New paper. Spanish Indignados and the evolution of the 15M movement on Twitter: towards networked para-institutions
In the last months I have been reflecting — especially in my blog in Spanish, SociedadRed, but also here — on the impact of ICTs on political institutions, and how these institutions are — or, in my opinion, should — adapting to new forms of participation and citizen organization.
I have especially addressed the highly innovative environment of these social practices, and thus (re)approached innovation, open innovation and social innovation but now under the new light of political extra-representative participation, social movements, political engagement and participation that happens “under the radar” of institutions, etc.
A first result of these reflections was my paper “Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition”.
What comes now is the result of merging some partial works:
- A communication I imparted at ESADE’s conference on social innovation: Sociedad Red e Innovación Social.
- Another communication I imparted at University of Girona’s III International Conference on Communication and Society: Informació, Internet i participació ciutadana. I
- And some reflections that I entitled Open Social Innovation.
The result of it all is a new book chapter, Innovació social oberta: l’organització política com a plataforma [Open social innovation: the political organization as a platform], published in the book Costa i Fernández, L. & Puntí Brun, M. (Eds.), Comunicació pel canvi social. Reflexions i experiències per una comunicació participativa, emancipadora i transparent. A preprint version is available for download below:
Peña-López, I. (2014). “Innovació social oberta: l’organització política com a plataforma”. In Costa i Fernández, L. & Puntí Brun, M. (Eds.), Comunicació pel canvi social. Reflexions i experiències per una comunicació participativa, emancipadora i transparent, 59-75. Girona: Universitat de Girona.
Idescat — the Catalan national statistics institute — published in late 2013, the update to the 2012 Library Statistics where it stated, among other things, that in 2012, “the number of users grew up to 4.5 million [the Catalan population is calculated to be 7.5 million], 18.3% more than two years ago”. Almost a month later, Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin stated at the national television that “when the Internet comes, librarians lose their jobs”. This statement was later on developed with more depth in his blog post Internet, Librarians and Librarianship.
Can both statements be true at the same time? Or is someone plain wrong?
Probably the best explanation for these apparently opposing statements, and one explanation that makes them fully compatible, has to do with the present and the future of libraries.
In recent years we have been witnessing how Information and Communication Technologies turned everything upside down, especially (but not only) knowledge-intensive activities. And, among all knowledge-intensive institutions, libraries are no doubt part of the leading group. The Public Library Association explains the whole matter: an increase in the demand for library services, an increase in the use of WiFi networks, in increase in the use of library computers, an increase in training on digital skills. In short, most users are not only going to libraries asking for borrowing books — which they of course do — but they increasingly go to libraries looking for a means to gain access to the Information Society.
But not merely physical access but quality access: what in the arena of digital inclusion has ended up being called the second digital divide. That is, once physical access to infrastructures has “ceased” to be an issue, what is needed is training in digital skills, and guidance in its use. Using an extemporaneous metaphor, once one has a new car, what she then needs is a driving licence.
So, we see there is more demand. But what about staff cuts?
It turns out that, unlike many of the traditional roles of libraries, when it comes to overcoming the first (access) and second (skills) digital divide, many different actors come together to work in the later issue. Both inside and outside libraries. These new actors simply are a consequence to the change (or enlargement) of the roles of the library, a consequence that has now found competitors both in the market as in the public sector itself. A recent study by the European Commission, Measuring the Impact of eInclusion actors shows how, in addition to libraries, many other actors work in the field of e-inclusion (each one in their own way), such as telecentres, Internet cafes, some schools, fee WiFi access points, some bookstores, bars and cafes, etc.
These new actors, indeed, also often operate inside libraries: libraries many times subcontract the services of telecentres or other “cybercentres” — or their personnel’s — either for managing the public computer network or to impart training related to digital skills.
So, summing up, this is what we have so far: the growing need for digital competence does increase the use and demand for training in issues related to information management (and therefore fills libraries with people) but the diversity of functions and (new) actors means that, in the end, it take less ‘librarians’ but more ‘experts in information management and digital skills’.
