DemocraticCity (IV). New political movements for real democracy in Europe

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

New political movements for real democracy in Europe
Chaired by Pablo Gerbaudo

Daniel Ripa, Podemos Spain

There is a tension between citizens aiming at participating in politics and the traditional institutional structures which provide no way to channel this aims for participation.

Podemos Asturias has managed to organize a referendum, both online and offline, to validate the political programme for the upcoming local elections.

Digital participation enables people to get over institutions and go their own way, with or without the institutions.

As important as ending with corruption is avoiding it: what failed in the current system and how can corruption be stopped before it happens… or just avoided.

Gala Pin, Barcelona En Comú

Participation is not something managed by a department at the city council, participation is not a project, not a sectoral issue: participation should be a way of thinking, of doing things.

There is no online vs. offline participation, but a multilayer strategy so that everyone can participate and in different ways.

A third challenge is how to have a proper balance between institutional leadership and collective and distributed participation, how to “rule by obeying”, how to elaborate bottom-up initiatives that can be put into practice.

Last, open data is necessary as it is the fuel of informed participation.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Pirate Party Iceland

The coalition of movements in Iceland after the crash was a disaster. Things should be kept as simple as possible, and promise as little as posible, in the sense of promising what can be done, with a sense of reality.

And yet the constitution was great. It was a discussion about what kind of people we want to be together. But when the new Iceland Constitution got to Parlialment, politicians were not able to properly finish the job.

Many people do not want power, but given the appropriate, relevant, timely, and easy to use tools, people will participate.

Most movements can be summed up by Debt, Budget and Constitutional Process, that is, having sovereignty back. And it is not about voting, but about community building.

Andreas Karitzis, Syriza Greece

For a change to take place, something new must replace the old one.

There now is a struggle to recover sovereignty that has not been given away to the governments, but that actually has been given away to third parties (other governments, private firms, international powers) and that make governance of the local an almost unreachable quest.

There now is a huge gap of disconnection between democracy and the basic needs of the citizens. And this gap is the one that a new approach to democracy is aiming at fixing.

Digital participation processes will help in amplifying organizational processes, but it will not be enough.

Generative democracy is the one that pursues to liberate people’s capacities to participate, to be engaged.

Silvana Denicolo, 5SM Italy

Three pillars: protest, proposal and proactivity.

Movimento 5 Stelle appeared in time where there was very few activism. It has now flourished and has gone way beyond “keyboard activism”: online activism must complement — not replace — face-to-face activism.

Discussion

Q: Do we risk some depolitization by using (too much of) these technologies? Birgitta Jónsdóttir: the problem is about expectations and overpromising things. Participation should be coming with both some pedagogy, but also with resources so that proposals can be put into practice if so people vote to.

Q: Are we missing ideology in new politics? What are the risks of populism? Are we limiting ourselves just to “improve our lives” and setting aside values? Birgitta Jónsdóttir: is not lack of ideology, but so basic demands — like respect for human rights — that are beyond (or actually come before) ideologies.

Network democracy for a better city (2015)

DemocraticCity (III). Experiments of democratic participation in Cities, A European perspective

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

Experiments of democratic participation in Cities, A European perspective
Chaired by Fabrizio Sestini

Joonas Pekkanen, Forum Virium Helsinki and Open Ministry, Helsinki

More than 13,000 decisions in 2014 which now, by using Helsinki Decisions API, can be consulted, retrieved, filtered, geolocated, etc. The decisions involved most city board and city council members, linked institutions, etc.

The next challenge is to move from “talking to a third person” to “talking to each other”. To do so, the “social object” has to be found/created, so that it becomes the centre of the discussion. The aim is to turn public decision into social objects.

Marcelo D’Elia Branco, InforLibero, Brazil

After 2011, and for the first time in History, we lived a set of globally connected revolutions that were not initiated by institutions. The global revolution reached Brazil in June 2013 after a protest against pubic transportation prizes.

We have to be aware, though, of the fact that not everything that looks like a citizen revolution, a networked mobilization is not always what it looks like: in Brazil, on the streets, there are both citizen movements and the opposition to the government (by right wing parties), both aiming for a transformation, but with a very different nature both in the source and in the goals.

The “Marco Civil de Internet” (the Internet Civil Framework, or Brazil Internet Bill of Rights) was made collaboratively and using the Internet as a platform. The goal behind this bill of rights was to protect freedom of speech and other civil and political liberties in Brazil that in the new context of the Internet had been left unprotected. It had three pillars: net neutrality, privacy and freedom of speech. Among other things, it was a reaction to Brazil’s 2008 act on cybercrime, which abused many citizen rights.

