outside of the rarefied few who devote the majority of their time and energy to this end, what qualifies a person as an active citizen?

    The answer, it turns out, is not as complicated as one would think. What I discovered was that active citizens are defined by one overwhelming attribute—they take responsibility for educating themselves. Active citizens know how their local government works. They have figured out how to get things done and effectively deploy their knowledge to good use. Active citizens are the first to provide feedback to the appropriate people when things do not work well. They are full of suggestion for how to make things better.

    If the goal is to enable more people to be active citizens, how do we do this? Easy access to useful information is a critical first step. Coupled with this is a simple process for getting things done. These two components could significantly lower the engagement barrier. In South Africa, needed information is often difficult to find. People are less likely to engage if they have to invest a lot of time searching for the basic information they need. Similarly, they are less likely to participate if the process for doing do is onerous or cumbersome. Quick and easy access to information with a simple, straightforward process for acting could spur more people to see community participation as a natural and useful part of their lives, rather than a waste of time.

    About blogger
    Kekeletso Molebatsi is a project manager with Yowzit’s CONNECT-TECH project July 2016
     

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