Networked democracy and new institutionality. New models for the XXIst century democracy

Notes from the Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet. From the Global Spring to the Net Democracy, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 24-25, 2012. More notes on this event: comsc.

Round table: Networked democracy and new institutionality. New models for the XXIst century democracy
Chairs: Ismael Peña-López (ICTlogy)

Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí

Transforming institutions is compatible with occupying them, with questioning them, with trying to design new institutions. A key factor, though, of transformation or substitution of institutions is that major consensus and critical masses are required for changes to happen. There is a need to weave strong and broad alliances to question the status quo: it is a matter of democratic density.

There are many grounds that need being covered before citizen activism can take place. New laws on transparency or accountability are great milestones that enable further political activism. On the other hand, many of these laws are being designed as isolated laws and not as a part of a legal ecosystem.

Some times it’s institutions the ones that make the first steps (e.g. the Basque Government and the budget for 2012). These initiatives are good places that the citizenry can use to build bridges between institutions and social movements.

But while some institutions are trying to be more open, transparent, participative, this does not happen within political parties, whose DNA is just the opposite of the DNA of the movement of the XXIst century: centralized, vertical, often undemocratic and non-participative. We need to deeply transform political parties to their roots.

Top priorities: democratization of internal processes and creation of a culture of ideas (and not of mottos).

Social movements need less self-complaceny and dispersion: it is not about getting there first (and alone), but about getting there all together.

Francisco Jurado (Demo4punto0)

[click here to enlarge]

Democracia 4.0 aims at more participation, at understanding participation not as a problem but as a value, as an opportunity. A participation that can be either direct or representative depending on the personal will of the citizen.

A first foundation of Democracia 4.0 is that its technology must guarantee all democratic rights (privacy, security, etc.) and be, at the same time, as transparent as possible. Transparency is also about the workings of the tool, which has to be easy to use so that participation can take place without barriers.

The different powers are not balanced — there is no ‘check and balance’ — and the way to fix this is to distribute power: enabling better ways of watching power, of transparency, of accountability. Distribution of power also breaks with “politics in blocks”, where voting usually is not about specific issues but about sets of issues which cannot be voted individually.

Representative democracy, through intermediation, creates big hubs of power: Internet is a huge disintermediation machine that can end up breaking those big hubs while democratic efficiency and efficacy may not suffer at all. On the other hand, this lack of big powers would also enable vetoing specific laws that are unpopular or plain awful.

We can demonstrate that our political system is not compact and coherent (in Kurt Gödel’s words).

In the Internet matters not what (or who) but how (and where). Though focussing on the how the what gets revaluated.

Vasilis Kostakis
The governance of communities based in the commons: laying the foundations of an open source democracy?

[click here to enlarge]

The social web has change the way we can communicate and create content. A good side-effect of social media is that participation many times just happens, unconsciously, on the run. This creates several different profiles according to how people approach creation of content: the amateur, the professional, the final user, the white hat and black hat hacker, etc. In this scenario, the amateur plays a key role and constitutes a new “class” as they become the new controllers of the means of production. New economies are created: sharing and aggregation economies, crowdsourcing economies, commons-based economies… What are the consequences of the emergence of these new economies? Is that a good or a bad thing?

Commons-based economies have ways of organization that are different from traditional for-profits, as they foster social dynamics that play a very important role producing value for the public domain. This value is created through peer-production.

If peer-production can create value in the field of information and knowledge, peer-governance can do the same in the field of politics. Unlike centralized power, on peer-production authority is the currency and ‘benevolent dictators’ have arisen to their positions by contributing with their work.

Abundance of intellect + resources + tools = unpredictable outcome. This is a difficult to handle outcome, by the way.

Cooperation + abundance + desktop manufacturing: another way of “manufacturing” an open source democracy.


Alberto Lumbreras: how can we enable that representatives can be an option in parallel with direct democracy? How can we avoid that someone votes everything while others do not even notice? Francisco Jurado: the idea is not to create an total substitute, but an alternative to a one and only way to do things. The problem is not the system’s, but how we communicate and deliberate about issues.

Alberto Lumbreras: how can we avoid a commons-based economy from being stopped? Vasilis Kostakis: Commons-based economics is an alternative, but based on capitalism. Thus, it is much constrained by its legal framework. The idea is to go beyond this framework by entering the new mindset taht a digital economy is not based on scarcity or transaction costs.

Joan Coscubiela: it should be possible to “use” the insiders of the system to change it from within, but fostering change from the outside. Joan Coscubiela disagrees that unions are as centralized and hierarchical as political parties, but that the problem of unions is that they were created in the industrial society, vertical, corporate, not horizontal and networked. For unions the problem is creating critical mass around common axes. Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí: it is interesting to see representative democracy as an “administered sovereignty”. In an industrial society, parties and unions worked very well; but what happens in a digital society? How are parties and unions administering our sovereignties? Do political parties and governments really understand the people they are serving?

Ismael Peña-López: in a direct democracy, in a binary world, how do we take into account minorities that will never be able to be represented by a majority? Francisco Jurado: we can design participatory processes that take into account weightings for different opinions, so that the outcome is not a yes or a no, but a shade of grays. Arnau Monterde: indeed, it is not only about voting, but if the whole deliberative process is open and participatory, all these shades of gray can be taken into account in the final outcome. Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí: agreed, but it is very difficult to carry on a complex debate without polarization and simplification, without echo chambers that do nothing but resonate.

Q: these improvements are ok for parliaments, but what happens with governments? Francisco Jurado: if the government is loyal to the parliament, then there is no problem. Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí: regarding governments, new ways of democracy can play a major role in accountability.

Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet (2012)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2012) “Networked democracy and new institutionality. New models for the XXIst century democracy” In ICTlogy, #109, October 2012. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.