Tackling voter apathy in western democracies

Voter apathy is a serious problem in many Western democracies throughout the world, including Australia where voting is compulsory. Yet an estimated 10% of our population does not even register to vote.

The issue was at the heart of a recent pro bono project Deloitte undertook with Massey University in New Zealand’s Design+Democracy Project (D+DP) – a research and design team aimed at empowering disengaged young voters. The D+DP team is dedicated to guiding people on how to make informed voting choices based on their personal priorities and beliefs.

Since 2013, the D+DP has provided a successful range of engagement applications and services to increase voter participation in New Zealand (NZ) elections. Five years later, D+DP was at a strategic juncture. While it had a strong brand and track record, it had a funding imperative to find new funding, as funding for previous initiatives had been used. There was a need to identify the next democracy research opportunity to build on the momentum with NZ citizens.

Deloitte got involved after D+DP won $50,000 of pro bono services as part of a 2017 Deloitte-sponsored Good Design Award for the Social Innovation category. The Deloitte pro bono team was led by Deloitte Consulting Partner, Allan Mills and Consulting Director, Simon Cooper.

In February 2018, the D+DP project’s main designers and lecturers Karl Kane and Tim Parkin, along with project manager Linda Baxter travelled to Deloitte’s Sydney office for a one-day strategic workshop to determine how best to continue, expand and differentiate their offering.

Using a design-thinking approach, the resulting Deloitte report identified a significant opportunity for D+DP to expand beyond New Zealand to arrest the international decline in civic participation – by engaging young people in innovative ways.

The Deloitte report recommended the D+DP consolidate and streamline existing New Zealand products with the potential to scale internationally. These include [the application] ‘On the Fence’ and the creation of a ‘plug and play’ civic education product. It further recommended greater discipline and selectivity in the exploration of global opportunities, and creation of the space to prototype and explore future initiatives.

Commenting on Deloitte’s work, the D+DP’s Director Karl Kane, said: “Deloitte provided us with a vivid snapshot of the context in which we find ourselves, and gave clarity for us to navigate the myriad options that have presented themselves to our team.

The Deloitte team matched their clear analytical talents and rigor, with genuine empathy for our work and respect for the manner in which we undertake it, as both user-centred designers and academics.

The next step is to match the exciting choices we are faced with to our University’s aims, and – of course – our resources.”

Key facts
  • In 2013, New Zealand’s national voter turnout for mayoral elections dropped to 41%, with young people (18–24) even lower at 37%. Count those not enrolled and the numbers are even worse
  • In 2014, D+DP’s application On the Fence contributed to a 7% rise in youth voter participation in the New Zealand General Election
  • In 2017, On the Fence was used almost quarter-million times and saw a 6.5% increase in the youth vote.
The multi-disciplinary Deloitte project team included:
  • Allan Mills – National Lead Partner for Civil Government
  • Rob Overend – Deloitte Digital
  • Simon Cooper – Monitor Deloitte
  • Michael Goldman – Monitor Deloitte
  • Sara Izquierdo – Monitor Deloitte
  • Jessica Chung – Finance & Performance

Design+Democracy workshop, L-R: Karl Kane, Linda Baxter, Tim Parkin

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