Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation (III). Infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation

This is a three-part article entitled Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation. From mass democracy to the networks of democracy.

The first part deals with Man-mass and post-democracy and how democracy seems not to be maturing at all, or even going backwards due to lack of democratic culture and education. The second one deals with the Digital revolution and technopolitics and reflects about how the digital revolution might be an opportunity not only to recover but to update and transform democracy. This third part speaks about what kind of Infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation could be put in place.

Democratic participation happens in a planned and structured way: elections, sessions in the representation chambers, etc. they have their place in time and an internal order for their development.

Non-formal participation lacks the first feature: although it has an internal structure —provided often by institutions, but increasingly by citizens without an entity behind it— it takes place ad-hoc to respond quickly to a specific issue.

Informal participation, finally, is one that is neither planned nor does it have an internal structure determined as a spontaneous manifestation or assembly, or many debates in spaces such as social networks.

The general objective of a policy to promote infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation is to identify actors, facilitate spaces and provide instruments that enrich the non-formal and informal democratic practice so that it achieves its objectives, either directly or through channeling action at some point towards a democratic institution.

  • Actors: in addition to people who may have an interest or knowledge in a given policy, articulate the participation and active intervention of intermediaries (prescribers, experts, representatives), facilitators (experts in making happen democratic participation actions) and infomediaries (experts in the treatment of data and information for public decision-making).
  • Spaces: create the conditions so that the actors can work together, either coinciding in time and space as with other “spaces”, facilitating especially the conditions of participation, mediation strategies, channels and codes, weaving the network and explaining its operation.
  • Instruments: methodologies, operating regulations, technological support (digital or analogue) for information, communication, decision-making and return.

For the deployment of this policy to promote infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation we propose six axes or priority action programs:

  • Deliberative participation program: to promote and improve projects on deliberative democracy, government 2.0, an appropriate regulatory framework for citizen participation, and awareness of the importance of this instrument through training, research and dissemination.
  • Program of electoral participation and direct democracy: promote and/or improve electoral processes to increase the legitimacy of formal participation processes, as well as projects on direct democracy consisting of the return of sovereignty to the citizen; raise awareness about the importance of these instruments through research and dissemination.
  • Internal participation program: work towards a transformation of how the Administration understands participation, collaboration and cooperation within the institutions as well as in its relationship with citizens, through training and support networks and work, communities of professional innovation practice and open communities of practice between public professionals and citizens.
  • Collaboration program: with the objective of standardizing and normalizing public-social-private consortiums and innovation initiatives according to the quadruple helix model; or, to put it another way, to work for the planning and structuring of non-formal and informal initiatives of democratic participation for its scaling and replication.
  • Intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries program: to contribute to the growth and consolidation of a trained and/or professionalized sector in the field of participation, in order to achieve the highest quality of participatory practices and projects, providing the sector and citizens involved with knowledge, instruments, technological tools or resources in general.
  • E-participation, electronic voting and technopolitics program: accelerate the adoption of ICT in the field of participation, thus contributing to facilitate and standardize electronic participation, electronic voting, electronic government and electronic democracy in general, at the same time transforming the paradigm behind citizen practices based mainly on passive or merely responsive actors towards a technopolitical paradigm based on active, empowered and networked actors.

We can see a graphic representation of these six programs in the Theory of Change of Citizen Participation that appears below.

In it we can see how the programs become products or political actions that, in turn, have expected results (measurable according to the established objectives and indicators) and that, according to the theory, will lead to an impact, understood as a change in social behavior —or a latent variable impossible to measure.

As we have started saying, the expected impact wants to go far beyond the improvement of efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy of the democratic system, although this is the first desired impact, of course.

On the one hand, one should aim at fighting populism, fighting the simplification of politics and the manipulation of citizens working to improve the social fabric, information and the involvement of citizens in public issues.

This participation, moreover, is not merely quantitative but qualitative, given that we aspire to explain the complexity of the challenges of public decision-making and management with the concurrence of citizens in the design and evaluation of them.

We achieve this, besides reinforcing the traditional channels of institutional participation, by encouraging non-formal and informal participation initiatives, establishing or re-establishing broken bridges between institutions and citizens but, above all, doing it on an equal footing, sharing sovereignties … and sharing the resolution of the problems associated with the responsibility that comes with enjoying such sovereignty, both personal and collective.

Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation (II). Digital revolution and technopolitics

A city at nightAnts, courtesy of Fabien Cambi

This is a three-part article entitled Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation. From mass democracy to the networks of democracy.

The first part deals with Man-mass and post-democracy and how democracy seems not to be maturing at all, or even going backwards due to lack of democratic culture and education. This second part deals with the Digital revolution and technopolitics and reflects about how the digital revolution might be an opportunity not only to recover but to update and transform democracy. The third speaks about what kind of Infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation could be put in place.

