OurSay: Because democracy is not a spectator sport.

To bridge the gap between the active political collectives who use social media and the leaders they seek to influence.2009 Melbourne Fellowship Project

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We want to connect young people in Australia with people who make decisions about the issues they care about most.

When former Victorian Minister for Planning and Environment Tom Roper addressed CSL’s Fellowship Program in 2009, little did he know that he would inspire a web platform aimed at making Australia’s leaders more accessible to the public.

Developed by a team of five young Australian’s – three of whom are alumni of the 2009 Fellowship Program – the aim for OurSay was to bridge the gap between the increasingly active political collectives already using social media and the leaders they sought to influence.

OurSay was developed as an online platform that gives the public an opportunity to ask questions of selected politicians and community and business leaders. The top three questions as voted by site users were then put to the guests. 

‘We wanted to connect young people in Australia with people who made decisions about the issues they care about most,’ said co-founder Matthew Gordon.

Using the slogan ‘democracy is not a spectator sport’, OurSay combined social media and participatory democracy by hosting guest politicians and community leaders in a ‘hotseat’ format. Site users were encouraged to create questions aimed at the guests, vote for other users’ questions and promote the issues through other social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. The most popular questions, determined by the most votes, were then answered by the guests.

Following its launch in August 2010, the site hosted two candidates for the seat of Melbourne – Australian Greens’ Adam Bandt and Labor’s Cath Bowtell – in the run up to the 2010 federal election. The results were encouraging, with the site receiving more than 5,000 hits in its first ten days alone.

Linh Do, co-founder and site community manager, believed OurSay was an important step forward.

‘Using new media to increase engagement in new forms of political and civic involvement makes perfect sense in today’s environment. Politicians respect the power of this space,’ she said.

Matthew, Linh and co-founder Eyal Halamish credited the networking skills they gained through the Fellowship Program for helping them bring OurSay to life. As Eyal says, ‘I think the real essence is that CSL teaches you to really come together with other people, with other leaders, to drive change and so we could actually drive something to completion.’

‘CSL’s been an amazing support network. One of the biggest things that I got from CSL was the network of young leaders you could connect with and bounce ideas off so you could then shape those ideas until they’re perfect to be launched in public.’

While the development of OurSay had not been without challenges, Matthew, Linh and Eyal payed their respect to the Fellowship Program’s strong emphasis on building and sustaining supporting relationships within the team, enabling them to combine their individual strengths to deliver OurSay’s promise.

‘The passion comes from having faith in what we’ve decided to create, and a lot of that faith comes from the support that we’ve gotten from people who have broken down the idea and helped us rebuild it,’ Eyal says.

As Eyal concludes, ‘It’s the people who actually get online and use OurSay and get excited about the idea and reinforce the idea – without them, it just wouldn’t happen. We built it, but we need them to come.

 

One year on, OurSay has continued to grow, exceeding all expectations, including their own. The success of this remarkable start-up proves the old adage that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.

Since the groups debut forum, featuring candidates for the hotly contested seat of Melbourne in the 2010 Federal Election, OurSay have held 15 forums, featuring the likes of former Prime Minister Malcom Fraser fielding questions on renewing democracy and Federal Member for Higgins Kelly O'Dwyer on women in politics. A recent forum on the Australian Republic included AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou. They have also worked on a high profile campaign 'The Climate Agenda' in partnership with The Sunday Age. 

Matthew believes that the Fellowship program continues to help guide OurSay. ‘To really get the forums going, we needed to get thought leaders posting questions early, to set the bar high. We had CSL alumnis, emerging leaders at our fingertips, so we hit those guys up and their mentors as well. We really leaned on the existing relationships that we’d built through the CSL experience. The networking was critical,’ he said.

Matthew says OurSay has the potential to become a global platform for fostering political engagement in any community.

Find out more at www.oursay.org

 

 

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