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)

Tecnopolítica14 (I). Joan Subirats & Simona Levi. Political evolution of the 15M

Notes from the Network democracy and technopolitics. Transformations of the electoral space and new prototypes post-15M, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3, X.net and FCForum, in Barcelona, Spain, on November 4th, 2014. More notes on this event: tecnopolitica14.

Joan Subirats (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)
Political evolution from the 15M (2011) to the 25M (2014). A political science approach.

Traditional politics is not prepared for this upcoming change. There is no space for public affairs outside of the State. The approach is that of the homo economicus: politics as a market. Democracy is based on rules, not values: elections based on competitiveness, the winner takes it all, etc. Legitimacy is a mix of ideology and being functional in delivering services and welfare to the citizens.

And political science has a Fordist approach to this phenomenon, mainly based in an economicist approach or point of view.

On democracy: from the 15M to the 25M the frame upon which democracy is based has been broken. As this is the frame put into practice by the main political actors at the international levels, these actors have suffered a legitimacy shock. There is an attack to rules from the field of values.

A second major change is the confluence of new actors in the political arena. Constitutions had set who could participate in politics (i.e. institutions) and now new actors are vindicating taking part in politics. And taking part in politics from outside of institutions, which is, again, a dire change: there used to be no politics outside institutions, and now citizens are claiming public affairs as something which is theirs, and not the institutions’.

Participation is understood as doing, as acting. If institutions cannot deliver, citizens will organize, self-organize, and just do it. People won’t accept intermediation in politics, boosted by a powerful technological aspect.

There is the perception that the powers do not represent people because (1) they are not defending the interests of people, (2) because the political elites do not actually live like the people that they are supposed to represent and (3) because, all in all, the are actually taking no decisions. This is a triple breaking of the contract signed between representatives and citizens.

When institutions, the ones that are present in them, do not represent the ones that are absent, something is wrong. Especially when those who are absent, thanks to technology, could actually be present. The 15M makes it possible that the “nobodies” can take a leading role in politics, that they are relevant actors in the political arena, in the process of decision-making on public affairs. And this participation can take multiple shapes and be reshaped: we can change our identities, our networks, depending on our often changing interests.

From collective action to connective action. The 15M is not a movement, but a process of social connectivism (vs. the social constructivism that used to be). Processes are as important and results (or even more). And this is a new paradigm that separates the ones that do politics with the Internet and the ones that do politics on the Internet. Indeed, accepting the logic of the Internet means denying the logic of the party.

Simona Levi (X.net)
Political evolution of the 15M: the creation of 15MpaRato and the Partido X as examples. XXIst century democracy and myths about digital participation.

The 15M is completely alive and the first effects are already taking place, e.g. the end of bipartidism (the hegemony of the Socialist Party and the Popular Party).

The 15M is both a destitution and a constitution process, due to dis-intermediation of organization, information, etc. One can reach autonomy by practicing it, and this is what the 15M is doing: practicing new ways of political commitment and participation.

The 15M is a good remixing device. The 15MpaRato succeeds in remixing old existing things (e.g. fundrising) but in new ways (e.g. crowdfuding)

The Partido X places itself in the future and tries to bring to the present the view of what could be — and maybe should — and proposes a destituent process where institutions are emptied of content, and be filled with the civil society and their aspirations. It tries to make compatible a horizontal approach to participation and the need for a vertical structure that can challenge the established powers.

The frontal attack to corruption in Spain has become the flagship of the destituent part of Partido X: getting rid of old structures by getting rid of old practices (and old practitioners). While the constituent part is Democracy Period.

The Partido X believes that forking is not dividing strengths, but multiplying the fronts from which to attack a common enemy. Democracy is not agreeing on everything, but being able to live one with the other in disagreement.

This does not mean that we do not need professionals in politics: we do need them, we do want professionals in politics. The issue is not that they are “normal” people (i.e. not professionals, people like you and I) but how to control them, how to make their decisions transparent and accountable.

Transparency is not about telling absolutely everything, but opening up the “code”, the possibility to track decisions, to replicate them, to evaluate each and every step.

Discussion

Q: how these political revolutions relate with the commons? Joan Subirats: there are three different fields (1) environmental sustainability, (2) the collaborative economy and (3) the digital commons. The first one has been deeply analyzed by Elinor Ostrom; the second one is about to be discovered, but there are already very good initiatives about it. Concerning the digital commons, while Jeremy Riffkin’s idea of marginal cost zero can be discussed, it is a good approach. An even better approach is Harvey’s approach to scalability. All in all, the central idea is that we should not surrender everything that is public to what is institutional, the state-centrism.

Pablo Aragón: how to build things economically? is all about crowdfunding? Simona Levi: it is not as much about raising money, but about being responsible of one’s actions, about leading them, about making real feasible proposals.

Javier Toret: taking the power or distributing the power? Joan Subirats: the key is representation by action, entering politics by doing things, by delivering, by actually representing the citizen.

Q: what happened with the Partido X? Simona Levi: the Partido X is in the future and speaks from there. The Partido X has leapfrogged a phase, the institutional one, which is the one that other new parties like Podemos or Guanyem are now following, channelling new messages to set up the destituent phase.

Network democracy and technopolitics (2014)