Marcelo Branco critizises the agreement between the Brazilian government and Facebook to provide free Internet by means of the project Internet.org. He argues that it is a biased Interent access and that it opens a gate for espionage [I am for the project: better a biased Internet than none, provided this bias is public and opt-in is by default].

Robert Bjarnason, Citizens Foundation, Reykjavik

Electing representatives once every four years is totally outdated. This is one of the basis for disaffection in politics especially among youngsters.

Your Priorities” enables citizens to add ideas and points for and against the arguments of such ideas.

Better Reykjavík was born out the 2008 economic and trust crash as a citizens initiative. Opened a week before the municipal elections in 2010 and over 40% of voters participated, 8% adding content and over 1,500 ideas in total were created. Now there is a formal collaboration with the city of Reykjavík, connecting citizens with their representatives. Over 70,000 people have participated out of 120,000 inhabitants. 15 top ideas are processed by the city every month, 476 ideas have been approved.

The platform accompanies ideas with the required budget to make them real. This has a strong pedagogical power for the citizen, that has to allocate its “own budget” (in the platform) to the ideas of their choice, not being able (of course) to vote everything, but having to prioritise.

Sören Becker, Author of energy democracy in Europe
Citizen power and ownership in the German energy transition

There is an energy transition in Germany, with renewable energies increasingly replacing nuclear power. And not only a change of the source of energy, but also a shift towards new decentralized forms of organization and ownership, with circa 900 energy cooperatives (generation and grid operation).

Beyond that, the movement has achieved implication from municipalities, asking for the remunicipalisation of networks for electricity, gas and district heating.

Different aspects between state vs. cooperative ownership of energy supply concerning the demos, participation, financial benefits and main challenges.

Summing up, new participatory utilities can provide ownership beyond projects and coproduction, inducting indirect democratisation effects through organisational shifts. But there still are issues of control: membership vs. representation, state power vs. citizen control, smart information technologies vs. open access, ensuring ecological orientation and social values.

Hille Hinsberg, Praxis Estonia

The Estonian open government context is based on secure individual online access to private and public government data on citizens; low bureaucracy and good ICT skills to get things done; trust in government-provided infrastructure. e-Voting has taken place on 8 consecutive elections, over 30% of all votes were digital in 2015.

After the 2013 financial scandal, an assembly was formed heavily supported by a participatory process. 6,000 proposals and comments online; collating and analysis of web content; impact assessment and peer review on proposed legislative amendments; stakeholder deliberation seminars; grass-root participation, Deliberation Day, 314 participants or 62% of recruited sample select proposals to be sent to the Parliament.

Estonia has witnessed a decreasing trust for institutions, and in increasing trust for citizens and civil society.

Network democracy for a better city (2015)

DemocraticCity (II). New generation citizen movements’ campaigns in Spain

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

New generation citizen movements’ campaigns in Spain
Chaired by Miguel Arana, Labodemo

Matias Nso, Kuorum.org

Our relationship with governments has not changed much since ancient times. On the other hand, reality does change constantly and very fast: political programmes cannot last 4 years unaltered.

Kuorum.org is a social enterprise that aims at changing how we connect with our governments so that they can make decisions together: either the politician or the citizen can make a proposal in the platform and then they can be debated by anyone.

Miguel Ardanuy, Head of participation, Podemos

We have to avoid that participation is something about very active minorities, but about majorities taking part in anything they are interested in. And, indeed, not slightly opening small rooms for participation, but enabling wide open participation in any kind of project, initiative, issue, etc. that the citizen may think of.

We have to make possible that issues that a person is knowledgeable/comfortable with, that they can participate.

Different initiatives at Podemos:

  • Participation portal. a space where to register oneself, have one’s own profile, vote, collaborate economically, share house and car (for given events), accessing other tools, etc.
  • Podemos Square. Main tool for deliberation.
  • Citizen initiatives. direct democracy mechanisms whose aim is reaching critical thresholds of support.
  • Appgree. Polling tool.
  • Loomio. Tool to improve debates and enable the reaching of consensus in small groups.

Participative action teams are made up by volunteers, coordinated by a person that are at their turn coordinated as a network. Their goal is to foster debates and activities on the field, including bridging the digital divide, so that no-one is excluded from participation.

Miguel Aguilera, Podemos Aragón and Zaragoza en Común

Participation not only is organized spontaneously bin different spaces, but needs being channelled through democratic institutions.

