Think Outside the Box
With the upcoming election this year, a lot of people feel pressured, confused or lost…some don’t even know the election is coming! In this blog post, we decided to shed the light on the oSoc’s project called Kiest ze, dedicated to the elections in October.
Niek Bartholomeus, the creator of Open the Box, started working on the platform in May 2017. Open Knowledge Belgium became interested in Open the Box when this project was released last year. “So as soon as I found out about Open Summer of Code I contacted Dries Van Ransbeeck and we decide to build a team for it”, – he said.
Four talented students work on this project: Beau, a Political and Social sciences student who is responsible for communication, Greet who is in charge of the UX, design and the front-end, and Emile and Sam who are the back-end developers.
Open this box
Kiest ze is a platform that aims to improve the transparency between politicians and companies. It allows people to easily look up the candidates and the companies and to visualise the mandates that these politicians have in various companies in Belgium.
The goal of this project is to stimulate first-time voters and help them to make a well-thought-out decision during the coming elections. Beau told me: “Very often, people are not aware of the consequences voting has on society. Young people especially seem to care less about the elections because usually, they don’t know how the voting system works”. On this platform, they want not only to inform people about the parties and the candidates but also about the impact of elections and what happens with the vote.
Before this project, I never heard of Open The Box and was really surprised by all the information I could find there. I was not that familiar with the political system but now, I’m really looking forward to the end product!
Kiest ze primarily focuses on the first-time voters because often they have no idea about the local parties or candidates. Of course, the website can be useful for every Flemish citizen as well as the local politicians. Greet said: “This year is the first time I have to vote. Before I started this project I didn’t even know there are elections in October. And I definitely didn’t know what party or a candidate to vote for. That’s exactly the problem our website is going to solve”.
How does it work?
The website allows you to choose your municipality, then it shows the parties in that area and the candidates presented on the list. You can click on a candidate to see more information. The idea is to make it editable for everyone in order to provide as much details about the candidates as possible. In this way, the candidates themselves will be able to update their profiles by adding their hobbies, interests or pictures.
Ideally, all of the Flemish municipalities will have to be presented on the website. However, the team emphasized that it is still an experimental project and to find the right data is very hard.
But this project is definitely more efficient than the flyers that people usually get before the elections. The problem is that the flyers usually end up in the trash can because they are very confusing and the overflow of information discourages people. With Kiest ze, everything will be centralized on one website. It will make the whole process of learning about the parties and the candidates more accessible and appealing to the voters.
This platform will educate people, including me, on who to vote for. As a funny side-effect, I am now able to search for people I know and see if they are active in politics.
Hand in Hand
The most crucial part is to understand that the collaboration between the platform and the candidates is important. Without the candidate’s participation, there is no content. The team works very hard to give Kiest ze enough media attention, and they hope the politicians will be willing to use it. “We try to give the website an appealing and interactive appearance so it can be attractive for younger people”, – Beau said. He continued: “Nowadays, only Flemish politics use a structured way to present the parties and the candidates. On a local level, this is very disorganized. If our website turns out the way we want it, it would be a perfect opportunity for the local parties and the candidates to present themselves on a website, accessible to everyone“. However, if the politicians don’t feel the need to improve their profile or add extra information, the lists of the candidates will be insufficient which will lead to the same situation as before of people not being informed enough about the candidates and parties.
According to Niek, many datasets are publicly available but it doesn’t mean they are easy to use by a non-tech person. He thought it could be an interesting experiment to integrate a couple of these datasets and to build a real product from it – a website that can be used by regular people.
“It is an important prerequisite for a well-functioning democracy to have the voters who can make rational decisions on whoever is going to represent them on the political scene. In general, this applies to every voter – young as well as old. But especially the young voters may be more eager to learn more”, – says Niek.
Personally, I am happy to see that a platform like this is coming to life. In October, I will also have to vote and it is so easy to get lost in the long list of all the candidates and parties. Luckily, the team showed me their platform and how it works. In my personal opinion, it is very efficient and interactive since they implemented a lot of interesting details. The design is simple and the website itself is clear. Kiest ze allows the voters to digitally “meet” the candidates and learn more about them. This experience can become personal and will help not only the voters to make a right decision, but also the candidates to present themselves in the best way possible. I can’t wait for other people and myself to start using this platform in order to make an important decision.
Thanks to the Kiest ze team and Niek for sharing with me their opinions and showing me the platform!
Follow @Kiestze on Twitter and Facebook for more information on this project.