What is democracy today? Is democracy always about being represented and some third parties making decisions in the name of the citizen? The concept of democracy has certainly shifted towards representative democracy. This specific understanding of democracy has been accompanied by laws that strengthen the idea of representative democracy and the emergence of a number of institutions to accommodate this way of working.
Initially there were three main actors — citizens, representatives and institutions — plus political parties to articulate the relationship between citizens and representatives. With the evolution of political parties, specially towards the cartel model, parties have taken the place of representatives and even embedded themselves into institutions.
Political Representation today is a legal relationship, non-disposable by the citizen, low binding for the citizen, and mediated (and conditioned) by political parties.
How is the Internet challenging this status quo? There have been many initiatives of many kinds (Decidim Barcelona, Appgree, Quorum, Qué Hacen los diputados, etc.) that are challenging the idea of representation.
Pitkin lists five characteristics of political representation that are necessarily changing with the digital revolution and the reasons behind the emergence of social movements in the XXIst century, especially after the Arab Spring and, for the case of Spain, the 15M Indignados Movement:
e.g. autorization changes meaning when people can for instance vote in primaries, or perform some degree of direct democracy within an e-participation initiative.
The potential of these tools majorly depends on usage, especially how representatives use them or allow their use by citizens.
Sebastián Martín Martín: how are this shifts affecting the definition of the people, the demos? Are we just looking at citizens as individuals only and forgetting that, since Rousseau, the people is something else, is the individuals but also the collective?
Sebastián Martín Martín: what if representative democracy is no more what it used to be, and embedding technopolitics in it is not feasible just because the assumption that there is such a represented sovereignty is not true? What if sovereignty resides not in the people but elsewhere (e.g. the European Commission) and thus cannot be devolved?
Sebastián Martín Martín: what if digital agoras are not Habermasian agoras, but places of polarization, hate speech, misinformation, etc.? What has happened elsewhere (e.g. Iceland)?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: can we generalize these initiatives? Isn’t it too early to propose a new comprehensive model for digital democracy?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: are we talking about Internet? Or are we talking about a new trend towards direct democracy? Is it true that “there is no way back” because of the Internet, or are there other reasons for a dire change in democracy and society? Do we need to improve representation, or intermediation, with independence of the existence of the Internet?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: is the Internet just a new aggregator of wills, or is it something else? Do we know how many people actually want to be represented? How many people are actually disenchanted by representation and why? Is it a crisis of inefficacy of politicians, or a crisis of inability to deliver of politics?
Joan Font Fabregas: is this a research on the impact of representation, or about the possibilities or potentials of the Internet to improve democracy? Is it the same thing?
Joan Font Fabregas: it is arguable that digital tools have a huge potential for transformation, but can we tell which ones work better than other ones? What are the drawbacks? Will all of them work in the same direction, or can they produce different (even opposing) conclusions?
It is true that the Internet will neither solve “everything” nor will the results be independent on the specific usage given to digital tools.
It is also true that it is difficult to make some statements about the potential of the Internet in politics. Will it deliver? Will it be revolutionary? We honestly do not know… yet. The research can only point at gates that seem to be opening and peek inside to see how a probable future would be like. But it seems obvious that if something as basic as communication has so deeply changed, it is to be expected that everything that is built upon commnication — as politics — will necessarily change and quite deeply.
Chairs: Raül Romeva, ministry of global affairs, institutional relationships and transparency, Government of Catalonia
Jaume López, Univesitat Pompeu Fabra
Jefferson said that the values of the past should align with the projects of the future: every generation should write their own constitution.
Representative democracy, deliberative/participatory democracy and direct democracy as three methodologies that complement each other. Democracy is about choosing the best tools to make decisions, but also to overcome the most dangerous hazards. Best results usually rely on best designs. That’s why the importance of the democratic design. Participation is a good tool to open constitutional processes to the citizenry.
What is to be expected in a constitutional process?
A constitutional text of the maximum quality, representing an actual understanding of democracy, acknowledged by most.
An exercise of citizen of empowerment and emancipation, that legitimates the new political system, combining the virtues of direct, deliberative and representative democracy. Deliberation has to be of the most quality and widely participated by everyone.
The probability of success depends on the acknowledged need for a change and the coincidence in the methodology to perform that change.
There is a global trend that democracy is becoming more direct and participated. And there hardly is a chance for turning back to strictly representative politics. The results, though, vary: participation does not necessarily lead to quality. Design matters.
Six examples in the world: Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile.
Ireland used a mixed commission on constitutional reforms: citizens chosen at random and some politicians.
The process of deliberation delivered great outputs. It smoothed the opposing points of view and contributed to the creation of a consensus on complicated issues. The combination of proposals of constitutional reforms plus a confirming referendum proved to be a good design.
There was a constitutional assembly but, before that, there was a pre-constitutional referendum that was binding for the constitutional assembly plus a post-constitutional referendum. The latter was on purpose so that the issue at stake did not block the rest of the reforms, arguably easier to debate and vote.
The assembly had to decide not only content, but also methodology, and it ended up being blocked. It would have been a good idea that the methodology had already been set for the assembly to use it for deliberation on content.
Of course, the existence of the assembly and the parliament presented a major problem of legitimacy.
The need that both chambers of the parliament had to approve the final text implied negotiations between the party in office and the opposition, and somewhat denaturalized the whole “citizen” process, which became much less participated.
A little bit more than 1% of the total population contributed with proposals to the constitutional reform. And this happened without a precise participatory methodology, which made it difficult to advance in the process. This fact was used by the presidency to have a major role in the whole process, again denaturalizing the constitutional participatory process.