There is a power-law in participation: a few will participate a lot, the majority will participate very little. How do we cope institutions with collaborative structures? Option 1: we take the ones that participate a lot, put them inside institutions (e.g. the party) and make them work. Option 2: coordinate all participations… but how to and be efficient and effective?

Ganemos Zaragoza put up a tool to collaboratively filter and prioritise proposals, letting people evaluate and vote proposals, provide feedback and in general comment and debate the issues at stake.

It is not easy how the approved proposals are included in the political programme and/or put into practice.

Another tool that was used was an installation of Reddit, again to quickly evaluate proposals. The tool requires a minimum support by the members (23 persons, 0.2% of the total census) to be taken into consideration by the board of the party.

It is not enough to launch a tool for participation: one has to monitor the evolution, to facilitate the inclusion and voting of proposals, etc.

Conditions for an effective self-organized participation process:

  • Scalability.
  • Transform participation into action.
  • Shared rules.

Javier Toret, Barcelona En Comú and D-CENT

A collaborative process to make up the party programme. The process went through different stages where citizens and partisans could make proposals, evaluate them, discuss them and vote them.

A side-goal of the process is not only achieving a consensus around a political project, but also to open up he process and try and make it mainstream, try to make of Barcelona a city that is a reference in participative democracy, where co-government is a reality, where bottom-up participation mechanisms are just normal.

We aim for an integrated participation system for a democratic city.

Pablo Soto, Ahora Madrid

The Spanish Indignados movement changed the whole landscape in Spain. There’s a call for radical democracy all over Spain in the latest years.

Now many people feel empowered by new ways and tools of participation, and they do participate.

There is a risk that some collectives feel more empowered than others and participate more than others. We have the responsibility to make of these processes something balanced, unbiased, effective in democratic purposes.

On the other hand, most of these initiatives are run by volunteers and with meagre resources. If some of these initiatives end up being implemented by a municipality, we should be aware that resources will then be available and most likely abundant: we have to fight the de-naturalization of the processes, and be clever to use with intelligence these resources.

Governments should not aim at representing people, but at enabling that citizens can decide by themselves.

Discussion

Q: How to make participation inclusive? Matias Nso: training is key, not only for making an inclusive participation, but to avoid that the design of the participation process embeds biases that would then corrupt the final outcome.

Pablo Soto: the nearer to one’s own backyard the issue is, the more the need to participate and the more difficult to manage it. In any case, binding consultations will become more and more important.

Network democracy for a better city (2015)

DemocraticCity (I). Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities
Chairs: Arnau Monterde

Gemma Galdón, Eticas Research & Consulting
Cities: smart vs. democratic?

Different concepts of what a smart city is from 2000 to 2012. If in 2000 the definition is based on efficiency and integration of data, in 2012 the definition includes citizen empowerment. But all of them have a certain degree of technophilia, that technology will solve all of our problems.

The smart city, all in all, is an overdose of sensors that gather data everywhere, all the time.

There is a risk in too much trusting technology: if we do not believe well how technology works, we may incur in making worse decisions, in buying in any kind of technology just because, with no objective reasons to buy it.
Smart cities run on data, smart is surveillance. So we have to aim for a responsible smart city, taht takes into account:

  • Legal issues.
  • Acceptability issues.
  • Responsible innovation.

OECD’s principles:

  • Notice.
  • Purpose.
  • Consent.
  • Security.
  • Dislcosure.
  • Access.
  • Accountability.

Carlo Vercellone, Centre d’économie de la Sorbonne
Welfare systems and social services during the systemic crisis of cognitve capitalism

Can we move from a traditional welfare system into a commons-based welfare system? Can we build a smart city based on this approach?

Social welfare services should not be regarded as a cost whose funding should depend on wealth created by the private sector, but instead be recognised as the driving force behind a development dynamics based on knowledge-intensive production and behind an economy whose main productive force is the intellectual quality of the labour force (or, as it is usually called, using an ambiguous expression, human capital).

We are witnessing the growth of the intangible part of capital. The driving sector of the knowledge based economy correspond most closely to the public services provided by the welfare state. It supports a mode of development based on the production of man for and by man (health, education). The aim of capital is not so much to reduce the absolute amount of Welfare expenses, but to reintegrate them within the financial and mercantile circuits.

There are two opposite models of society and regulation of an economy based on knowledge and its dissemination. A rentier model of ‘accumulation through expropriation’ of the commons, and a model of common-fare organized around the priority to investment in non-mercantile collective service and in the production of man for man, and the establishment of an unconditional Social Basic Income (SBI) independent from employment.

