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UWC Takes Leading Role in International Participedia Research Partnership on Democracy

UWC Takes Leading Role in International Participedia Research Partnership on Democracy

We are in the midst of a transformation of democracy, one possibly as revolutionary as the development of the representative, party-based form of democracy that evolved out of the universal franchise. This transformation involves hundreds of thousands of new channels of citizen involvement in government, often outside the more visible politics of electoral representation.

In light of these changes, the University of the Western Cape ‘s Department of Political Studies is playing an important role in a global partnership that has been awarded a significant grant to support the work of the Participedia Project.

The Participedia Project partnership includes 8 Canadian universities and 17 additional universities and NGOs, representing every continent on the globe - with UWC being the only representative from Africa. UWC researchers, particularly Dr Laurence Piper, Dr Cherrel Africa and Dr Fiona Anciano in Political Studies, will play an important part in this project - focusing their contributions on new forms of participation in local governance in South African cities.

Participedia is an experiment with a new and potentially powerful way of conducting social science research. The strategy is simple: crowdsource data on democratic innovations from around the world from contributors (like you) and then aggregate them into an open, public database that continually updates with new contributions. All of Participedia’s content and data is and will remain free and publicly accessible.

The Project’s primary goals are:

  • to map the developing sphere of participatory democratic innovations;

  • to explain why they are developing as they are;

  • to assess their contribution to democracy and good governance; and,

  • to transfer this knowledge back into practice.

The shared online research platform will make it easy for both experts and non-experts to gather information: the current beta platform has already facilitated the collection of close to 1 000 entries cataloguing case examples of participatory politics, the organisations that design, implement or support the cases, and the variety of methods used to guide democratic innovations.

The five-year $2.5 million Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) was awarded to the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions

and the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The grant will support the collaborative work of an extensive community of academic researchers, students, practitioners of democratic innovations, design and technology professionals, and others.

“Practically, this means funding for research on new forms of participation in local governance in South African cities,”  notes Cherrel Africa, Chair of UWC’s Department of Political Science, “and will help build UWC’s local politics and society research niche.”

More than $1 million of the Partnership Grant Funds will be split among project partners to support student research and travel that will further the students’ learning while also advancing Participedia’s mission. Additionally, the project partners have collectively pledged a further $2 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the initiative.

Participedia Director and co-founder, Mark Warren, the Harold and Dorrie Merilees Chair for the Study of Democracy in UBC’s Department of Political Science, emphasises the project’s ambitious goals.

By organising hundreds of researchers, the Participatory Project will not only anchor and strengthen the emerging field of democratic innovations,” he notes, “but also develop a new model for global collaboration in the social sciences.”

Expectations for the Participedia Project’s outcomes include: innovative research platforms to enable extensive, decentralised co-production of knowledge; a deep and voluminous knowledge about participatory democratic innovations that will support a new generation of research and practice, and global and diverse communities of research and practice focused on participatory democratic innovations.