An op-ed by Eduardo Paes, C40 Chair and Mayor of Rio de Janeiro

In 2013, widespread protests brought Rio de Janeiro to a halt. People took the streets calling for better health and education, for an end to corruption and for their voices to be heard and to matter. Rather than trying to arrest or quiet the protesters, we decided to learn from them – and even to employ some to help us articulate a new way of engaging with the public. This was the inspiration for what I call Polisdigitocracy, which has become a key pillar of my administration in Rio.

To understand Polisdigitocracy, it is useful to return to the Greek city-states of 2,000 years ago. There the Polis engaged in heated debate over political issues and representative democracy was born. This form of government has remained broadly unchanged since.

But in the last decade, two key factors have dramatically altered our traditional conception of democracy. First, cities – rather than just nation states – are now at the epicenter of the world’s most pressing issues, including health, education, mobility and even climate change. Second, the digital revolution has dramatically transformed the way people connect and communicate on an unprecedented scale. Debates among citizens are now more agile and varied than ever.

In Rio and in many other cities, we have decided to turn the threat of the digital revolution into an opportunity – one that can help us understand the future of representative democracy. Through Polisdigitocracy – the use of open data, social media and digital technology to drive citizen engagement – we must listen, renew legitimacy and turn formal consultation into constant collaboration. Polisdigitocracy has incredible potential to help our cities engage and excite citizens to achieve our common goals.

At C40, our 82 member cities are working together to address climate change. By collaborating, sharing knowledge with and learning from other cities around the globe, we are delivering meaningful action that improves the lives of our citizens locally. We need every tool available to address the most pressing issue of our time and Polisdigitocracy can be a powerful instrument. This C40-Arup report, Polisdigitocracy: Digital Technology, Citizen Engagement and Climate Change, shows that many C40 cities are already leading the way. From Rio to Melbourne and from Lagos to San Francisco, digital technology is improving services, enhancing city planning, unlocking community action and helping cities respond to external pressure, while also driving climate action.

C40 Regional Director for Europe Júlia López Ventura talks about Polisdigitocracy at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona on November 18, 2015

We look forward to embedding Polisdigitocracy more firmly within C40’s transport, waste, energy and adaptation networks and deepening our capacity to convene CIOs to learn from their peers around the world. Together, we can capitalise on the benefits of digital technology to drive meaningful citizen engagement to make our cities more sustainable, liveable and equitable.

To read the full report, click here.

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