The Open Democracy Project, a Toronto-based not-for-profit trying to boost Canadians’ involvement in municipal politics, is crowdfunding a planned digital toolkit for running election campaigns.
DemocracyKit is an online resource package that includes start-up fundraising templates, a knowledge library offering access to digital archives and databases, a how-to guide for canvassing and affordable digital tools such as online courses designed for campaign-building beginners, as well as aspiring municipal councillors and school trustees, according to the Open Democracy Project.
The toolkit’s purpose is to improve campaign fundraising techniques and other strategies key to competing for votes and winning city council seats across the country.
The group’s goal is to raise $25,000 for its Indiegogo campaign by Dec. 9.
Chris Cowperthwaite, co-founder of the Open Democracy Project, said he and his partners see a significant challenge in the municipal space — for example, he said, “gender gaps in politics, with 72 per cent men and only 28 per cent women in city councils.”
The group aims change the electoral landscape by addressing this gender bias, but the toolkit would be available to anyone.
Due to the incumbent advantage — the upper hand that existing officeholders hold over challengers — sitting councillors won an astounding 92 per cent of the time during the past decade in Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa’s municipal elections, according to the ODP.
“We’re trying to reconnect the municipal boundaries by creating the tools available to anyone thinking of running (in the 2018 municipal election cycle in Toronto),” said Cowperthwaite.
The toolkit’s designers are a group of civic campaigners and digital strategists.
“Ensuring everyone has the same tools and level the campaign field plan in the political process is important,” said ODP co-founding member Ana Serrano. “This kit will appeal to digitally savvy millennials.”
While the toolkit might be mainly of interest to people in their late 20s to early 40s, the targeted demographic is all ages, said Cowperthwaite.
The toolkit would also be for campaigners interested in civic technology — tools that allow increased public engagement and participation in politics.
Cowperthwaite said it is important to open up city halls to more challengers over incumbents, and more women over men, because Canada’s democracy depends on it.
It is critical to have representatives on councils that truly represent everyone, said Cowperthwaite. “If we can introduce new technologies and use it for the campaigns, systemically this can have an impact,” he said.
Jane Hilderman, the executive director of Samara Canada, said DemocracyKit is a positive tool that speeds up the learning curve of campaign building since it takes a lot of time and energy to construct one. Samara Canada is a non-profit organization that also encourages greater political participation across Canada and promotes civic engagement.
“We can improve perceptions and relevance by starting at the municipal level, then we can have the chance to improve it in the national level,” said Hilderman.
This toolkit is to be launched online in the spring of 2017, around late March or early April.
Cowperthwaite said the Open Democracy Project hosted successful roundtables in Toronto and London, Ont. last month. However, one of the group’s goals is to expand to Ottawa, Kitchener, Calgary, Vancouver and other cities.
“Municipal politics is the lever of change,” said Hilderman. “DemocracyKit will help people to run better campaigns, and in the long run, having more people to come into city councils to have more insights. This breaks the gap between the government and the people.”