• Steve Liddle is a researcher and independent journalist based in Napier.

This election has been electrifying. It has restored a focus on issues to New Zealand's democratic process while providing a much needed opportunity to reflect on the process itself.

Since 2011 when statistics first alerted us to a concerning drop-off in turnout and a trend to personality politics, many commentators were motivated to analyse the causes of this.

Policies, the prime concern and purpose of democratic competition, have been returned to centre stage, and not only by those whose personality has been credited for electrifying that competition. Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations and creator of world Democracy Day, recently called on countries to promote and defend democracy in the face of new challenges.

Advertisement

In a speech to the 2017 Athens Democracy Forum Annan cited three challenges in the face of recent declines in democracies: the growing inequality between countries, increasingly powerlessness of countries in globalised economies, and the apparent effectiveness of command economies.

For Annan victories over Nazism, fascism and communism were also ideological victories on the battleground of ideas. His solutions: make democracy more accessible and less bureaucratic; tackle inequality by re-examining how taxes can be made to more fairly redistribute the benefits of globalisation; and champion democracy through education and the restoration of liberal ideas.

Annan identifies some newer ideological enemies as "armies of state-financed trolls" creating "Astro-Turf movements" to weaken democracies by sowing the seeds of mistrust and disunity.

In New Zealand efforts to re-energise our democratic processes have focused on why young people in particular are disengaged. RockEnrol, like Compass New Zealand's party identifier, aimed to provide frameworks for opinions to help decision-making.

Founded in 2014, RockEnrol, adopted a "sizzle and steak" approach aimed at empowering 18- to 29-year-olds to vote. As international research revealed one-on-one phone calls are most effective, RockEnrol organised music, parties, celebrities and shareable content as the "sizzle" to attract sign-up pledges, with the "steak" the later follow-up calls.

Post-2014 election polls revealed RockEnrol's Laura O'Connell Rapira, Lizzie Sullivan, Meliesha Platt and Sam Dyson influenced 5 per cent engagement, with On the Fence influencing almost 12 per cent.

Ormiston College's Anthony Hua in a recent article called the absence of civics "a giant bullet hole" in our youngest citizens' education. And that youth involvement starts with listening. Social media, rather than being seen as a media of dissemination, should be viewed as a way of listening to young people's opinions, Hua said.

Youth democracy advocate and political scientist Bronwyn Hayworth says compared with the baby boomers, millennials have lost a lot of the traditional institutions - churches, trade unions, even sports teams - that used to foster a sense of social solidarity. Lacking these supports, young people are both more empowered and vulnerable, Hayworth maintains.

Also when research showed tertiary students work on average 16 hours per week at part-time jobs, it certainly revealed there is little room for old-style activism. Or prejudice about their work ethic.

But if parties are still the best way of bringing ideas from grassroots and think-tanks into mainstream policies, then more attention could be paid to how internet younger comment groups can be listened to and incorporated.

And if civics is perceived as boring or a burden on stretched curricula, why not spend money on IT and subject matter experts to devise ways to make them interesting sub-topics - at least able to be slotted into existing subjects. Democracy in schools, if only voting for student representatives within classrooms, is also part of this but still missing within many schools.

Those who have no time for politics have usually never learned to talk about it - or been invited to. Separating one's ego from the argument, like agreeing to disagree, is refreshing and a sign of maturity - of both individuals and nations. The Greeks despised those who didn't participate in democracy as idiotes, whence the more generalised modern word.

Certainly like education in comparative religions, there are mature ways of teaching comparative government that outline features along with advantages and disadvantages. Without indoctrination or any compulsion to subscribe.

Within MMP, collaboration is a culture we are still learning. But like democracy, self-correcting processes can be written into it. Older sayings about committees' decisions being inferior to individuals' - or somehow more productive of blame-sharing - is not part of a collaboration culture younger people are learning.

The 1980s Scrum technique, inspired in part by All Blacks rolling mauls, has revolutionised IT production and now modern management - and buried older prejudices in most parts of the world.

Since a 2012 article I wrote about our "missing million", much exciting progress has been made to change our political culture. If democracy is the only political system capable of self-correction, there is certainly scope for more. And for greater inclusion.