Constitutional processes in the world

Notes from the conclusions of the conference cycle Constitutional processes in the world, organized by the Catalan Government, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 15 June 2017.

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

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.

Bolivia

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.

Ecuador

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.

Iceland

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.

Chile

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.

Scotland

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.

Conclusions

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).

Discussion

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?

This post has been translated into Basque language as Processos constituents al món eztabaida ziklo saioan izan gara. Mila esker, Idoia

Policy brief. Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain

Cover of the policy brief Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain

After the first state of the art report on the state of technopolitics and e-participation in Spain — State of the Art: Spain. Voice or chatter? Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement —, I have just had published a policy brief on the case of decidim.barcelona, the initiative of the City Council of Barcelona, Spain, to bring more horizontal e-participation procedures and, definitely, a bold strategy for the devolution of sovereigty to the citizenry of Barcelona: Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain.

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.

Introduction

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.

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Policy brief:
Peña-López, I. (2017). Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain. Bengaluru: IT for Change.

Related works

Peña-López, I. (2016). “Participación electrónica en los municipios. De la emancipación ciudadana a la red de ciudades abiertas”. In Revista Internacional de Pensamiento Político, 11, 63-88. Sevilla: Universidad Pablo de Olavide.
Peña-López, I. (2017). Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain. Bengaluru: IT for Change.
Peña-López, I. (2017). “Participation in Spanish Municipalities: The Makings of a Network of Open cities”. In ICTlogy, March 2016, (162). Barcelona: ICTlogy.

Article. What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age

Cover of the article What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age

A year ago, Can Kurban, Maria Haberer and I presented a communication at the conference IDP2016 – Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space, and it was published in its proceedings as What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age.

Now, an improved version of that paper has been published at the IDP. Journal of Internet, Law and Politics, in its issue #24.

Abstract

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.

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Full article:
Kurban, C., Peña-López, I. & Haberer, M. (2017). “What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age”. In IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Ciencia Política, 24. Barcelona: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

Article. ICT-based participation in municipalities: from citizen empowerment to the open cities network

Cover of article: Participación electrónica en los municipios. De la emancipación ciudadana a la red de ciudades abiertas

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.

I had already released three outputs resulting of the work on this project:

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.

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Article:
Peña-López, I. (2017). “Participación electrónica en los municipios. De la emancipación ciudadana a la red de ciudades abiertas”. In Revista Internacional de Pensamiento Político, 11, 63-88. Sevilla: Universidad Pablo de Olavide.

Centralization vs. decentralization tensions in the Digital Economy

When we speak about Information and Communication Technologies, it is an almost unavoidable mantra to say that this is an era of democratization of technology, of democratization of (access to) information. Meanwhile, we witness how the major technological firms grow, acquire or bury their competitors, keep on growing and concentrate the market in a decreasing number of hands. Which is quite the opposite of the democratization of technology.

Let us simplify things a little bit for the sake of the explanation.

Two of the main reasons for the centralization of production in the Industrial Age were the cost of capital and the economies of scale. That is, the need to gather huge amounts of money to build up factories and infrastructures in general meant that only organizations with lots of money (e.g. governments) or large coalitions of people (e.g. big firms and their stakeholders) could afford huge enterprises and, thus, property of the productive tissue was concentrated in few hands. This concentration had, in its turn, a side-effect: the bigger the investment, the bigger the returns, as economies of scale are significant in mass production.

In a digital economy it does not exactly work this way. Investment costs usually are much lower than in the Industrial Age. Let us take creating a newspaper. Lots of in-house journalists have to be allocated inside a building (it is cheaper this way), and an expensive printing press and tons of paper are strictly necessary before a single issue sees the light. On the contrary, a free software installation on a cheap web server is enough for a decentralized team of freelancers to create content and automatically and very cheaply put that content online (remember this is a simplification of reality).

On the other hand, though, big returns come not with doing more with less (returns of scale), basically because we are already operating with lesser costs, both fix and per unit. Returns will come with people: the more people join your (publishing in this case) platform, the bigger the returns. These are the network economies or network effect: something is more valuable the more people use it.

Pre-industrial
Industrial
Digital
Capital cost Low High Low
Economies None Scale Network
Appropriation Distributed Concentrated Distributed
Exploitation Distributed Concentrated Concentrated

Table 1. Centralization vs. decentralization tensions in the Digital Economy

And here is where the tension appears: as investment costs decrease, appropriation of capital — or technology — can be decentralized. That, is individual people or smaller groups have it easier to have state-of-the-art technology in their hands. When there is no copyright (an non-technical added barrier to the cost of technology), such as in openly licensed information, free software or open hardware, then costs are even lower and technology distribution can spread further and broader. This is where “democratization of technology” does apply.