Francesca Bria, NESTA
Democratic-common cities vs. Smart-private cities

The making of the Internet of Things and Smart Cities implies the industrialization of the Internet and the convergence of energy, logistics, communications, IP network as a service platform, data-intensive welfare and money and payments systems.

What are the problems?

  • City infrastructure lock-in: the black box city, vendor lock-in, proprietary and non interoperable technologies, public and user data lock-in.
  • Digital panopticon, algorithmic governance based on deep personalization, behavioural profiling, pervasive surveillance.
  • Financialization that comes with smart city: project financing, debt financing, smart bonds, etc.
  • Austerity policy: financialisation of welfare, outsourcing of public services, etc.

Building democratic alternatives:

  • Technological sovereignty and alternatives to platform capitalism.
  • Network democracy and infrastructures for citizen participation.
  • Data politics: data ownership, data portability, encryption, standardises identity management, citizen control, regulate identity marketplace.
  • Anti corruption measures.

Evgeny Morozov, Author & Editorialist

Why all these issues matter in the context of the city?

It seems that the smart city could be an answer to many problems that we found as society. But it is an answer with a very strong baseline: the city is a place for consumption and entertainment. And smart cities are specifically addressed to answer all problems by improving consumption and entertainment.

For instance, personalization may sound appealing, but overindividualization makes it more difficult to think about the city as something that is a common project with your neighbours. Individualization makes it more difficult to think in public terms, but in term of how easy it is now for me to consume or be entertained.

Another issue is data and infrastructure ownership: smart city companies are not city companies. Companies own the infrastructure and the data, not cities. And most companies have nothing to do with the city. Thus, most cities have not the ability to harness technology. Citizens have to contest the fact that data will be privatized and ceased to be theirs.

Most services that companies provide to smart cities are not free, despite the fact that they do say so. These companies are not the new welfare state.

Xabier Barandiaran, Floksociety
Wisdom of crowds and free knowledge open commons against the ‘smart ass’ city

Cognitive capitalism is the set of processes where the private accumulation of capital is made by means of control (production, accumulation, restriction, privatization) of the signs: exploitation of immaterial goods that act upon the mind, attention, imagination and social psique, and including nature and machines. Cognitive capitalism exploits the intellect of the citizen, social communication to extract value, exploits popular knowledge and culture, controls the wisdom of crowds, sets up artificial barriers where there were none (because goods and assets were immaterial), etc.

There is the risk that some supposedly initiatives of the collaborative economy are not genuine: AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber are not really open or transparent, nor collaborative, etc. but just another approach of cognitive capitalism.

Discussion

Q: What is the transition like towards a new kind of smart city? Gemma Galdon: by getting rid of automatisms when it comes to using personal data, by being critical, by looking for real alternatives to automatization and data collection.

Q: Any model of open data alternative to the ones used in mainstream smart cities projects? Gemma Galdón: yes, there are alternatives but the more radical alternative is whether we can do things without using personal data. Not using personal data in different ways, but with no data at all. Indeed, the vulneralibilization of data is a collective thing: if I make public my data, I am also making available data from my family, friends and acquaintances.

Q: How can you measure the value of Wikipedia?

Q: How do you explain the success of initiatives like AirBnB, BlaBlaCar or Uber? Francesca Bria: they are not only technological platforms, but they are markets, they act as marketplaces where the rules of the game are set by their owners. They are successful because the work well upon network effects, including a certain “social lock-in”: “everyone is in there” or “everyone is using it”. Evgeny Morozov:

Network democracy for a better city (2015)

Towards a definition of the network party

Graphs of networks: traditional parties and the 15M movement
Traditional parties and the 15M movement according to Aragón et al. (2013) and Toret (2013), respectively.

Network Society sociologist Manuel Castells has often in his work talked about the concept of the network enterprise. Despite he does not actually provide a formal characterization of what a network enterprise is — or I failed to find one — the concept is very appealing. And is not only appealing when confronting it with aa Taylorist/Fordist model vs. a Kanban/Toyotist model, but because it is an open enough concept (its strength, its weakness) to translate it into other contexts. For instance, politics: is there something like a network party? Are many or some of the new movements that we are witnessing — the Arab Spring, the Spanish indignados, Occupy Wall Street, YoSoy132 — actually more than movements? Are some of the evolutions of these movements — in the case of Spain, Partido X, Podemos, Guanyem — not traditional parties but… network parties?

The network enterprise

Castells, in The Rise of the Network Society, defines the network enterprise as that specific form of enterprise whose system of means is constituted by the intersection of autonomous systems of goals. This idea of autonomy is essential as, on the one hand, it is one of the consequences of the detachment of the physical constraints once information and communications are digitized and, on the other hand, one of the main causes of the changes in institutions that we will increasingly be witnessing.

