I am an ardent believer in the transformative capacity of technology. Now is the time to confront the biggest, most challenging problems in our world. To me, one of these problems is the unequal and inadequate practice of democracy.In the United States only three in five citizens vote in presidential elections, and only one in five vote in local elections. Around the world we see so-called democratic governments curtailing free speech and outlawing opposition. In short, civic participation is low, and it is getting harder more places than it is getting easier.
At the same time, every other form of information and opinion sharing is proliferating at an unprecedented rate. A viral music video can almost instantly spread globally to hundreds of millions of viewers. Everything you watch, buy, or eat can now be rated, ranked, and compared. Sharing and rating culture and commerce has never been easier, so why can't it be done in the world of civics?
Those who sign up for VOCA, receive a question every week via a text message sent to their phone on any given issue within their city. They can respond with [by texting the numbers] 1-5, signaling how strongly they support or oppose a statement, and can send a comment to defend their stance. The service is free, anonymous and you don’t need to download an app to use it. After gathering the responses, the breakdown of public opinion from hundreds of residents is sent back to participants [and] posted on social media. Then Jaffe or one of his volunteers shares with the city council.
VOCA — which comes from a combination of voice and advocacy — currently operates in Redwood City and San Carlos with plans to expand to San Mateo and at least one more city on the Peninsula this fall.