Yes, some concepts are written between quotation because, most likely, they already are or will soon be the same thing. And thus we enter the topic of the future of libraries.
Empirical evidence tells us that information, the Internet, is increasingly ceasing to be a goal in itself, a differentiating factor, to become a generally purpose technology. If getting to the information ceases to be a goal to become a tool it is because it a (usually ad hoc) tool to be used “passing” in the pursuit of another task. Whatever that is: today it is practically impossible not to find a job, whatever trivial may be, that does not incorporate a greater or lesser degree of information, or of communication among peers.
Thus, beyond getting information it now becomes mandatory learning to learn and managing knowledge: it is not, again, about gaining access to information, but about taking control of the process of gaining access to information, of knowing how one got to a specific set of information so that the process can be replicated it in the future.
Finally, and related to the previous two points, access to information ceases to be the end of the way to become a starting point. Thus, the library and other e-intermediaries become open gates towards e-Government, e-Health, e-Learning… almost everything to which one can add an “e-” in front of it.
That is, information as an instrument, the quest for information as a skill, and getting to the desired piece of information to keep looking for information and be able to perform other tasks also rich in information. And begin the beguine.
Tacitly or explicitly, libraries are already moving in this direction. If we forget for a moment politeness and political correctness, we can say that libraries and the system working in the same field are already leaving behind piling up paper to focus on transferring skills so that others can pile their own information, which most likely will also not be printed. Fewer libraries, but more users.
It’s worth making a last statement about this “system working in the same field” because the formal future of libraries, especially public ones, will largely depend on (a) hot they are able to integrate the functions of the “competition” or (b) how they are able to stablish shared strategies with this competition.
If we briefly listed before telecentres, cybercafés, schools, free WiFi access points, bookshops, bars and cafes as converging actors in the field of e-intermediation, we should definitely add to this list innovation hubs, co-working spaces, fab labs, community centres and a large series of centres, places and organizations that have incorporated ICTs in their day to day and are open to the public.
This whole system — libraries included — is not only working for access but for the appropriation of technology and information management; they have make centres evolve into central meeting places where access to information is yet another tool; and they have become areas of co-creation where the expected outcome is a result of enriched information resulting from peer interaction.
The future of the library will be real if it is able to cope with these new tasks and establish a strategic dialogue with other actors. It will probably require a new institution — not necessarily with a new name — that allows talking inside the library, or cooking, or printing 3D objects or setting up a network of Raspberry Pi microcomputers connected to an array of Arduinos. Or mayble the library — especially if it is public — should lead a network of organizations with a shared strategy so that no one is excluded from this new system of e-intermediation, of access (real, quantitative) to knowledge management.
I personally I think that libraries are already at this stage. I am not so sure, though, that is is the stage where we find the ones promoting a zillion e-inclusion initiatives, the ones promoting modernizing the administration, educational technology, smart cities and a long list of projects, all of which have, in essence, the same diagnosis… but that seemingly everyone aims at healing on their own.
Must we innovate in education? Why? What for? Are we experiencing a fad, where everything has to be innovative… also in the world of education? Or is it something more structural, even necessary?
Past January 10 and 11, the Institute of Education Sciences (ICE-UAB) and the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP) organized the VIII Forum on Education. Innovation and networking. The forum began with a morning session to which I took part as a member of the Jaume Bofill Foundation. It was a seminar-like session to share reflections on what do we mean by innovation, how should organizations and people innovate and whether and why is innovation important.
The concept of innovation is fluid and elusive, and quite probably it is good that it is so: it is in the constellation of ways of understanding innovation and it is in the myriad of methods that we have designed as innovative that an ecosystem takes shape in order to encourage and enable an innovative attitude. An attitude based on questioning everything, on putting everything in doubt, on challenging the reality until it gives up in trying to provide an an answer… and then one needs to find some other answer: an innovation.
