eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (II). Experts and activists

Notes from the eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities conference, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 16 November 2018. More notes on this event: edemocracybcn.

Experts and activists
chaired by Albert Royo

Why Voting Technology is Used and How it Affects Democracy
Robert Krimmer, Professor of e-Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance

Estonia is the only country in the world introducing e-voting universally, at all levels. To address:

  • Decreasing voting turnout.
  • Increasing distance between rules and ruled.
  • Increased citizen mobility (globalisation)

Governments say they want to engage in a continuous dialogue with citizens, but are quite often reluctant to actually do it. In the same train of thought, citizens also want such dialogue, but cannot vote just everything (quick democracy) and, most especially, cannot be informed on just everything (thin democracy).

e-Democracy will transform democracy and challenge representation, but it can also offer more participation possibilities.

e-Voting strengthens secrecy and security in comparison to traditional voting, not the other way round.

Democracy as citizens’ surveillance on their institutions
Simona Levi, Founder of XNet

More than e-democracy we should be talking about distributed governance.

Net-neutrality is a must if we do really want that democracy and technology can enhance each other.

Democracy and privacy to correct the asymmetry of power between citizens and institutions. Anonymity and encryption are a must to protect communications. Going against this is highly un-democratic.

Public money used to create content and innovation should not be privatized. This includes algorithmic democracy or algorithmic decision-making.

We must defend technology, not only use it. And transparency and participation must to be at the same level. We want efficient institutions.

Catalonia, a Lab for Digital Citizenship
Artur Serra, Deputy Director of i2cat

The Internet is helping to change our political systems. The Internet works under a certain distributed architecture, and this embedded technological model is slowly but surely altering the democratic institutions’ model.

On the other side, our political systems are also changing the Internet: fake news, firewalls, etc.

Can we think of an open living lab, made up of cultural and citizen platforms, digital rights activists, local structures of digital facilitation, research centres, lawyers, etc.

Citizen participation and digital tools for upgrading democracy in Iceland and beyond
Róbert Bjarnason, CEO and co-founder of Citizens Foundation

For there to be trust, citizens must have a strong voice in policy-making.

  • Your Priorities: policy crowdsourcing to build trust between citizens and civil servants with idea generation and debate.
  • Active Voting: participatory budgeting.
  • Active Citizen: empower citizens with artificial intelligence.

Citizens need to be “rewarded”, show that the government listens and does things — not only talking about things. Good communication is key to success.

There is a danger of privatization in the evolution of democracy online. Participation infrastructure has to be kept public.

Discussion

Simona Levi: traceability of participation is a must. What happened with my contribution? Where did it go? Why was not it accepted?

Artur Serra: where does social innovation come from? Does it come from institutions or from the margins? How do we gather these initiatives? Do we care about citizen labs?

Robert Bjarnasson: it is not about tools, but about innovation, about opening processes. Start with something tangible, something small, and move from there.

Artur Serra: technology is not a tool, technology is a culture. The new tool is the embodiment of a new culture. We have to learn to think different. If we treat participation as consumerism, we are failing.

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (2018)

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (I). Stakeholders and tech companies

Notes from the eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities conference, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 16 November 2018. More notes on this event: edemocracybcn.

Panel of stakeholders and tech companies
chaired by Joana Barbany

Municipalities and technology: more political participation?
Cllr. Jennifer Layden, Convenor for Equalities and Human Rights of the Glasgow City Council

Being involved in new media and social media enables administrations to engage with citizens.

There still is the challenge how technology can help to bring better outcomes, to bring increased access to democracy and participation. So far increased access is quite a success, as many people that cannot attend face-to-face meetings do participate online.

Enabling access to participation through online technologies should not be in detriment of excluding people for just the opposite reason: they cannot use online tools.

Working with local communities with participatory budgeting.

Technology and participation, one more step towards democratic pedagogy
Arnau Mata, tinent d’alcalde de Comunicació, Participació Ciutadana i Sistemes TIC, i portaveu de l’Ajuntament de Sant Vicenç dels Horts

The general context of political corruption is affecting all the institutions, regardless whether they or their members are corrupt or not. This is putting a stress on daily governance.

