In September 2015, Madrid — the capital of Spain — initiated a participatory democracy project, Decide Madrid (Madrid decides), to enable participatory strategic planning for the municipality. Less than half a year after, in February 2016, Barcelona — the second largest city in Spain and capital of Catalonia — issued their own participatory democracy project: decidim.barcelona (Barcelona we decide). Both cities use the same free software platform as a base, and are guided by the same political vision.
The success of the initiatives and the strong political vision behind them have caused an outburst of other initiatives around the whole state – and most especially in Catalonia – that are working to emulate the two big cities. They are sharing their free-software-based technology, their procedures and protocols, their reflections both on open events as in formal official meetings. What began as seemingly a one-time project, has spread both in length and width. In length, because it will not only stay but grow over time. In width, because there are serious plans to expand its adoption both at the regional level, led by the Barcelona County Council, and at the Spanish State level, being replicated by other municipalities.
Of course, the big question is whether this has had any positive impact in the quality of democracy, the very intention behind the participatory initiative in Barcelona.
Available open documentation suggests that decidim.barcelona has increased the information access of the citizens, has gathered more citizens around key issues. There has been an increase of participation, with citizen created proposals that have been widely supported and legitimated and finally accepted to be part of the municipality strategic plan. As pluralism has been enhanced without damaging the existing social capital, we can only think that the increase of participation has led to an improvement of democratic processes, especially in bolstering legitimacy around decision making.
This can be summarized in four key points:
Deliberation becomes the new democracy standard.
Openness as the pre-requisite for deliberation.
Accountability and legislative footprint as an important by-product to achieve legitimacy.
Participation leads to more pluralism and stronger social capital, which fosters deliberation, thus closing the (virtuous) circle of deliberative democracy.
Although the scheme may be simple, we believe that it already features most of the components of a new democratic participation in the digital age. What remains to be measured and analyzed is the strength and stability of the new relationships of power and how exactly these will challenge the preceding systemic structures and lead to newer ones.
Although some aspects have been identified in what relates to new relationships between citizens and organizations and institutions, and in what relates to the creation of new tacit communities, para-organizations relational spaces, the real trend and hypothetical final scenario will only become clear after several iterations of the same project evolve in a continuum of participation, radically different from existing, discrete participatory structures.
What has already been measured is the impact both at the quantitative level and on the culture of the organization of the City Council.
The culture of participation was scarce and mainly dealt with managing the support of the citizen in top-down type initiatives. Changing the mindset implied turning upside-down, many of the departments and processes of the City Council: new coordination structures, new balances between the central administration and the districts’, need to speed up the slow tempos of the Administration, manage public-private partnerships (that had to be coordinated too), enable private-private coordination and, in general, increase the workload.
Although the platform and the project in general changed the way of working, and changed it for good by contributing to visualize the work of the public servants, one of the main conclusions reinforces the old saying — democracy is not cheap.
Silvia Luque, Fundació Ferrer i Guardia The participatory experience of the Municipality Action Plan through the decidim.barcelona platform
One of the biggest challenges in a hybrid online-offline participatory process is, precisely, how to balance participation in both spaces, virtual and face-to-face.
The oneline platform has been the amplifier of what was going on in the offline arena. It also gathered all the information and contributed to trace the participation footprint.
Of course, the digital platform itself held lots of debates and collected proposals directly online.
Mobile points — ad-hoc kiosks on the streets — provided offline feedback from what was happening online.
The online platform was both a participatory platform and a work platform: everyone worked within the platform. Both citizens and managers used the platform for all the tasks and procedures related to the participatory process.
There was a good balance between online and offline participation, though in the online platform there was slightly more participation. The platform, though, affected the topic: in wellbeing, there were more proposals offline, while in the topic of environment more proposals came online. This sure has to do with the profile of people that participate online or offline. On the other hand, face-to-face events were mostly organized by the city council, who did not organize the same amount of events for each and every topic of the Municipality Action Plan. Participation and proposals, also, not necessarily go hand in hand: one can find topics highly participated that produced relatively few proposals, and lowly participated topics that notwithstanding produced lots of proposals. The topic and the nature of the participation sure explain the differences.
The nature of participation was also diverse: make proposals, comment on the proposals, support others’ proposals, vote proposals, attend events, interact with a mobile point, comments on online debates.
