Technological Innovation at the Service of Youth Engagement

Publication Date: 
12 Apr 2018

News Type:

Tunisian youth played a leading role in the protests that led to the overthrow of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Despite this, many young Tunisians are frustrated by their continued political and socio-economic marginalization during the democratic transition. They lack trust in state institutions to solve their problems, feel alienated from the current democratic transition, and mistrust political parties that seem disconnected from their day-to-day concerns.

To address this growing lack of civic engagement, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) launched an original initiative called Hack4Democracy (H4D) in Tunisia, a combination of democracy camps and hackathons, putting the latest technological advances at the service of youth engagement. H4D promotes civic engagement through the competitive creation of innovative tools using new technologies, and builds professional competencies for youth by providing networking opportunities, mentoring and incubation of the most promising projects. Importantly, H4D is a bridge between democracy promotion work and social entrepreneurship as it seeks to encourage youth to create their own civically oriented jobs.

197 Youth, 24 Regions, 50 Democracy Innovation Projects

The H4D camps are intensive four-day events where Tunisians aged 18 to 30, from across the country, come together to design high and low-tech democracy service projects. IFES held six regional camps, each providing an opportunity for debate, dialogue and competition among young people to reflect on citizenship, decentralization, democracy and elections. H4D participants came to the camps to gain direct experience in critical soft skills such as leadership, stress management, public speaking, coordination and time management, rather than listen to lectures on these topics. At the same time, participants were challenged to develop useful, practical and innovative solutions to support youth civic engagement. This combination was a powerful civic education tool for youth as it provided in-depth exposure to the principles of democratic governance and civic rights and responsibilities in a fun environment, while creating new tools for engagement.

IFES held the camps throughout Tunisia to ensure that young people from every region, including the marginalized interior regions, could participate. Overall, 197 youth from 22 regions of Tunisia participated in the six regional H4D camps and proposed 50 democracy innovation projects. Participants not only had to develop a compelling project in less than 48 hours, but they also had to pitch it in front of high-level jury members from the private and public sectors. To rise to the challenge, H4D participants were mentored by four experienced coaches. Several of the camps’ winning projects went on to receive funding to produce their applications, either from IFES or from other international organizations.

H4D National Finale in Tunis

To crown the H4D regional camps, IFES organized a national finale in Tunis during which the six winning teams competed against each other to determine the ultimate winner of the H4D. During the finale, each team had 48 hours to refine and further develop their solution. For the second time, they presented their projects to a high-level multidisciplinary jury made up of eminent members of the business world, political life, government, the media and civil society, who selected the top three winning teams for first, second and third place.

The winning team of the H4D national finale, from Monastir, created a project called Bikom Likom (from you to you), which consists of a tactile screen and application that will be installed in municipalities to provide them with citizen feedback on public service delivery and priorities. The team is in discussions with the head of the Jammel municipality (Monastir Governorate) to pilot-test the product once it is developed. The runner-up at the national finale, a team from Mednine, created an application called VOTEK (your vote), an online voting system that has the potential for use by universities, professional boards, civic organizations and trade unions to elect their representatives. Cynapsis, a leading French IT company, agreed to provide pro-bono technical assistance to the team to develop its platform. The third-place team developed the project Polit’Agora (Political Agora), which uses data mining to develop an algorithm to objectively analyze political discourse and electoral platforms to help voters make informed choices.

IFES continues to support the three winning teams as they develop cutting-edge proposals into viable projects with the aim of creating start-ups that can generate revenue.

An Impactful and Effective Civic Engagement Tool

H4D camps helped participating Tunisian youth gain self-confidence, discover their potential and raise their awareness of the importance of civic engagement. Following the H4D finale, IFES held focus group discussions with participants to gauge the impact of the program. An impressive 77 percent responded that the H4D camps contributed to fostering their engagement in their communities and a striking 83 percent of the participants believed they could share the skills and knowledge they learned during camps with their peers or reinvest them to benefit their local communities. Additionally, as a result of their participation in IFES activities, several H4D participants became involved in civil society organizations, including as executive managers or board members, which signals attitudinal and behavioral shifts toward increased civic engagement.

This initiative was funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. More information about the initiative can be found here.