Some participatory processes where put to work, to let citizens have their say, and enable new ways so that institutions could speak with the citizens.

They are using Decidim, Barcelona City Council’s participatory platform.

Online participation allows monitoring of participatory processes, helps people to participate, empowers minorities in the public agenda, legitimates civic organisations, etc.

Open government and citizen participation channels in the digital era
Carles Agustí, Open Government Director at the Barcelona Provincial Council

Unlike preceding times, now citizens have lots of information, usually much more than governments themselves. Adaptation to this new reality is compulsory.

Open Government is the answer to the demands of change of the people in the way to do governance and politics. But it is not only a mere website, but a whole new strategy, a deep cultural change.

Technology is absolutely changing the landscape:

  • Open data would simply not exist without technology.
  • Civic platforms can better organize with technology.
  • e-Participation opens new channels, ways and methodologies for participation.
  • And, last but not least, more and different individual citizens can gather thanks to technology.

It is important to acknowledge that data have a lot of public value when they become open as open data. And that it is not only about giving data away but also about listening to citizens.

On-line voting: a security challenge
Jordi Puiggalí, Head of Research and Security Department, Scytl

There are no secure channels: it’s security measures that you implement that make voting secure. This includes on-site voting or postal voting.

Cryptographic protocols can guarantee privacy and integrity of voting processes.

Cryptography also allows to audit voting processes.

Discussion

Jordi Puiggalí: Blockchain can provide identity, but not integrity nor privacy.

Arnau Mata: the best way to convince people to participate is showing that it does work, that the government cares about what is being said and applies the general agreements.

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (2018)

Mara Balestrini. Beyond the transparency portal: citizen data and the right to contribute

Mara Balestrini.
Beyond the transparency portal: citizen data and the right to contribute

We assume that information only goes one way: from the Administration to the citizen. This assumption is not valid anymore. Citizens produce lots of data that could be used to leverage change. We should acknowledge the right of citizens to produce data, not only to receive data.

What can citizen-generated data do?

  • Improve or augment existing data. E.g. air quality. #MakingSense in Plaça del Sol in Barcelona.
  • Check the validity of public data. E.g. #MakingSense in Kosovo.
  • Create new data. E.g. #BristolApproach

How to do it? We need to plan ahead a strategy of participation, and begin with the things people care:

  • Identify the issue and the people that care: people directly interested in the issue, altruistic people that want to help, communities of practice of people that work in the field, and communities of interest of people that want things to happen in a given field.
  • Frame the issue. It is necessary to link the abstract (“mobility in the city”) with the concrete (“where can I park my bike”). The Administration usually cares about the abstract, while the citizen cares about specific issues.
  • Design a participatory project. It is crucial to avoid the creation of an elite of participation.
  • Deploy it.
  • Orchestrate it. Awareness raising activities so that more people join the project. Though not only by “voting”, but by contributing with what they can/know: helping to define, analysing, explaining, etc.
  • Assess and evaluate the outcome. And include the creation of an infrastructure of participation that remains after the process is over.

Case of the Plaça del Sol in Barcelona, to approach the problem of noise in the square. There are huge amounts of noise, which cannot be measured and, in fact, “no one is doing anything wrong”, but it is the aggregation of small noises that creates discomfort in the neighbourhood.

A project was created to measure noise by citizens, aggregate public open data and raise awareness on the issue by showing evidence of the problem. Once the problem was actually measured, citizen assemblies were made to collectively find a solution.

Some outcomes of the project:

  • Open and shared data.
  • Skills and capacity. The more complex the tools, the more excluding will be — unless we build capacity around them.
  • Co-created solutions.
  • New open technologies and knowledge.
  • New networks and social capital. New politics is about creating emerging communities out of a citizen issue.

Of course, not only should citizens have the right to generate data, but have ownership over these data, to have governance over data.

How about co-create license to share citizen data?

  • TRIEM is a study that uses collective intelligence mechanisms to co-design licenses to access and use our data.
  • DECODE is creating an open data commons.
  • Salus.coop is a citizen cooperative of health data for science.

The Administration should foster the creation of new infrastructures: legal infrastructures, that regulate citizen data, new institutions (such as the recognition the role of citizens in creating and sharing public data), etc.

