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.
Mapping and assessing e-participation: from digital skills to digital empowerment
When we aim at seeing who is doing what in terms of e-participation (and in political participation in general) it is quite usual to look at the capacities that individuals have to perform a given action and how many of these actions actually took place. In other words, and in the field of e-participation, we look at the level of digital literacy of individuals in a community and how they engaged in the e-participation initiatives that were offered to them.
This perspective has, at least, two issues that need being addressed.
The first one is quite obvious and has been the focal point of some initiatives like UNPAN’s series of e-Government surveys (UNPAN, 2016). That is, that not only citizens but also the Administration (and everything that spins around it: all other powers, political parties and lobbies, etc.) need to be e-ready. This e-readiness should, at least, be taken into consideration in two different fronts: whether there are the technological infrastructures available and whether public servants can use them and have the appropriate digital skills (Peña-López, 2010).
But these skills – both now at the citizen and the public sector levels – are not only about achieving a sufficient degree of knowledge in handling some specific hardware. First of all, there is the capacity (Sen, 1980) to make conscious and subjective choices in one’s own benefit (not just “using); second, there is the power to make choices that are effective, that can actually take place and make an impact (or, at least, increase the potential for that impact) (Welzel et al., 2003).
This is crucial, because we do know that the digital divide in politics (Robles et al., 2012) affect the outcomes of policy-making, but it is much more complex than just a matter of access (Cantijoch, 2014). We have growing evidence that the Internet and politics engage in a virtuous (or vicious, depending on the spin) circle (Colombo et al., 2012) that either leads to more empowerment and political efficacy, with an increase of Internet usage, and back to empowerment and efficacy – or just the opposite in cases of lack of Internet and/or different attitudes toward participation.
Thus, if the digital divide actually shifts to differences in usage (Van Deursen, van Dijk) and not just in a matter of intensity of engagement, it is crucial to accurately map and assess how both individuals and institutions are ready for e-participation, and how and what initiatives have been put in practice to improve the e-readiness of the actors that participate in politics.
But this is only half the equation: how ready actors are. What about what they are doing and, more interestingly, where and how they are doing it?
Mapping and assessing e-participation: from digital participation to digital governance
e-Participation: from capacity building to empowerment
The other half of the equation is where would institutions and people put their e-readiness at work. But if the very concept of skills, capacities and effective usage has changed, so have the concepts of “places” and “means” in the digital age.
Many institutions nowadays have their design rooted in the scientific and the industrial revolutions. The advancements of science (including the ethics and philosophy of the Enlightenment) and the advancements of technology provided solid ground where to build, among other things, liberal democracies and the institutions that make them up: parliaments, governments, the judiciary system, political parties, lobbies and civic organizations, etc.
But most of these grounds exist no more, or at least they have been direly transformed in their inhibiting potential, especially in what implies coincidence of time, space and the cost to coordinate interactions, exchanges and transactions in general (Benkler, 2002).
In this new landscape, networks emerge instead of hierarchical organizations, creating new institutions and reshaping the old ones (Benkler, 2006). In political participation, this means the creation of new spaces and strategies for information, communication and civic action (Castells, 2009, 2012) that, notwithstanding, often fall outside of the mapped territories and below the line of the radar of democratic institutions.
These new, unmapped territories range from what has been called lurking (Nonneke & Preece, 2003) or slacktivism (Christensen, 2011) to para-institutions (Peña-López et al., 2014), but it is arguable that these new e-participation extra-representative or extra-institutional practices are as legitimate and useful as other traditional ones (Peña-López, 2013). On the one hand, because it may be interesting to approach these initiatives not as an “exit”, in terms of Albert O. Hirschman (1970), but as citizens moving away from institutions that do not answer to their needs and into other new institutions that may, that is, they are voting with their feet (Tiebout, 1956) but not in terms of municipality but in terms of democratic institutions.
Still today we see reactions (again in the sense of Hirschman, 1991) that tend to redirect extra-institutional participation towards institutions, that tend to silent these initiatives because they harm democracy or because they are useless.
We here propose, instead, to map and characterize all the initiatives that, after having built capacity on actors (individuals or collectives, institutions or distributed networks), not only aim at attracting them to traditional ways of participation but enable new spaces and actions by creating the conditions to support bottom-up distributed e-participation initiatives. Naming and framing issues, identifying the relevant actors, feeding actors with the relevant information, facilitating appropriate exchanges between approaches and positions, easing negotiation, fostering decisions, setting the ground for appropriate accountability. This landscape can but grow. The later it is appropriately measured and facilitated, the more difficult it will be to establish bridges between capacity building and intervention, and between institutional interventions and distributed and networked civic actions.
Peña-López, I. (2013). “Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition”. In Balcells, J., Cerrillo i Martínez, A., Peguera, M., Peña-López, I., Pifarré de Moner, M.J. & Vilasau, M. (Coords.), Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities, 339-358. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25-26 June, 2013. Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial.
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?
