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

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)

Metadecidim (I). Robert Bjarnason: Digital tools for the democratic revolution in Iceland and beyond

Notes from the Metadecidim workshop, within the decidim.barcelona participatory programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 25-26 November 2016. More notes on this event: metadecidim.

Robert Bjarnason, citizens.is
Digital tools for the democratic revolution in Iceland and beyond

Citizens must have a strong voice in policymaking with formal and persistent participation in the political process.

The Citizens Foundation created three open source tools:

  • Your Priorities, an idea and debate platform, on crowdsourcing. Your Priorities is about building trust between citizens and government.
  • Open Active Voting, on budget voting, but very pedagogical on how budgets work. Participatory budgets are not only about having a direct influence on expenditure, but also on knowing how much things cost and what it means to have a budget. After that, trust is built and better decisions are made in collaboration with citizens.
  • Active Citizen: improved participation with artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Artificial intelligence helps in participation with little time spent, helping to overcome bubbles and biases; virtual reality for data visualization and online meetings.

Participation must be fun, informative and educational. Yes, it has to be democratic, and rigorous. But also engaging, something you enjoy doing. Gamifying participation is a good approach for a successful participatory initiative.

Participation tools have to meet people where they are. Tools have to have a “mobile first” design in mind.

But the key for participation to succeed is that it has an impact. Decision-makers do have to listen and take into account what citizens say. If citizens feel they are participating for nothing, they will quickly move away from all other participatory processes.

Participation is also about communication and marketing: people do have to know to be able to participate. It’s not propaganda, but informing the citizen.

Metadecidim (2016)

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

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

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

Joonas Pekkanen, Forum Virium Helsinki and Open Ministry, Helsinki

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

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

Marcelo D’Elia Branco, InforLibero, Brazil

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

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

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

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

Robert Bjarnason, Citizens Foundation, Reykjavik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hille Hinsberg, Praxis Estonia

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

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

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

Network democracy for a better city (2015)