Article. Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption

Cover for ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos
¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos (article)

Ricard Espelt, Enrique Rodríguez and I have just published a new article, ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos [Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption] which analyses the relationship between technopolitics and the cooperative movement. Our hypothesis is that some emerging cooperatives go beyond the mere practice of cooperativism for production or consumption, and engage or even are driven by political values. Our findings only partially support this hypothesis, but allow us to characterise three types of cooperatives according to these political values and activism, which we found quite interesting.

Expanded summary

Agroecological cooperativism is made up by an inter-cooperation network articulated by producers and consumer groups that promotes the acquisition of agroecological products in the context of the Social and Solidarity Economy (Martín-Mayor et al., 2017). At the same time, as part of the anti-globalisation and territorial defense movement, it has political resolution (Vivas, 2010). In this sense, it frames its activity as a response to the homogeneity of global food chains (Mauleón, 2009; Khoury, 2014) and promotes a recovery of the «identity of the sites». This re-appropriation purpose is expressed -especially- in the social movements that emerged during 2011 that, according to Harvey (2012), link with the fight against capitalism and the demand for a collective management of common goods and resources. Across the area of Barcelona, where the map of consumer cooperatives is well defined (Espelt et al., 2015), it has been registered an increase of these kind of organizations during the 15M or the Spanish “Indignados” movement in 2011.

As embedded in the era of the Network Society and the expansion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), this article studies the correlation between agroecological consumer groups, as an instrument to promote an alternative economy, and social movements, as the space where technopolitics develop (Toret, 2013). That is, this article aims to corroborate whether agroecological cooperativism, which emerged in the late 20th century -and grew with remarkable strength during the second decade of the 21st century- and the profound crisis of legitimacy of the democratic institutions, with a rising participation in citizen extra-representative and extra-institutional movements, is connected.

This article has a double goal. On the one hand, to assess the existing relation between consumer and cooperative groups and the 15M movement and their ideological similarities, as selfmanaged movements that aim for social and political transformation. On the other hand, if applies, to study how this relation is shaped.

The main hypothesis of our research is that nowadays agroecological cooperativism possesses an acute activism component, which is why it is reasonable to predict a relative involvement of this activist cooperativism in movements such as 15M. However, former literature has explained and described the 15M movement as a form of activism that eminently operates outside the institutions and through a network organization. From that point on, a second hypothesis is formulated, proposing that activist cooperativism participation occurs individually, rather than collectively and/or institutionally. That is, it is possible to identify overlaps between activists that take part both in cooperatives and social movements such as 15M, but it is not reasonable to foresee a relevant level of involvement of cooperatives, as collectives, in this movement.

In order to respond to the hypothesis, a questionnaire comprising two sets of questions has been designed. A first set aims to determine the level of accomplishment based on the SSE criteria. A second set of questions focuses on the correlation between the studied organizations and the 15M movement, and the relevance of ICT in their organization. Semi-structured interviews were sent between February 2015 and March 2016 with a sample of 44 groups and allowed us to gather information regarding the origins, motivation and functioning of each of them. The questionnaire about the relation between the groups and the 15M movement was sent between December 2015 and March 2016, and 37 responses were collected. Thus, the 37 groups that have completed both questionnaires and the semi-structured interview will be considered the sample for this research.

In order to assess the accomplishment level of the variables corresponding to each of the aspects of the Social Solidarity Economy and the relation of the organizations with the 15M movements, we have performed arithmetic measurements for each of the variables studied. To evaluate the performance of the formulated hypothesis we have applied a correlation and a factorial analysis upon the studied variables (Commitment, Ideology, Technology, Group Involvement and Individual Involvement) to quantify the existing association between variables (correlation) and to identify the latent existing relation between them (factorial), with the goal of gathering additional information that has allowed us to interpret the results of the individual classification (nonhierarchical segmentation). Once the groups have been obtained, significant differences between segments have been determined through a variance analysis (ANOVA).