New tools require new literacies and new working logics. And also taking into account the possibility that there is a digital divide. As online and offline behaved differently, the most promising approach is a hybrid one that enables both logics of participation.
Robert Bjarnason, citizens.is Digital tools for the democratic revolution in Iceland and beyond
Citizens must have a strong voice in policymaking with formal and persistent participation in the political process.
The Citizens Foundation created three open source tools:
Your Priorities, an idea and debate platform, on crowdsourcing. Your Priorities is about building trust between citizens and government.
Open Active Voting, on budget voting, but very pedagogical on how budgets work. Participatory budgets are not only about having a direct influence on expenditure, but also on knowing how much things cost and what it means to have a budget. After that, trust is built and better decisions are made in collaboration with citizens.
Active Citizen: improved participation with artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Artificial intelligence helps in participation with little time spent, helping to overcome bubbles and biases; virtual reality for data visualization and online meetings.
Participation must be fun, informative and educational. Yes, it has to be democratic, and rigorous. But also engaging, something you enjoy doing. Gamifying participation is a good approach for a successful participatory initiative.
Participation tools have to meet people where they are. Tools have to have a “mobile first” design in mind.
But the key for participation to succeed is that it has an impact. Decision-makers do have to listen and take into account what citizens say. If citizens feel they are participating for nothing, they will quickly move away from all other participatory processes.
Participation is also about communication and marketing: people do have to know to be able to participate. It’s not propaganda, but informing the citizen.
My colleague Mirela Fiori is redesigning the Master in City and Urbanism which she is directing. In the updated version that she is planning she wants to include a subject on how technology and civic action have a role in the shaping of the city.
Thus, it does look very relevant to me that there is a little time or space to think about the city not as a mere receptacle of people doing things, but as an actor that is both affected and affecting the uptake of technology and its use for citizen action and, thus, being part of the (new) definition of citizenship.
The goal of the master’s new subject Technopolitics, networks and citizenship is to provide this vision of the city as an institution, a player that requires a renewed strategy and a renewed vision on its role in a complex ecosystem.
My preliminary syllabus (it does not even deserve that name yet) would include the following topics — comments welcome:
Digital revolution and globalization
How dire are the changes we are witnessing in the global economy? How are connected the new trends in the business and financial spheres with the democratic and governance spheres? Are Information and Communication Technologies instruments for improvement or for transformation? Is this a revolution? Why are some things happening? Why would they last — if they do?
Limits of the institutions of the industrial age
Is there a crisis in industrial age institutions (schools & universities, political parties and parliaments, firms and work, media and journalism, etc.)? What is their role in society? Is their role still needed? Can we separate the continent (institutions) from their content (role, tasks)? If yes, who will take up with these roles? How? Why? Why not?
Hacker ethics, commons and gift economy
Is there a new way to design collective initiatives? Is decision-making over as we knew it? Are hierarchies a thing of the past? Is information still power? Can we shift power balances? How different is information from knowledge? How different is controlling information from controlling knowledge? How will the control of knowledge transform our daily practices? And our institutions?
Social innovation, open innovation and open social innovation
What used to be innovation? What is innovation today? What is the relationship between innovation, knowledge and power? Can innovation be distributed? Can innovation be socialized? Can power be socialized? Can innovation lead to better governance? Can better governance lead to innovation? Should we act in either or another way to affect the final result? Can we?
Technopolitics, cooperation platforms and network-organizations
How is technology (ICTs) changing human behaviour? How is technology (ICTs) changing human collective behaviour? What are the main trends? How will they evolve? Why? What new organizations will come enabled (and fostered) by technology? How will this change the map of actors and institutions in society? How will they interact? How will this change the city landscape?
Yes, these are questions and not answers. Because there are not many answers — yet. And the ones being are constantly changing and evolving. But the questions will remain for much longer. These are days for good questions and for flexible answers. Dogmatic answers for feeble questions will rarely help us to map the new territories that need being explored.
Céline Deswarte. Policy Officer, European Commission. Directorate General for Communication, Networks, Content and Technology. Towards a future proof legal framework for digital privacy in Europe
EU legal framework for Digital Privacy: General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679/EU + ePrivacy Directive 2002/57/EC.