But it is different with the exploitation of digital capital and digital infrastructures. Unlike appropriation, it still needs a critical mass to make the best of it, to benefit from its returns. Its nature is different — from production costs and economies of scale to network effects and network economies — but the result is similar: concentration of production of goods or delivery of services to have a deep impact.

This tension can be solved in two different ways.

  1. The first one is that people can still use technology for their own particular purposes, but main corporations will still dominate production — including media and agenda setting. You can have a blog, but media rule the communication market. You can have a 3D printer, but big factories produce everything. You can sell online your used stuff, but the big digital retailers distribute everything that there is to be sold. And so on.
  2. The second one is that there is a way where individual appropriation can be combined with collective exploitation. Or, better said, communal exploitation. Just like in cooperatives.

The latter is an idea with a highly transforming potential, because it may — it may — change the economy (and society) as we know it. It represents taking the best of XIXth century cooperatives with the best of the digital revolution. On of the most interesting ideas behind this model is described in Platform Cooperativism. Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy by Trebor Scholz.

Here come other references for reflection:

Acevedo, M., Moreno Romero, A. & Mataix, C. (2015). “ICT4D as the driver of Network Cooperation actors, connections and collaboration in the post-2015 international development landscape”. In Steyn, J. & Van Belle, J. (Eds.), Beyond development. Time for a new ICT4D paradigm?, 18-39. Proceedings of the 9th IDIA conference, IDIA2015, Nungwi, Zanzibar. Nungwi: IDIA.
Espelt, R., Peña-López, I. & Rodríguez, E. (2016). “Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroalimentarios: ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica?”. In Balcells et al. (Coords.), Building a European digital space, 560-581. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 7-8 July, 2016. Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial.
Saveri, A., Rheingold, H. & Vian, K. (2005). Technologies of Cooperation. Palo Alto: Institute for the Future.
Scholz, T. (2016). Platform Cooperativism. Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Book chapter. Environmental education in a world of networks

Cover of the book Educació Ambiental

In 2009-2010, some colleagues and I did a small research for the Diputació de Barcelona (Barcelona County Council) on new ways of political participation enabled by ICTs. The following year, my colleague Albert Padró-Solanet and I adapted some of that research and turned into a set of training sessions for city council officers in the field of communication, participation and environment, the latter being a field in which collaboration between institutions and organizations at the city level is crucial.

The Technical office of education and environmental promotion of the Barcelona County Council has just issued a book, Environmental education. Where have we come from? Where are we going?, in which we were invited to write a book chapter on how environmental education and awareness raising on environmental issues has changed due to the adoption of ICTs.

Our chapter —Environmental education in a world of networks— begins with an introduction to the digital revolution and the kinds of tools and applications that are more deeply changing information and communication between citizens and between citizens and public administrations. Of course, the list of specific applications will quickly be outdated, but the reflections around them and their categorization we believe will still be useful in the following years. After the digital revolution and some tools, we talk about the communication plan, how to identify our targets, how to campaign or how to think of communication as a way of building up a project-centered personal learning environment (PLE — in this case, the P would stand for project instead of personal). The chapter ends with some practical cases and some conclusions or things to keep in mind.

The book — and the book chapters — is published in Catalan, Spanish and English, and our chapter can be downloaded below.

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Book chapter:
Peña-López, I. & Padró-Solanet, A. (2017). “Environmental education in a world of networks”. In Diputació de Barcelona, Environmental education. Where have we come from? Where are we going?, Chapter 11, 544-559. Col·lecció Estudis. Sèrie Medi Ambient, 4. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
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Capítulo del libro:
Peña-López, I. & Padró-Solanet, A. (2017). “Educación ambiental en un mundo de redes”. En Diputació de Barcelona, Educación ambiental. ¿De dónde venimos? ¿Hacia dónde vamos?, Capítol 11, 397-414. Col·lecció Estudis. Sèrie Medi Ambient, 4. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
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Capítol del llibre:
Peña-López, I. & Padró-Solanet, A. (2017). “Educación ambiental en un mundo de redes”. A Diputació de Barcelona, Educació ambiental. D’on venim? Cap a on anem?, Capítol 11, 231-257. Col·lecció Estudis. Sèrie Medi Ambient, 4. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.