The policy brief — which precedes the thorough case study soon to be released — begins with the general context depicted in the state of the art report, shortly describes the experience of Barcelona and then goes to highlight the main impacts of the project, especially in what relates to policy-making for the future.
This policy brief, as the aforementioned report, are the outcome of a collaboration with IT for Change under a research project titled Voice or Chatter? Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement, and produced with the financial support of Making All Voices Count, a programme working towards a world in which open, effective and participatory governance is the norm and not the exception. This Grand Challenge focuses global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions to transform the relationship between citizens and their governments. Making All Voices Count is supported by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and Omidyar Network (ON), and is implemented by a consortium consisting of Hivos, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Ushahidi. The programme is inspired by and supports the goals of the Open Government Partnership.
In September 2015, Madrid, the capital of Spain, initiated a participatory democracy project, Decide Madrid (Madrid decide), to enable participatory strategic planning for the municipality. Less than half a year after, in February 2016, Barcelona – the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia – issued their own participatory democracy project: decidim.barcelona (Barcelona we decide). Both cities use the same free software platform as a base, and are guided by the same political vision. Since the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, Spain has witnessed a silent but thorough democratic turn, from a crisis of representation to new experiments in participatory democracy, just like Decide Madrid or decidim.Barcelona. Grounded in the techno-political movements of the 15M, this turn reflects the critical role of ICTs (and their hacker ethics) in reconstructing politics, as discussed below.
In this article we seek to revisit what the term ‘technopolitical’ means for democratic politics in our age. We begin by tracing how the term was used and then transformed through various and conflicting adaptations of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) in governmental and civil organizations and grassroots movements. Two main streams can be distinguished in academic literature: studies about internet-enhanced politics (labelled as e- government) and politics 2.0 that imply the facilitation of existing practices such as e-voting, e-campaigning and e-petitioning. The second stream of the internet-enabled perspective builds on the idea that ICTs are essential for the organization of transformative, contentious politics, citizen participation and deliberative processes. Under a range of labels, studies have often used ideas of the technopolitical in an undefined or underspecified manner for describing the influence of digital technologies on their scope of investigation. After critically reviewing and categorizing the main concepts used in the literature to describe ICT-based political performances, we construct a conceptual model of technopolitics oriented at two contra-rotating developments: Centralization vs. Decentralization. Within a schema consisting of the five dimensions of context, scale and direction, purpose, synchronization and actors we will clarify these developments and structure informal and formal ways of political practices. We explain the dimensions using real-world examples to illustrate the unique characteristics of each technopolitical action field and the power dynamics that influence them.
For the last year I have been taking part of the research project Voice or Chatter?, part of Making All Voices Count, a programme working towards a world in which open, effective and participatory governance is the norm and not the exception, and focusing global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions to transform the relationship between citizens and their governments.
A new article has been published from the same project. It is a shorter version of the political and regulatory context, now in Spanish. It has appeared in Revista Internacional de Pensamiento Político (issue #11), within a monograph on the digital revolution, technopolitics and digital democracy edited by Ramón Soriano and Francisco Jurado — to whom I owe much gratitude, not only for the invitation to submit a paper, but for their idea to curate such an interesting monograph.
Below appear the abstract of the article in English and Spanish and the download of the full text in Spanish.
Abstract in English
The Spanish local elections in 2015 brought to many Spanish cities what has been labeled as “city councils of change”: city councils whose mayors and governing representatives come from parties emerging from the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement. This research focuses on the socio-political environment where this phenomenon takes place, specifically in Madrid and Barcelona, the two major cities of the state and featuring “city councils of change”. Our research revisits e-participation since the beginnings of the XXIst century onwards and most especially in the aftermath of the 15M Movement, proposing that recent ICT-based participation initiatives in such in municipalities could be far from just polling the citizens and be, instead, the spearhead of a technopolitics-aimed network of cities.
Abstract in English
Las elecciones municipales de España en 2015 trajeron a muchas ciudades españolas lo que se ha calificado como “ayuntamientos de cambio”: ayuntamientos cuyos alcaldes y representantes en el gobierno provienen de partidos emergentes del Movimiento del 15M. Esta investigación se centra en el entorno sociopolítico en el que se desarrolla este fenómeno, concretamente en Madrid y Barcelona, las dos mayores ciudades del estado y con “ayuntamientos de cambio”. Nuestra investigación revisita la e-Participación desde los inicios del siglo XXI y, sobre todo, tras las secuelas del 15M, proponiendo que las recientes iniciativas de participación basadas en las TIC en los municipios podrían estar lejos de ser meras encuestas para los ciudadanos para ser, en cambio, la punta de lanza de una red de ciudades tejida con prácticas tecnopolíticas.
Sóc professor dels Estudis de Dret i de Ciència Política de la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya,
així com investigador a l'Internet Interdisciplinary Institute i l'eLearn Center de la mateixa.
També dirigeixo el projecte d’Innovació Oberta de la Fundació Jaume Bofill.