This autonomy enables a network made of firms or segments of firms, or from internal segmentation of firms that now have the project at their core. Projects, not assembly lines, are the operational units around which all actors and resources spin. The project is an independent partnership which can be accountable for its successes and failures, which has its own structure and its own developments.

And yes, projects can interact, leading to corporate strategic alliances and inter-firm networking, but always on the basis of horizontal cooperation. Thus, we leave behind industrialism to embrace informationalism, and we leave behind mass production to embrace flexible production.

Later, in Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society, Castells emphasises that the network enterprise is not about a network of enterprises, but about internal decentralization and partnerships with other firms having as a link, as a connector the project. Through this link, information flows: sharing information is the basis of co-operation. And when the exchange of information is no more needed, the project is dismantled and alliances are over… for that project.

Although not exactly related with the network enterprise, Castells partly depicts the impact of this change in the ways of production in society. In Local and Global: Cities in the Network Societyy, the author speculates on changes to the work-living arrangements which may be coming back to prior-industrial era times, transforming industrial spaces into informational production sites, in ways similar to how craftsmen shared knowledge and expertise.

The network party

So, can we translate these reflections into the political party arena?

I believe most of the aforementioned points can be put side by side in a comparison between traditional parties and (a mostly theoretical approach to) network parties:

Traditional party Network party

Network of (subsidiary) branches.

Network of cells, franchises.

Internal hierarchy.

Internal independence.

Internal centralization.

Internal decentralization.

Information is kept secret, even to insiders.

Co-operation based on sharing information, especially with outsiders.

The unit of production is the programme.

The unit of production is the project.

Hierachic system of procedures.

Autonomous system of goals.

Industrialism.

Informationalism.

Total planning.

Open social innovation.

Fordism:

  • Management-worker submission.
  • Especialized labor.
  • Message control.
  • Iincrease control.

Toyotism:

  • Management-worker cooperation.
  • Multifunctional labor.
  • Quality control.
  • Reduce uncertainty.

Mass production.

Flexible production.

Inter-firm chain of command.

Inter-firm networking.

Corporate competition.

Corporate strategic alliance.

Vertical cooperation.

Horizontal cooperation.

Party is your life/job.

Work-living arrangements, casual participation.

How to more thoroughly characterize the network party, and, most important, how to identify what parties and to what degree they share these characteristics is a work that surely needs being done. Especially to test whether any of this is actually true, or if it actually works. But, at least, I believe there is some pattern that strives to match this model.

The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation

Notes from the The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation seminar, organized by the Fundació CatDem, in Barcelona, Spain, on December 12th, 2014.

Ismael Peña-López
Social networking sites and democracy: rethinking participation.

Ricard Espelt
The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation

We’ve talked too much about citizen participation… we’ve been talking too much about it despite the fact that we are still doing too little.

The more global thing always has a very local background. Most big civic actions begin with small, local initiatives.

Representative democracy is old, and has aged badly. Public representatives are seen not only as unable to solve problems, but even to identify them. Will participation turn old representative democracy into a young participative democracy? The problem is that we use a loudspeaker to talk to people and let them decide… on a previously set of options. Participation is not about letting people give their opinions on what is already decide, but about deciding what has to be decided.

Then comes commitment. In participation, is there a commitment to take action? to transform things? Or is it just faking decision-making but, all in all, not deciding anything?

Participation should also raise awareness… on the limits of participation itself: what can be decided and what not, what are the costs of any option/decision, etc. It is crucial that people understands how did we get here, what is the logic and the process and means by which a final decision was made. The solution may be agreed by everyone or not, but the process should.

Participation, and even agreement or decision-making is not about turning diversity into a homogeneous mass. It’s about finding common goals within disagreement. Same with how to lead and how to facilitate a process. Who is an influencer, who is a local leader? Unless one does not know and engage these leaders and influencers, civic action is bound to failure.

Participation has to be inclusive. We should care that everyone participates, that everyone is engaged with both the topic and the process. This engagement many times by setting up places where people can meet each other, interact, do things together… not necessarily related with participation or decision-making, just creating bounds.

Defining clear goals and places for deliberation should be a top priority once a community and problem have been identified. Then, it necessarily comes making participation a collective action. And a collective that is connected. Collective: many people; connective: the collective connected.

If possible, participation should be disruptive, innovative: it is engaging and, most of the times, efficient in optimizing the resources at reach.

The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation (2014)

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. Since november 2013 I am on a partial leave to join Open Evidence as a senior researcher and analyst. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.