The results of our research show that consumer groups are part of a larger group of organizations that conform the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), which, among others, values the promotion of spaces in which democratic participation is emphasised. If we constrain our analysis to 2011, just in a few cases the creation of new groups can be drawn from the influence of 15M. However, the entities created that year recognise the movement as an agent of change for the individuals in their condition of activists. At the same time, this research allowed us to determine three types of organizations: the traditional cooperative, which shows a low level of social commitment and a moderate level of individual participation, and that barely embraces ICT; the network cooperative, which adds social commitment and ICT usage; and the activist cooperative, which presents a greater group and individual involvement.

Despite the sample is limited in quantitative terms, the results confirm our hypothesis, which is to say, that cooperativism has a strong activist component. This finding points in the same direction with what Cantijoch (2009), Christensen (2011), Anduiza et al. (2014) or Peña-López et al. (2014) have expressed with regards to a strong (and even rising) tendency in extra-representative and extra-institutional practices when it comes to take part in political participation or citizen activism. On the other hand, despite the classification of the groups in traditional, network and activist cooperatives, we dare to say that their relation with the 15M movement must be, therefore, exogenous, depending on a non-identified variable, which is highly probable individual and not consubstantial with consumer cooperativism. That is to say, one doesn’t affiliate to a cooperative – as it’s the case as well with political parties, labor unions or NGOs- in order to achieve other political goals, but rather that one’s active participation in cooperativism constitutes the techno-political action by itself.

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Article:
Espelt Rodrigo, R., Peña-López, I. & Rodríguez, E. (2016). “¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos”. In CIRIEC-España, Revista de Economía Pública, Social y Cooperativa, (93), 293-318. Valencia: CIRIEC.

A Theory of Change of citizen participation

The Theory of Change is a methodology for strategic planning for social change. It is based on a reverse engineering process: once the systemic changes are stated, the process goes backwards to identify what outcomes are related to these systemic changes, what outputs (products, services) lead to these outcomes, and what activities or groups of activities (programmes, resources, etc.) have to be deployed to create these outputs.

What follows is a Theory of Change of citizen participation, in which the engagement of citizens in public decision-making is put at the service of some systemic changes and, reversely, can be fostered through some specific programmes.

The expected impacts, featured on the right side of the scheme above, are:

  1. Efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
  2. Populism has decreased in institutions and the public sphere.
  3. Citizens understand the complexity of public decision-making.
  4. Citizen participation and political engagement clearly shifts towards a technopolitical paradigm.

The first expected outcome is pretty straightforward and is usually the expected outcome of any citizen participation policy. Second and third are, indeed, the two sides of the same coin, and are related with the quality of democracy in particular and social cohesion in general. The last one, more instrumental, aims at embedding technology not as a mere tool, but as the driver of a deep transformation in how people collaborate with each other and with the Administration: from an institution-centred and hierarchy-articulated collaboration to a people-centred and network articulated collaboration; or, in other words, from centralised to distributed decision-making.

The Theory of Change ends up with —or begins with, depending on how one sees it— five main programmes:

  1. Programme of citizen participation.
  2. Programme of internal participation.
  3. Programme of collaboration.
  4. Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries.
  5. Programme of e-participation, e-voting and technopolitics.

The first one is the traditional ones: make citizens participate. The second one aims at transforming institutions with the same philosophy: let public servants and politicians participate, work together, open up to the citizens. The third one is putting together the former two: let us see what happens when participation takes place between the two spheres. The fourth one aims at addressing the “industrial sector” of participation, but with a hint: it is not about the firms that facilitate projects, but about the collectives that do, as increasingly it is the organised civil society that engages itself in this kind of facilitation: data and research journalists, activists, hackers, social movements, etc. Last, the fifth one is an explicit support to participation infrastructures, including technology but also the methodologies that are embedded in these technologies.

As this is a draft, a work in progress, comments are more than welcome.