A question, however, that ones does not usually put is why innovation, quite different to what for innovation. While the what for tells us where we head to (bringing into the debate also other questions like what and how), the why asks us about the reasons for innovation: we are so imbued with the innovation inertia that we assume that innovation is necessarily good. But, do we really need to innovate? When things are working fine (or even good), do we need to risk and spoil them following a desire for innovation at all costs?
There are probably two main reasons that push us to innovate. Recognizing them, rather than being a justification for ourselves, is also useful as they enable us to shape the kind of innovation that we will conduct. That is, to know why we innovate &mash; or why we should innovate &mash; will be crucial to identify, then, where to apply our innovative effort, where to create this ecosystem that can spark the whole thing, and most especially, what results are to be expected.
The first reason is improvement. We realize that things do not work or do not work well enough, or that they might work even better. And we innovate. Innovation, from this point of view, is not risky, it is incremental, probably leads to a natural evolution of what we are doing, we are not moving in known territory but we have maps that will guide us in the way. We copy, adapt, replace, reinterpret, patch. This is a proactive innovation that enables anticipation to our environment. And it is as necessary as the importance we award to being part of the avant-garde of a cultural field or and economic sector. In education, this type of innovation has historically been reserved for pioneers, the restless ones, even the misfits. With all the connotations — positive and negative — that carry these concepts.
Innovate to transform (oneself)
There is, however, a much more important reason (in my humble opinion) that pushes an innovative approach and it is transformation. Transformation is neither evolutionary nor incremental, but disruptive and often dichotomous: there is a before and an after in a transformating innovation. Transforming innovation usually comes, at its turn, because of two key issues: technological change (comprising as technology everything that is instrumental as tools, methods, protocols, etc.) and shifts of context.
Technological change usually implies, automatically, that the old technology becomes inefficient. That is, new ways of doing the same thing with less resources (again, broadly speaking about resources: people, material, financial, time!). And with inefficiency several tensions arise. Not only the usual restrictions and limitations are accentuated, but the costs of opportunity become unbearable as, especially, unbearable become the frictions between those who are now more efficient because they adopted the new technology and those who are still stuck in the old modus operandi.
The shift of context is even more dramatic, as it affects efficacy: when the context changes, goals also move. Without an adaptation to the new context, without innovation, all our efforts point now to a wrong target. If efficiency is to achieve as many goals as possible (regardless of the means, which are measured in the axis of efficiency), it becomes strictly necessary to innovate but not for improving, but precisely for things to not get worse, for us not to find ourselves like fish out of water.
Paradigm shift towards a knowledge society
At this point, let us grant ourselves a moment to take a distant approach. We are nowadays immersed in a vast socio-technological paradigm shift that is changing how we define and understand the foundations of our society. People and institutions of this society are watching in real time and with their own eyes how technology (efficiency) and context (efficacy) change quickly, inexorably and without turning back.
Before this(these) change(changes) we can, indeed, ask ourselves whether there is a need to innovate, or to improve anything. Or whether we should make evolve what we understand as the “educational system” or “educational institutions”. And these questions are perfectly legitimate.
But it is also legitimate to ask whether we should innovate not in a quest for improvement but just not to lose what we achieved. When we talk about equity in education, we talk about equity in a world where inequalities have shifted, where new inequalities have appeared, in new areas and environments. When we talk about quality, we talk about new skills that we did not even know, with unfound and undisclosed referents with which to compare ourselves. When we speak of excellence we do it in terms of resources and tools that have been replaced by a brand new toolbox.
Thus, it would seem that it is no longer legitimate but now urgent to consider an innovation that is transforming. Basically, because everything around us is changing and at a high speed.
My research on slacktivism has finally been published as a paper both in Spanish and Catalan at two “brother” journals: Educación Social. Revista de Intervención Socioeducativa and Educació Social. Revista d’Intervenció Sòcioeducativa.
This is work that I had already presented at two conferences — 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics; II Jornadas españolas de ciberpolítica — and, thus, is now available in three languages: the former two plus English.
