Citizen participation on new digital platforms

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #184, January 2019

 

Notes from the Citizen participation on new digital platforms conference, organized by Open University of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 15 January 2019.

Quim Brugué, Universitat de Girona
Participation: what are we talking about?

Participation is not new. We’ve been hearing about this since the 1970s and there already is a boom of citizen participation in the early 1990s. The first decade of 2000s, until 2007, witnesses a quick rise of citizen participation, with a strong support of the Administration. These are years of learning to participate in “good times”. It was an experimental period. There was no consensus of what was the purpose of participation. Many times the issues were not crucial to citizens, but very marginal: no “serious stuff” was shared with the citizen. It generated some not purely legitimate practices where participation was a means to give local administrations or civil society organizations either resources or a public platform were to air their ideologies. This experimentation also led to more focus on the methodology rather than on the issues: people did not want to solve a specific issue but “do participation”.

Experimentation, lots of resources, focus on the instrument rather than on the topic led to some tiredness and disenchantment with citizen participation. This did not last long: the 2008 crisis put a stop to the whole trend.

2011 — 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, Arab Spring, Occupy — was the outburst of a sense of lack of quality democracy. Citizen participation came back to the spotlight, but not on a period of dire crisis. The paradox was that when participation was most needed, lack resources due to the crisis could not meet the needs.

So, what is citizen participation? Many things:

Representative democracy Direct democracy
Additive democracy Democracy of the moderns: do not trust citizens, trust representative. Risk: “they do not represent us” Referendums, polls. Empowerment vs. experience of elder people
Deliberative democracy Democratize policies: participation, consultation vs. authority, legitimacy Democracy of the elder: trust citizens, do not trust representatives. Risk: elitism

Technology plays a different role in each different approach. While it is not yet clear neither the better technology or methodology nor the impact or degree of improvement, it does seem clear that there is a trend towards empowerment of the citizen. And a thing that has not changed is that every option carries an underlying ideology: while deliberation is about the “we” and about building a solution, polling is about the “I” and winning the preferred option.

Antonio Calleja, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute
Decidim

Especially since 2011 we’ve been witnessing a crisis of representative democracy and a rise of “datacracy”, where who owns more data can affect or even interfere representative democracy and its processes.

Decidim aims at being an alternative to big corporations controlling the platforms that will be used by “datacrats”. Decidim is thought as a political network.

As a political network, Decidim has a community around the platform that deals about strategic and technological issues, also including research, dissemination, etc.

Decidim begins with the strategic plan of the city council of Barcelona in 2016. Initially based on the citizen participation software of Madrid, Cónsul, it was later recoded as a new platform on 2017. New features have been added since.

An important feature is the ability to track what happens with a given proposal by a specific citizen: how it is included in an approved political measure and the degree in which this measure is executed.

(NOTE: case study on Decidim: Peña-López, I. (2017). decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. Bengaluru: IT for Change)

Rosa Borge, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Research project to test the deliberative capacity of several projects that have used Decidim to enable citizen participation. 18 projects were analyzed, choosing first level processes such as strategic or investment plans at the local level.

Decidim has become central in organizing and managing participation processes in municipalities. It is worth noting that the platform was used by municipalities with governments from different parties, and ranging from left to right in terms of ideology.

There does not seem to be a pattern between the number of participants, number of proposals and number of comments to these proposals. The evolution of participation processes varies a lot depending on a wide rage of reasons.

The tool has proven useful to run three dimensions of participatory processes:

  • Participation
  • Transparency
  • Deliberation

The reasons to run participation processes and to do it online are many. Sometimes it is a honest need, sometimes a way to be trendy and get more votes in the coming elections, sometimes it is mandatory by law depending on the kind of policy to be passed. What is clear is that many times there lacks a deep reflection on why and what for developing participation initiatives at the “theoretical” level (purpose, design, limitations, etc.).

The research analyzed the quality of deliberation performing content analysis and according to several indicators like equality in the discourse, reciprocity, justification, reflexiveness, pluralism and diversity, empathy and respect, etc.

Results show that there certainly is a good degree of depth in the discourse and a real debate with pros and cons on the proposals. The dialogue shows almost no effect of echo chambers but, on the contrary, dialogues provide reasoning, proposals or alternatives.

