GovFaces.com is an online platform for easy and direct interaction between citizens and politicians. It also includes journalists, NGOs and academics to make sure that all voices are heard.
The operating mechanism of the platform is very simple. Any person/organization may ask a question to a politician. Users may upvote or downvote questions and ideas to let politicians know which should be answered first. Politicians may respond with a text or a video to any questions on GovFaces.
Tudor Mihailescu, co-founder GovFaces.com, accepted our invitations to answer few questions regarding the platform and future plans.
In what context came the idea of creating GovFaces.com? You had encountered a certain situation in which the platform would have been useful?
Creating of an online platform destined to public domain is an idea that started from our co-founder, Daniel Gomez Iniguez. As CEO of Solben, a specialized company in biodiesel technology, he needed to interact with political decision-makers from different areas of Mexico. Trying to use the internet to reach out to interlocutors, Daniel realized that not only there is no way to engage in a public dialogue with elected representatives, but also there is no web platfor to provide updated data about them.
In comparison with the prototype launched in 2012 in Mexico, what improvements were made to platform, what were the biggest obstacles and how they were overcome?
The prototype platform “Caras Politicas”, created in 2012, served an informational purpose, allowing citizens to find their elected representatives in the different levels of the Mexican political system. GovFaces platform passed through two phases of developments to get to actual form.
In the beginning of 2014 we launched GovFaces BETA that covered the European Parliament and European Commission. The platform distinguished in the European media space by facilitating direct dialogue between citizens and politicians via text or video. We learned very much from the European experience and in 2015 we launched the platform MVP in Great Britain and Switzerland. The new platform is built to serve the communication necessities on local, national and international level. This comes with a series of features meant to stimulate a dynamic and complex interaction: the possibility to ask questions and compare answers from different politicians, in the same time, newsfeed being personalized for each user with posts based on interest categories, etc.
How many people form the team behind this project?
Actual team is made up of five persons: Jon Mark (USA), Alexis Bourgeois (Switzerland) and Tudor Mihailescu (Romania) working on business and development, while Javi Hernandez and Juan Manuel (Spain) form the technical team. In GovFaces activities also include collaborators, interns and volunteers.
What are the most successful results so far and what you aim to realize in 2016?
Our initial objectives were to build a viable and easy-to-use platform for public dialogue in order to respond to complex needs of 21st century public communication. We also wanted to prove that there is a real need for this means of communication and availability to use it on local, national and international level. We managed this in the last two years.
In 2014 GovFaces BETA was used by 50 European MPs and 50 candidates in communication with citizens all over European Union.
In 2015, GovFaces was launched in a local community in Great Britain. The platform became the main instrument for public dialogue in Portsmouth, and was used by politicians from all parties. 2015 meant also launching the platform in Switzerland – as an instrument for public dialogue on national level promoted by the Swiss Digital Agenda during the federal elections.
For 2016, GovFaces team aims to extend and consolidate its presence on Swiss and Britain market in tandem with technical development of the platform in order to fulfill those expectations.
There is a selection of persons or organizations that sign up on the platform? There is a mechanism that verifies their authenticity?
GovFaces wishes to become an official mean of public communication for politicians, parties, authorities, organizations and journalists. That is why these user categories have manually verified accounts which confirm answers’ authenticity given to citizens based on themes they approached.
In your opinion, what is the most important advantage or benefit for citizens, but for politicians?
GovFaces succeeds to facilitate online dialogue in public space offering benefits both to citizens and politicians. For politicians, GovFaces offers efficacy and transparency. Their activity on the platform demonstrates that by a single post, a local elected from Great Britain answers on average to 10 people. Using GovFaces, politicians reduce the need to respond by mail to the same questions over and over again. This proves the superior efficacy of the platform as against to traditional mean of online dialogue with citizens: e-mail. Communication efficacy on GovFaces is testable by the fact that every answer of a local politician is read, on average, 300 times. Furthermore, by promoting a public and transparent dialogue, GovFaces allows citizens to see the politicians and authorities “to work”, thus increasing the trust of voters in their representatives. For citizens, GovFaces represents a simple and direct mean of getting their questions answered. Instead of spending dozens of minutes reading election material, news or public documents to obtain the necessary information, citizens have at their disposal a mean of asking questions to decision makers on exact themes and compare the answers within minutes.
Can you specify a situation in which the platform had an important role in an issue?
In the second part of the year 2015, three non-profit organisations from Switzerland used GovFces for launching a national campaign about rights regarding digital area, protection of data and of private life in the digital enrironment (Swiss Digital Agenda). The debate had as a result a legislative project which was used as a proposal in Swiss Parliament.
In what direction do you think institutional communication is going on a global level and how will your platform help at its evolution?
The invention of the Internet and its use at a global scale was seen as a potential solution for creating a direct connection between citizens and their reprezentatives in the era of mass communication. But digital technology did not, so far, reach this goal. While Internet could serve for an effective dialogue with civil society, politicians use the internet rather to increase the volume of their monologue. Thus, instead of allowing the politicians’ reintegration in the communities they represent, digital technology has only provided citizens with more powerful “binoculars” to observe remotely the political scene. Empowering citizens through the use of digital tools it is the unfulfilled promise of communication of the early 21st century. Through GovFaces, our team wants to have a contribution to a substantial change in this direction.
What was the fact that lead to the success of your project? What is the engine of the entire/whole process?
For us, the definition of success is to facilitate the public dialogue between politicians and citizens at a global level by using the online environment. We proved that there is a real need for such communication at a local, national and international level, but our struggle is just at the beginning. The engine of our activitaty is based on our belief that GovFaces can bring the citizens and the politiciens closer to each other. We feel that this way we can contribute to the promotion of a certain type of politics, one based on direct interaction as a solution for promoting understanding, trust and empathy in the public space.
Are there any plans regarding expansion the platform in Romania?
Operational plans of GovFaces for 2016 are aiming mainly on expending on the British and Swiss market. Though, we are remaining open to explore new opportunities if there is a substantial interest from the parties and public authorities of other European Union countries. GovFaces in Romania? Why not? For me, personally, it is a dream that it would come true.
Article drafted by Mihai Bogdan Mocanu, intern @ Institute for Digital Government. Mihai is a recent graduate of an MA in Diplomacy and Negotiation (SNSPA Bucharest) and a passionate about photography. He has competencies in the realm of institutional communication, having completed internships with the UK Embassy in Romania, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other volunteering projects.