While we are witnessing this possible exhaustion of democracy, the digital revolution has long ceased to merely affect the management of information and communications to be a vector of very deep transformations in absolutely all aspects of daily life. They do not escape to this revolution neither civic action nor democratic commitment.

There are many and controversial pros and cons on the so-called electronic democracy, the uses and abuses of the practices that we encompass as Government 2.0 or the enormous disagreement on whether the new channels of information and digital communication improve or worsen the quality of the information that arrives to the citizens, or if citizens are able to form part of more pluralistic communities or, on the contrary, they are enclosed in their own resonance chambers.

An issue that seems unquestionable to us, because it transcends the scope of democratic action, is the elimination of intermediaries for many of the collective tasks that traditionally required institutions to promote, articulate, organize, guide and resolve collective action. Or, failing that —the elimination of intermediaries— at least a radical transformation of the roles or actors that will develop these mediation roles.

We believe more than proven by the empirical evidence that the cost of participating in any area of ​​collective decision-making has been dramatically reduced. Information, deliberation, negotiation, specification of preferences, decision making in itself, evaluation and accountability. All this can now be done with significantly less material and personal costs than in the past.

Likewise, and as mentioned above, the potential to increase the benefits of participation has also increased due in part to the potential increase in participation itself, but also to the potentially much greater quantity and quality of information for the taking of decisions, the possibility of carrying out simulations, pilot tests, obtaining more and better indicators and in real time, the potential increase of the relative benefit by reducing the cost of conflict management, etc.

These potentials have been materialized in countless citizen initiatives focused on self-organization, self-management, decision-making distributed in what has come to be called for-institutions, spaces of autonomy or means of mass self-communication.

However, the wide range of opportunities offered by these spaces often takes place completely giving their back to institutions. Not only outside of them, but alien to them, when not directly challenging what was previously the natural space of these institutions or even their foundational functions, as Yochai Benkler reminds us.

Even in the case where one believes that institutions were not necessary, an orderly transition between the now hegemonic institutional space towards informal spaces of democratic participation would seem desirable.

Our bet —based on the belief that institutions have many difficult functions to replace, among them and as a priority the protection of minorities— is towards a deployment of the collective action of institutional spaces towards (also) the new informal spaces, as well as a sharing of sovereignty between these same institutions with the new actors of civic action in particular, and citizens in general.

However, we run the risk of falling into what Manuel Delgado calls citizenshism, namely, let citizens participate, but participate just and necessary. To avoid this, we propose a return of sovereignty based on putting the “means of political production” in the hands of citizens.

Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation (I). Man-mass and post-democracy

Ants inside a cristal pipeline
Anthill inside, courtesy by Marcel de Jong

This is a three-part article entitled Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation. From mass democracy to the networks of democracy.

This first part deals with Man-mass and post-democracy and how democracy seems not to be maturing at all, or even going backwards due to lack of democratic culture and education. The second one deals with the Digital revolution and technopolitics and reflects about how the digital revolution might be an opportunity not only to recover but to update and transform democracy. The third speaks about what kind of Infrastructures for non-formal and informal democratic participation could be put in place.

There are two complementary views of citizen participation. The traditional view is that participation helps us to design better laws and public policies thanks to making more people work on them, with different visions and with different knowledge. Thanks to this greater concurrence, we get more effective laws and policies —because their diagnosis and range of solutions are more adjusted— and more efficient, since consensus is increased, conflict is reduced and design is technically better.

This view, which we could describe as essentially technical, can be complemented by another vision much more philosophical or even political in the sense of social transformation through ideas. This second view is that participation of a deliberative nature could constitute a kind of third stage of democracy, taking the best of Greek democracy (direct) and modern democracy (representative), at the same time that it contributes to addressing more and more manifest shortcomings of both: on the one hand, the cost of participating; on the other hand, the increasing complexity of public decisions. However, this third stage, given its deliberative nature, by definition must occur in new spaces and with new actors, to incorporate the current design of democratic practice centered almost exclusively on institutions.

Greek democracy has often been idealized as the perfect paradigm of public decision making: citizens, highly committed to the community, assume the responsibility of managing that public. They inform, debate, make decisions and execute them. Without caricaturizing what was of course a much more elaborate public management scheme, there are at least two aspects that are worth considering. First, the relatively simple sociopolitical context of the time. Second, the existence of citizens of a lesser degree or directly non-citizens (women, foreigners, slaves) on whose shoulders were discharged many tasks that facilitated that citizens with full rights could do politics.

The next reincarnation of democracy will take place several centuries later in a totally different socio-economic reality that will change rapidly on the back of science and the industrial revolution. The modern liberal democracies, given the greater complexity of the context, as well as the greater (and also increasing) concurrence of free citizens, will resort to the creation of the State and the institutions of democratic representation for its administration. The delegation of power will be a radical transformation of the exercise of democracy that in turn will transform social organization —and vice versa.