Unfortunately, the debates that take place on the institutional platform are not transposed on other social networking sites like Twitter, were the audience could be bigger and reach a greater range of actors.

PESTEL and DAFO analyses were conducted to better understand the environment and main trends.

On the cons side, there still is a certain lack of commitment from political leaders. On the pros side, online participation attracts new actors to participatory processes that were not the usual suspects of citizen participation.

(NOTE: paper on this research Borge et al. (2018). La participación política a través de la plataforma Decidim: análisis de 11 municipios catalanes. IX Congreso Internacional en Gobierno, Administración y Políticas Públicas GIGAPP. Madrid, 24-27 de septiembre de 2018. Madrid: GIGAPP).

Discussion

Anna Clua: what has been the impact of the digital divide? Have municipalities taken it into account? Rosa Borge: municipalities do not have the resources to measure and seriously address the issue. Notwithstanding, some of them are aware of the issue and thus have made some projects (e.g. training) to try and bridge it during participatory processes.

Manuel Gutiérrez: does online deliberation create more or less discourse fallacies? Rosa Borge: in general, the research has not found many bad practices. On the contrary, quality of the debate was high according to the indicators chosen. Of course the methodology is arguable and there were some methodological issues that are worth being reviewed.

Quim Brugué: can we deliberate on everything? Should we deliberate when the government has already decided on a given issue? What for? Rosa Borge: of course if the decision is already made, it may not make a lot of sense. Notwithstanding, most dedicions are not “totally” made and all comments and shades of meaning poured on the platform are taken into account by decision-makers — as stated by officials and politicians during the research.

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

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #182, November 2018

 

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

Experts and activists
chaired by Albert Royo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion

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

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

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

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

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (2018)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2018) “eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (II). Experts and activists” In ICTlogy, #182, November 2018. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4638

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

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #-24045,

 

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

Panel of stakeholders and tech companies
chaired by Joana Barbany

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

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

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

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

Working with local communities with participatory budgeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology is absolutely changing the landscape:

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

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

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

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

Cryptographic protocols can guarantee privacy and integrity of voting processes.

Cryptography also allows to audit voting processes.

Discussion

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

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

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (2018)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2018) “eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (I). Stakeholders and tech companies” In ICTlogy, #182, November 2018. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4637

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

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #181, October 2018

 

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

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

What can citizen-generated data do?

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

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

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

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

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

Some outcomes of the project:

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

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

How about co-create license to share citizen data?

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

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

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2018) “Mara Balestrini. Beyond the transparency portal: citizen data and the right to contribute” In ICTlogy, #181, October 2018. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4636

Decidim.index. Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #172, January 2018

 

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

The democratic process is not only a model for governance, but a model for living together.

How do we manage conflict in democratic processes? Define, make explicit, mediate and measure. There are two different issues in conflicts: the dimensions of the conflict and the actors of the conflict.

Measuring the debate can be difficult and especially difficult to manage if we had not prepared it in advance. Technologies and methodologies can help to structure deliberations. Argument mapping can be very useful to achieve such structuration and thus improve deliberation and the whole democratic process.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2018) “Decidim.index. Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process” In ICTlogy, #172, January 2018. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4594

Decidim.index. Miriam Sol & Carla Cordoncilo: Systems of indicators of quality

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #-24045,

 

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Miriam Sol & Carla Cordoncilo: evaluation system for the programme of active democracy

The system was designed after the logical framework approach. A matrix of indicators (simple and complex indicators) was created and then came the design of the sources of verification. Finally, the evaluation system was created.

Active democracy includes:

  • Citizen initiatives.
  • Participatory processes.
  • Citizen consultations.
  • Participation bodies.

In this project the focus was put on participatory processes.

Main dimensions: accessibility, diversity, plurality, traceability, transparency, operations.

These aspects should not be measured outside of their context, as most of them are very sensitive to it. Thus, quality or achievement of specific thresholds in indicators should be measured in relationship with environmental values. E.g. diversity in participation has different meanings in neighbourhoods that have a multicultural social tissue or in neighbourhoods that are socially or culturally more homogeneous. Less diversity in the latter is to be expected, while low diversity in the former should be considered as a failure.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2018) “Decidim.index. Miriam Sol & Carla Cordoncilo: Systems of indicators of quality” In ICTlogy, #172, January 2018. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4593

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