Some references on the Theory of Change

Anderson, A.A. (2006). The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change. A practical guide to theory development. New York: The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change.
Blamey, A. & Mackenzie, M. (2007). “Theories of Change and Realistic Evaluation”. In Evaluation, 13 (4), 439-455. London: SAGE Publications.
Brest, P. (2000). “The Power of Theories of Change”. In Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2000, 47-51. Palo Alto: Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.
Connell, J.P., Kubisch, A.C., Schorr, L.B. & Weiss, C.H. (Eds.) (1995). New approaches to evaluating community initiatives: Concepts, Methods and Contexts. Queenstown: Aspen Institute.
Connell, J.P. & Kubisch, A.C. (1998). “Applying a Theory of Change Approach to the Evaluation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Progress, Prospects, and Problems”. In Fullbright-Anderson, K., Kubisch, A.C. & Connell, J.P. (Eds.), New approaches to evaluating community initiatives: Theory, measurement, and analysis. Volume 2. Queenstown: Aspen Institute.
Rogers, P. (2014). La Teoría del Cambio. Síntesis metodológicas. Sinopsis de la evaluación de impacto nº2. Florencia: UNICEF.
Stein, D. & Valters, C. (2012). Understanding Theory of Change in International Development. London: JSRP, The Asia Foundation.
Taplin, D.H. & Clark, H. (2012). Theory of Change Basics. A primer on Theory of Change. New York: ActKnowledge.

Appointed Director General of Citizen Participation

Appointment as Director General of Citizen Participation of Ismael Peña-López
Appointment as Director General of Citizen Participation

On 19 June 2018 I have been appointed Director General of Citizen Participation at the Government of Catalonia.

Thus, I am now on leave from my position at the School of Law and Political Science at the Open University of Catalonia, to which I shall return when my duties are over at the government.

The Directorate-General of Citizen Participation belongs to the Secretariat of Transparency and Open Government, within the Department of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relationships and Transparency. I like to explain that the directorate-general I am part of has the responsibility to foster and facilitate the exercise of the “three democracies”, that is:

  • Direct democracy: the directorate-general is the responsible for running citizen consultations at the regional level (Catalonia) and helps local administrations to run their own.
  • Deliberative democracy: the directorate-general organises deliberative processes related to law-making or policy-making processes, or for better knowing the will of the citizenry in specific issues.
  • Representative democracy: the directorate-general is the governmental body behind the organisation of regional elections and collaborates in the organisation of sub-regional elections.

There are four impacts that as a directorate-general in particular, and as a department, we would like to have:

  1. An improvement in efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
  2. A decrease of populism in institutions and the public sphere.
  3. Citizens understand the complexity of public decision-making.
  4. Citizen participation and political engagement clearly shifts towards a technopolitical paradigm.

During my tenure — expected lasting 4 years —, we are planning to develop six programmes, based on an updated version of this Theory of Change of citizen participation:

  1. Programme of deliberative participation: to foster and improve projects on deliberative democracy, government 2.0, an appropriate regulatory framework for citizen participation, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through training, research and dissemination.
  2. Programme of electoral participation and direct democracy: to foster and/or improve electoral processes and projects on direct democracy, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through research and dissemination.
  3. Programme of internal participation: to work towards a transformation of how the Administration understands and makes use of collaboration within the government and with the citizens, by means of training and capacity building on participation, networks of support and work, communities of practice of professional innovation, and open communities of practice between public servants and citizens.
  4. Programme of collaboration: which aims at standardising and normalising public-social-private-partnerships and four-helix type of innovation initiatives.
  5. Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries: to contribute to the growth and consolidation of an expert or professional sector in the field of participation, to achieve the maximum quality in participation practices and projects by bringing onto the sector and engaged citizens knowledge, instruments, technological tools or resources in general.
  6. Programme of e-participation, electronic voting and technopolitics: to accelerate the adoption of ICTs in the field of participation thus contributing to ease and normalise e-participation, e-voting, e-government and e-democracy in general while, at the same time, transforming the paradigm behind citizen practices based on mostly passive or responsive actors to a technopolitical paradigm based on active, empowered and networked actors.

This is a most ambitious plan. Some of its parts are of course not reachable on a four-year basis. I am quite convinced, though, that one should plan for the long-run, to aim for ideal horizons, and just constraint oneself when it comes to planning the yearly budget. It is evident that intermediate milestones are needed, both to assess the evolution of one’s work as to provide voters with insights about the government’s performance for the due elections without having to wait for, say, 10 years.

But without higher visions there is no transformation possible. And if we want to have an impact, transformation of government in citizen practices is, in my opinion, an absolute need.