Some authors, however, alert us both to deficiencies in their design and signs of depletion. Ortega y Gasset, among others, warns in The rebellion of the masses that the technical and social advances have not been followed by similar advances in the fields of ethics or education, understanding education not as technical training for professional development, but in the humanistic sphere of personal development or as human beings. These so-called mass-men, says Ortega, are capable of operating with revolutionary technologies, but have not been able to grasp the historical dimension of humanity and, with this, are unable to understand and even to rule their own destiny. Ortega warns —and his warnings can be complemented by Elias Canetti‘s reflections on the dynamics of mass and power masses— how easy it is to end up controlling these masses, as well as the degeneration of that manipulation that we have come to call fascism.

In a less destructive but equally worrisome version, Colin Crouch describes the current situation of democracy as post-democracy. Crouch explains that the growing complexity of decision-making, as well as political disaffection due to a feeling of alienation and ineffectiveness of politics, expulse tacitly or explicitly the citizens of the public agora, leaving them in the hands of elites who control, with an appearance of democracy, all the springs of public life.

Paradoxically, the “solutions” that have appeared for one case (the mass-man) or for another (the post-democracy) are opposite and complementary at the same time: before a mass-man incapable of ruling himself, one aims for technocracy, for political meritocracy to its limit, for the professional rulers that are above a misinformed and ignorant citizenry, for the political aristocracy as a solution. On the other hand, the fight against post-democracy, the struggle of the elite that “does not represent” the citizen, has often led to populisms where a messianic leader, belonging to the people and not to the reviled elite, stands as foreseer of any solution, easy and simple, and many times consistent in finding a scapegoat to sacrifice along with the corrupt political elite. That populism derives in fascism is, as many authors like Rob Riemen say, only a matter of time.

The question that remains latent, however, is whether there is a middle ground between fascism and aristocracy. It would seem that in this middle term there should be at least two concurrent circumstances: first, to go beyond education based on information and move towards the upbringing of full citizens, in the sense of individuals aware of their social environment and rights and duties towards their peers and their project as a collective; second, to provide instruments so that these trained citizens can democratically express their wishes and needs within this new globalized and complex system and, above all, under the protection of destructive populist drifts or the dispossession of their rights by the aristocracies.

Decidim.index. Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

The democratic process is not only a model for governance, but a model for living together.

How do we manage conflict in democratic processes? Define, make explicit, mediate and measure. There are two different issues in conflicts: the dimensions of the conflict and the actors of the conflict.

Measuring the debate can be difficult and especially difficult to manage if we had not prepared it in advance. Technologies and methodologies can help to structure deliberations. Argument mapping can be very useful to achieve such structuration and thus improve deliberation and the whole democratic process.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)

Decidim.index. Miriam Sol & Carla Cordoncilo: Systems of indicators of quality

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Miriam Sol & Carla Cordoncilo: evaluation system for the programme of active democracy

The system was designed after the logical framework approach. A matrix of indicators (simple and complex indicators) was created and then came the design of the sources of verification. Finally, the evaluation system was created.

Active democracy includes:

  • Citizen initiatives.
  • Participatory processes.
  • Citizen consultations.
  • Participation bodies.

In this project the focus was put on participatory processes.

Main dimensions: accessibility, diversity, plurality, traceability, transparency, operations.

These aspects should not be measured outside of their context, as most of them are very sensitive to it. Thus, quality or achievement of specific thresholds in indicators should be measured in relationship with environmental values. E.g. diversity in participation has different meanings in neighbourhoods that have a multicultural social tissue or in neighbourhoods that are socially or culturally more homogeneous. Less diversity in the latter is to be expected, while low diversity in the former should be considered as a failure.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)

Decidim.index. Sofia de Roa: Systems of indicators of quality

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Sofia de Roa: Systems of indicators of quality

The point of departure to design a system of indicators for democratic quality is transparency.

Two types of organiations in relationship to transparency:

180º organization:

  • What for transparency: to disclose information from the past.
  • Why transparency: external motivation: to look nice in transparency indices and gain recognition.
  • What do we make transparent: operative aspects related to production, such as people, economy, structure and processes.
  • How do we become transparent: on their own, with their own tools.

360º organization:

  • What for transparency: to disclose commitments and measure improvements.
  • Why transparency: intrinsic motivation: responsibility, work well done, the common good.
  • What do we make transparent: all the value chain, including vision and mission, values, strategies, etc.
  • How do we become transparent: in a participatory way, with all stakeholders.

How to operationalize concepts such as diversity, democratic quality, gender balance, social autonomy, etc.?

Systems of quality indicators: choose, improve, etc.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)