When you are surfing online you produce key information on time of connection, browsing history, location, etc. which can be retrieved. Telecom providers must anonymize or delete traffic and location data of their users and subscribers. When it is stored in hour own computer (e.g. cookies) the user must have given their prior consent after having been duly informed.
But is it consent strong enough? It is difficult to understand that consent is given “freely” if data subject has no genuine or free choice or unable to withdraw consent without detriment.
Protecting your personal data, when e.g. buying online. Companies must rely on a legal basis to process personal data, and respect principles of data processing.
On the specific issue of profiling, sharing personal data with a third party implies the right to be informed about it. Profiling is lawful unless it is equivalent to a decision with legal effects that is significantly harmful to the individual (e.g. one can lose one’s own job). Besides, there has to be a respect for the individual’s rights, e.g. the right to object at any time including profiling, and then data processing must stop.
Member states shall ensure the confidentiality of one’s electronic communications and related traffic data. So, it is not only about privacy in the sense of what you do, but also in the sense of what you say and to whom.
The big problem here is to whom applies all this regulation, as actors are many and different. So far, these principles only apply to telecom providers, while new market players like Voice IP or instant messaging, etc. do not need to respect this. In other words, social networking sites provide communication services but do not fall into the category of telecommunications providers.
Communications on New Media, Citizens & Public Opinion Chairs: Joan Balcells
Fragmented audiences, fragmented voters? Carolina Galais González, Postdoctoral researcher, UOC; Ana Sofia Cardenal Izquierdo, Full professor, UOC.
Does digital media exposure benefit small parties?
Equalization hypothesis: low cost, lower barriers, no gatekeepers.
Fragmentation hypothesis: small parties offer specialized, issue-oriented interests, fragmenting audiences, eroding big parties’ niches.
The undecided have higher chance of switching to small parties after exposed to online propaganda?
TV usually plays a role in favour of big parties, while websites does it for smaller ones.
As satisfaction with government decreases, the impact of websites increases.
Old media have a concentration effect, while online media reinforces options for smaller parties.
Dissatisfaction increases the effect of Internet.
Trust in political institutions: Stability of measurement model in Europe. Lluis Coromina, University of Girona; Edurne Bartolomé Peral, University of Deusto.
To what extent has the economic crisis changed the levels of trust in institutions? Is trust in institutions relying on the same factors prior and during the crisis? Are there differences across countries and time on the effects of those factors?
H1: political trust is expected to decrease in countries more affected by the crisis. H2: There is no longer a trend over time for the predictive factors of political trust.
Structural equations model where political trust is related with satisfaction with or trust in the Parliament, the legal system and politicians.
Most long term predictor for political trust tend to be stable across time, even in the countries where the crisis has been more acute. The strongest predictors for political trust are generalized trust, interest in politics, satisfaction with economy, with government, age and education.
Audience brokers and news discoverers: the role of new media in the digital news domain. Sílvia Majó-Vázquez, Ana S. Cardenal, UOC–IN3; Oleguer Sagarra, Pol Colomer, Facultat de Física, Universitat de Barcelona.
Dire transformations in mainstream traditional media, with strong shifts towards the digital domain. But new digital outlets are being seen as central actors? To what extend new digital outlet control brokerage relation in the audience network? Is media brokerage still held by a handful of outlets?
The research will compare media networks with audience networks. Authorities are node that contain useful information on a topic of interest. Brokers are news providers that have higher control in the flow of news.
There is a clear positive correlation between media reach and the authority score. This is true for both traditional and new digital media. Traditional ones still are placed in the highest positions of authority, but are being quickly contested by new digital media.
Traditional media are still monopolizing the centrality within the audience network, that is, they still are central brokers.
So, native digital media challenge the power monopoly once occupied by traditional media, but these still control the flow of information.
Digital skills and gender gaps in Europe. José Luis Martínez-Cantos, Postdoctoral Researcher, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
Digital skills are required for handling new ICTs, are multifunctional and complex, and are one of the most important factors of the emergence and persistence of unequal opportunities in the Information Society.
Have there been any significant gender gaps in digital skills in the European Union? Have they reduced?
Yes, there are differences and the gap is bigger in the least generalized (because less people have them) digital skills. That is, the higher the level of digital skills, the bigger the gap. And, indeed, the gap has not varied much along time.
Consistently, the more advanced is a country in digital development, the more advanced are also their men in digital skills and, thus, the bigger the gap with their women.
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.