There was a national citizen forum, chosen by lot, and there was a reporting commission chosen at the elections. But if only citizens, as individuals, write the constitutions, the resulting text is weak and lacks legitimacy. Now the text is seen as a reference document, but cannot be directly put into practice and has thus been set aside.
The government appointed a Monitoring Citizen Council. The Self-Scheduled Local Meetings were a decentralitzed way to contribute to the constitutional process, to which 1% of the population participated with their deliberations and debates in up to 8,000 meetings.
The resulting proposals were sent to the presidency as the Citizen Basis for the New Constitution.
The participative process still has no clear definition on the later stages. So, the process has been initiated without knowing how it will end.
Most of the deliberation went around democracy itself.
There was no constitutional process, because it was due after the referendum of independence and in case Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom. But there was a document written by the Scottish government defining a constitutional convention with a participatory and inclusive citizen process.
It is good that a constitutional process has different stages and each one has different designs/logic. Each stage underlines a specific aspect of democracy.
The connection between stages is very important. The outputs of a given stage have to feed the following one. There cannot be steps backward in terms of rights or of things learned or even in decisions made.
Initial participation somehow sets the pace and scope of the whole process. It will be different to begin with a small set of “experts” rather that with a massive grassroots participation.
Choosing members of commissions at random is generally a good thing for the sake of plurality.
Commissions can be mixed (citizens and politicians) or not (only citizens, only politicians). In any case, plurality within the commission is a must. Among other things, it contributes to establish links between stages.
There is no need to begin with the draft of a constitution. It can be done thus, but there is no need. Supporting documents (reports, etc.) can be handy.
Not even constitutional elections themselves are needed. There is not even the need to stop all legislative activity during the constitutional process. But the final text of the constitution is usually written at the parliament, in an official commission/assembly (although it can be made up by citizens too or even only citizens).
Jordi Rich: can citizens not only participate, but lead the constitutional process? Can citizens have a say in what topics are to be debated in constitutional processes? How to guarantee that the results are binding?
Teresa Forcades: how can constitutional processes be initiated when the momentum for change is unclear? What happens when there is no consensus on the need for a constitutional reform?
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.
How do tell the quality of open data? How do we know about its usage?
We have a lot of data, but we lack the storytelling, the visuals.
What makes sense for a government, what can work for them, what makes sense for technicians.
We need open data champions.
The charter seems simple but its application is complex. It is a good idea to ‘deconstruct’ it principle by principle, recommendation by recommendation, and go step by step while aiming for the whole.
Create networks of cities that have adopted the charter and see how they did it.
Competitiveness and economic development
We have to identify what is the problem. But not like “unemployment is the problem” but more focused on people. And then, try to come up with an idea that most people will quickly understand because it relies with some other familiar initiative (e.g. “Facebook for dogs”).
We can create the “Tinder for data”, a meta-data portal for open data. It would identify data that could be open and thus create opportunities.
Smart and resilient cities
Bring the users in the design of the projects.
Identify the key role players and establish communication strategies among them.
How do we enable the measurement of vulnerability and how to address it. What defines a resilient city.
Interdisciplinary collaboration and organizational change
Better name: culture change for common understanding.
Start with the challenge.
Creating common context.
Actively create and maintain feedback.
Go across disciplines and across sectors.
Interaction between civil society organizations and between civil society organizations and governments.
Entrepreneurs, SMEs, etc.: they might find hard to find the kind of information that is relevant to them. What are they needs? What are the usual tasks that require data? Awareness on their needs and awareness of the possibilities of open data.
Try and draw a chronological story of data for firms: When starting a business, what is the information that you need? What is the government spending (procurement) in the field? What is the budget and what is the execution of that budget. Do I have benefits for operating in this field? What are the trends in my area?
Making city services accessible
It is very difficult for people to see the safety net, to know what public services can one citizen access.
To build a healthy ecosystem, accessible, interoperable, sustainable, that relates referral providers and social service services.
Standards and interoperability
A good way to understand standards and interoperability is by looking at the path that goes from raw data to indicators, in an aggregation process.
The big issue is that standards apply to very small portions of reality, while reality is much more complex. Open data, smart cities, open government, etc. begin to create their own specific (ad hoc) standards that often overlap.
Most of research results are not transparent. On the other hand, most citizens neither realize the importance of transparency nor where to get the data in case they would like to. staDatus aims at showing the state of transparency/open data portals.
staDatus is a community-based/crowdsourced project. It creates templates so that citizens can track and assess portals, especially according to what the law says. These tools will be designed with gamification methodologies in able to help citizens.
The project is made up by artists and architects and focuses on the solid waste that cities produce, with the aim to raise awareness on this issue. Another goal is to democratize art.
An app has been developed to help citizens and urban artists to share their works and to enable interaction between citizens and urban art.
The project aims at monitoring the behaviour of visitors in cultural institutions. Museums need to know what visitors do, what do they do, how do they move in order to be able to give them the best experience.
Re-thinking the museum has to take into consideration storytelling, interaction, etc.
The project has developed an app that mixes tracking with augmented reality. As the visitor moves inside the museum, the application will give the visitor (augmented reality) information, enable interaction, etc. On the other hand, this will also produce tracking data that the museum can use to reflect on the exposition or the cultural activity.
Goal: show/visualize the concerts happening all over the world as a galaxy/constellation according to the musical gender. Data comes from last.fm
The visualization can help to identify music styles geographic clusters, or how e.g. minority styles spread and evolve.
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.