What follows — after the abstract — is a list of the references and full text downloads for the papers. The main idea of the papers is that if we look at slacktivism from the point of view of the “activist”, it is but true that it is a very low-commitment activism. But if we take the approach of the politician or the policy-maker, or if we take some distance and take a look at the whole landscape, what we find is that slacktivism is only a tiny portion of a huge cosmos of people very actively engaging in politics, extra-representational politics though, and that is why most of it flies underneath the traditional political radar.
Politics have traditionally looked at the exercise of democracy with at least two implicit assumptions: (1) institutions are the normal channel of politics and (2) voting is the normal channel for politics to make decisions. Of course, reality is much more complex than that, but, on the one hand, all the extensions of that model beyond or around voting –issues related to access to public information, to deliberation and argumentation, to negotiation and opinion shaping, or related to accountability are based on institutions as the core axis around which politics spin. On the other hand, the existence and analysis of extra-institutional political participation –awareness raising, lobbying, citizen movements, protests and demonstrations– have also most of the times been put in relationship with affecting the final outcomes of institutional participation and decision-making, especially in affecting voting.
Inspired in the concept of «feet voting» (developed by Tiebout, Friedman and others) in this paper we want to challenge this way of understanding politics as a proactive and conscious action, and propose instead a reactive and unconscious way of doing politics, based on small, casual contributions and its posterior analysis by means of big data, emergence analysis and pattern recognition.
In our theoretical approach –illustrated with real examples in and out of the field of politics– we will argue that social media practices like tweeting, liking and sharing on Facebook or Google+, blogging, commenting on social networking sites, tagging, hashtagging and geotagging are not what has been pejoratively labelled as «slacktivism» (a comfortable, low commitment and feel-good way of activism) but «casual politics», that is, the same kind of politics that happen informally in the offline world. The difference being that, for the first time, policy- and decision-makers can leverage and turn into real politics. If they are able to listen. If they are able to think about politics out of institutions and in real-time.
During the year 2012, the research programme on Communication and Civil Society of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute carried on a series of research seminars on Internet, net neutrality, hacker ethics and digital culture and on Internet, institutional crisis and new institutionalism — the later, coordinated by myself.
The result of that work is the recently issued working paper La reinvención de la democracia en la sociedad-red [The reinvention of democracy in the network society], coordinated by Arnau Monterde Mateo, Adrià Rodríguez and myself, and which has been published in Spanish.
I want to very sincerely thank Arnau Monterde for the opportunity he gave to me to take part and coordinate one of the seminars, and acknowledge the huge amount of work that Arnau Rodríguez devoted in putting all the pieces together. On the other hand, the final paper would not have been possible without the contributions of the participants that attended the seminars. In no particular order, and besides Arnau, Adrià and I, those were Pablo Aragón, Cristina Cullell, Débora Lanzeni, Carlos Sánchez Almeida, Javier Toret, Gala Pin, Carlos Tomás Moro, Joan Coscubiela, Gemma Galdón, Tomás Herreros, Rommy Morales, Pedro Miguel Da Palma Santos, Joan Subirats and Alicia Domínguez. A warm thank you to all of them.
From the Arab Spring, through movement occupywallstreet or 15M it has been opened a new cycle of political network movements which propose many new elements regarding the political use of new technologies and the Internet to collective action. These new movements see the network not only as a tool or battlefield, but also as an organizational form, establishing a relationship that commonly has been linked to ethics and ways to do of hacker communities.
Moreover, the financial crisis in Europe is deepening blocking political institutions that have been building since the beginning of modernity. This crisis is expressed not only in the inability of these institutions to tackle the current economic, social and political, but also in its complicity with the mechanisms of financial dispossession. Such institutional crisis determines the need to exercise both a critical and process of invention and construction work that starts from the new technological possibilities and lessons of network movements, hacker culture and free software, which enable reinventing institutional and constitutional forms, and therefore also of democracy itself.