Innovation School: Creative Bravery Prize

Innovation School MDes Design Innovation & Citizenship

Emese Stork


I have a macro and strategic approach, unquenchable curiosity and a desire to understand how societies, cultures and economic systems interact and influence each other. I know that it is almost impossible to step out of the sphere of academia without the eagerness of design. However, not only academia can benefit from the marriage of design and research. I have taken place in the democratic life as a political activist from a young age, therefore I try to keep in mind that action and activism are unsustainable and ineffective without investigations and thorough considerations. I also need to be humble because I know that the topics I am usually working on are so complex and the world these are taking place in is so globalised that results can only be achieved over decades if it is possible at all.


Response to populism
Political will

Response to populism

The trust in politicians is at a historical low point.
Do you trust them? What could you do if they took advantage of your trust?

The representatives should represent us.
Do you think they represent you and your values? When was the last time you spoke to your representative?

We consider voting the fulfilment of democracy.
But can your political opinion be summarised in a single vote every few years?

In the last hundred years, democracy hasn’t changed at its core. Life keeps repeating itself over and over again. Same issues. Same problems.

The idea of the Ministry of Social Trust has been born from my research about the political polarisation between urban and rural areas. I encountered the phenomenon of right-wing populism spreading among the rural population more than in the urban environment. In my understanding, populism is a sign of unmet democratic demands, the lack of involvement in the decisions above citizens’ heads. Populism is a radical democratic promise which aims to emancipate the many from the oppression of the few.

The Ministry of Social Trust is a somewhat populist institution which is an oxymoron in itself since populism usually erodes the institutions, but in this case, it’s meant to heal the eroded perception of governance and politics by acknowledging populist democratic demands.


What if the government would like to hear from you? If they wanted you to participate and frequently express your opinion? What if they wanted you to flourish, to understand the complexity of the issues you are interested in and help you make wise decisions? But not manipulating you to make those decisions that their party thinks wise.

The Ministry of Social Trust is a proposal to make it happen. It is a Ministry which is finally about you and your democracy. It helps you build connection between you and fellow citizens, and you and your government.

The Ministry of Social Trust is responsible for the quality of the democratic decisions and the political environment in which the decisions are made.

The primary way to do this is to recognise that politics already takes place in online spaces – like Facebook, Twitter or Reddit. But in online spaces that were not designed to enable meaningful and effective political discussions.

Therefore, acknowledging that these services are public commons – like water, roads or television – is essential to make regulations that establish trust in these or similar platforms.


And why is trust important? Because without trusted platforms, we cannot ask people and the government to use online spaces.

And if it’s done, we can think about new platform architecture that crashes the echo chambers instead of keeping the citizen in them, which gives control back to the citizens about the content they receive, broadens their horizons and helps communication between them.

It has the potential to make us as familiar with the happenings in government as we are familiar now even with the vacation of our friend from elementary school. But with one significant difference: in case of the government, we should have a say in where to go on vacation. We can get all the information in an accessible way we need to make the decisions, and we have a place to build up our arguments and express our opinions.


Finally, there would be an institution to put the Internet at the service of democracy instead of being its burden. It would mean a bridge between citizens. Differences between worlds and experiences would become sharable, and difficulties and frustrations could be channelled into the democracy. Citizens’ trust and sense of control could increase. The ministry could provide space to experiment with democracy so it can develop. Democracy shouldn’t be an idea, but a lifestyle, which can be done better and differently every day.

Ministry of Social Trust - an alternative functioning

During my research, two tricky questions arose. One of the difficulties in online deliberative democracy is the culture of online arguments, where the lack of meta-communication causes problems. I borrowed the Meta-Belarus project’s solution, which aimed to avoid online conflicts on its digital-state platform. The government forums are primarily there to provide space for all voices, so as soon as you feel uncomfortable in a room, you should leave and create your space instead of engaging in conflicts. But on the civic and non-governmental side, the Ministry of Social Trust aims to help to keep debates manageable because constructive debates are a vital part of a healthy democratic life. This is why I think the idea of a ‘goodwill’ or ‘benevolence’ button handy, mentioned by Ciaran O’Connor, whose organisation, the Braver Angels, is bringing US liberals and conservatives together at the grassroots level.

Political will

The other pivotal point raised was the lack of political will to develop democracy by implementing already existing technological interventions. Something can change only if we create an environment where this becomes impossible for the political elite to neglect. This would require an extensive campaign capable of gathering a critical mass behind the topic so that it becomes an issue.


The project had different phases and topics, from rural issues and democratic deficiencies to civic and gov tech tools.

I explored the problems of rural places and narrowed them down strategically to democratic disillusionment, mistrust, and demobilisation. I continued exploring solutions of civic mobilisation and engagement, increasing political awareness, and bridging communities. I defined one which I considered to be the most systematic: using digital tools, especially social networks, to build daily democratic engagement.

If I had more time, I would continue the project by investigating a significant barrier that I encountered at the end of my time scale: the lack of political will for
implementing the already existing civic and gov tech initiatives.

While unwrapping the reasons behind this and the issues of the countryside in general, I discovered several points for possible intervention that might ease the societal tension. But the scholars of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative drew my attention to populism and the democratic demand of the rural people to take back the control of political decisions affecting them.