OP@LL Conference (II): Case Studies I

Notes from the OP@LL Conference: Online participation on the local level – a comparative perspective, organized by Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and held in Dússeldorf, Germany, on 13-15 December 2017. More notes on this event: opll.

Case Studies I

Soraya Vargas Cortes | Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)
E-participation in municipal governments in Brazil

Abstract: One of the characteristics of the current crisis of liberal democracies is the challenge the fragmented civil society placed before traditional forms of participation, while many regard that organizations, such as political parties or trade unions, dot not represent their views and interests. Moreover, there are new forms of civil society mobilization and individual active participation through social media. Governments, in Brazil and elsewhere, have developed new mechanisms to reach collective actors and individuals taken advantage of the information technology and computer services (ITCS) there available. In Brazil, a federation with three levels of government, there is a growing interest in the subject of ‘e-participation’. However, most studies address federal and state level of government even considering that, since the 1990s, municipal administration has grown in importance, in terms of revenue, spending and functions. The paper will analyse the online participation of organizations and individuals in the decision-making at the municipal level of government in the country. The main source of data is available in the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística – IBGE) under the annualized database Research on Basic Municipal Information (Pesquisa de Informações Básicas Municipais – MUNIC).

With new ICTs, government decision-making process is more disperse and transparent. And civil society demands for more participation. Governments can improve efficiency, increase accountability, respond to demands for more participation.

But the digital divide can have a possible effect on participation, especially in lesser developed countries. Regional inequalities persist in the conditions offered by municipal governments to e-participation.

This research uses a database of the 5,570 Brazilian municipalities (MUNIC).

The development level of a given municipality and/or Brazilian state will determine the intensiveness of ICT usage for government and democracy: municipal websites, online transactions capacity, section to assure the right to information, information on expenditures, information on monitoring of government actions, etc. There is a regional digital divide reproducing the socioeconomic inequalities found among great Regions of Brazil. Digital exclusion and lesser possibilities of e-participation can further widen the historical socioeconomic gap between Northern and Southern regions of Brazil.

Governments should be aware of this digital divide and design policies to reduce this new type of inequality.

Ismael Peña-López | Open University of Catalonia (Spain)
decidim.barcelona, from e-participation to the devolution of sovereignty

Abstract: In September 2015, Madrid – the capital of Spain – initiated a participatory democracy project, Decide Madrid (Madrid decides), 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 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. The Barcelona model is based on ubiquitous deliberation, openness, absolute transparency and accountability and pervasive participation to increase quantity and quality of proposals. In many ways, the model is the institutionalized version of the technopolitics ethos that emerged from the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, was embedded in the political parties that came after them and ended up entering the governments of many Spanish municipalities. The initiative has implied important shifts in meaning, in legitimacy and in power and has a strong potential of becoming the needed bridge between new citizen movements and new ways of doing politics. It can also achieve an interesting stage if its evolution in several municipalities – autonomous but somewhat synchronized by common ethics and technology – leads to a network of local governments that can end up challenging the powers of the state.