Article. Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption

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¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos (article)

Ricard Espelt, Enrique Rodríguez and I have just published a new article, ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos [Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption] which analyses the relationship between technopolitics and the cooperative movement. Our hypothesis is that some emerging cooperatives go beyond the mere practice of cooperativism for production or consumption, and engage or even are driven by political values. Our findings only partially support this hypothesis, but allow us to characterise three types of cooperatives according to these political values and activism, which we found quite interesting.

Expanded summary

Agroecological cooperativism is made up by an inter-cooperation network articulated by producers and consumer groups that promotes the acquisition of agroecological products in the context of the Social and Solidarity Economy (Martín-Mayor et al., 2017). At the same time, as part of the anti-globalisation and territorial defense movement, it has political resolution (Vivas, 2010). In this sense, it frames its activity as a response to the homogeneity of global food chains (Mauleón, 2009; Khoury, 2014) and promotes a recovery of the «identity of the sites». This re-appropriation purpose is expressed -especially- in the social movements that emerged during 2011 that, according to Harvey (2012), link with the fight against capitalism and the demand for a collective management of common goods and resources. Across the area of Barcelona, where the map of consumer cooperatives is well defined (Espelt et al., 2015), it has been registered an increase of these kind of organizations during the 15M or the Spanish “Indignados” movement in 2011.

As embedded in the era of the Network Society and the expansion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), this article studies the correlation between agroecological consumer groups, as an instrument to promote an alternative economy, and social movements, as the space where technopolitics develop (Toret, 2013). That is, this article aims to corroborate whether agroecological cooperativism, which emerged in the late 20th century -and grew with remarkable strength during the second decade of the 21st century- and the profound crisis of legitimacy of the democratic institutions, with a rising participation in citizen extra-representative and extra-institutional movements, is connected.

This article has a double goal. On the one hand, to assess the existing relation between consumer and cooperative groups and the 15M movement and their ideological similarities, as selfmanaged movements that aim for social and political transformation. On the other hand, if applies, to study how this relation is shaped.

The main hypothesis of our research is that nowadays agroecological cooperativism possesses an acute activism component, which is why it is reasonable to predict a relative involvement of this activist cooperativism in movements such as 15M. However, former literature has explained and described the 15M movement as a form of activism that eminently operates outside the institutions and through a network organization. From that point on, a second hypothesis is formulated, proposing that activist cooperativism participation occurs individually, rather than collectively and/or institutionally. That is, it is possible to identify overlaps between activists that take part both in cooperatives and social movements such as 15M, but it is not reasonable to foresee a relevant level of involvement of cooperatives, as collectives, in this movement.

In order to respond to the hypothesis, a questionnaire comprising two sets of questions has been designed. A first set aims to determine the level of accomplishment based on the SSE criteria. A second set of questions focuses on the correlation between the studied organizations and the 15M movement, and the relevance of ICT in their organization. Semi-structured interviews were sent between February 2015 and March 2016 with a sample of 44 groups and allowed us to gather information regarding the origins, motivation and functioning of each of them. The questionnaire about the relation between the groups and the 15M movement was sent between December 2015 and March 2016, and 37 responses were collected. Thus, the 37 groups that have completed both questionnaires and the semi-structured interview will be considered the sample for this research.

In order to assess the accomplishment level of the variables corresponding to each of the aspects of the Social Solidarity Economy and the relation of the organizations with the 15M movements, we have performed arithmetic measurements for each of the variables studied. To evaluate the performance of the formulated hypothesis we have applied a correlation and a factorial analysis upon the studied variables (Commitment, Ideology, Technology, Group Involvement and Individual Involvement) to quantify the existing association between variables (correlation) and to identify the latent existing relation between them (factorial), with the goal of gathering additional information that has allowed us to interpret the results of the individual classification (nonhierarchical segmentation). Once the groups have been obtained, significant differences between segments have been determined through a variance analysis (ANOVA).

The results of our research show that consumer groups are part of a larger group of organizations that conform the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), which, among others, values the promotion of spaces in which democratic participation is emphasised. If we constrain our analysis to 2011, just in a few cases the creation of new groups can be drawn from the influence of 15M. However, the entities created that year recognise the movement as an agent of change for the individuals in their condition of activists. At the same time, this research allowed us to determine three types of organizations: the traditional cooperative, which shows a low level of social commitment and a moderate level of individual participation, and that barely embraces ICT; the network cooperative, which adds social commitment and ICT usage; and the activist cooperative, which presents a greater group and individual involvement.

Despite the sample is limited in quantitative terms, the results confirm our hypothesis, which is to say, that cooperativism has a strong activist component. This finding points in the same direction with what Cantijoch (2009), Christensen (2011), Anduiza et al. (2014) or Peña-López et al. (2014) have expressed with regards to a strong (and even rising) tendency in extra-representative and extra-institutional practices when it comes to take part in political participation or citizen activism. On the other hand, despite the classification of the groups in traditional, network and activist cooperatives, we dare to say that their relation with the 15M movement must be, therefore, exogenous, depending on a non-identified variable, which is highly probable individual and not consubstantial with consumer cooperativism. That is to say, one doesn’t affiliate to a cooperative – as it’s the case as well with political parties, labor unions or NGOs- in order to achieve other political goals, but rather that one’s active participation in cooperativism constitutes the techno-political action by itself.

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Article:
Espelt Rodrigo, R., Peña-López, I. & Rodríguez, E. (2016). “¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos”. In CIRIEC-España, Revista de Economía Pública, Social y Cooperativa, (93), 293-318. Valencia: CIRIEC.

Case study. decidim.barcelona, Spain

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decidim.barcelona (Spain), case study

The last report of the collaboration with IT for Change has just been published: decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. It belongs to the 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.

In the following links can be found all the outputs of the aforementioned project:

The report which I have penned deals about the Barcelona (Spain) city council participation program called decidim.barcelona.

Following I reproduce the executive summary and the link to download the full report.

Executive summary

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. Six month after, Barcelona – the second largest city in Spain and capital of Catalonia – began its own participatory democracy project, decidim.barcelona (Barcelona we decide) in February 2016. Both cities use the same free software platform as a base, and are guided by the same political vision.

The success of these initiatives and the strong political vision behind them have spawned plenty of other initiatives in the country – especially in Catalonia – that are working to emulate the two big cities. These cities are sharing free-software-based technology, procedures and protocols, their reflections – both on open events and formal official meetings. What began as a seemingly one-time project has grown in scale.

Available open documentation suggests that decidim.barcelona has increased the amount of information in the hands of the citizens, and gathered more citizens around key issues. There has been an increase in participation, with many citizen created proposals being widely supported, legitimated and accepted to be part of the municipality strategic plan. As pluralism has been enhanced without damaging the existing social capital, we can only think that the increase of participation has led to an improvement of democratic processes, especially in bolstering legitimacy around decision making. A meta-project has indeed opened the design and development of the project itself to the citizens themselves. This can be summarized in four key points:

  • Deliberation becomes the new democracy standard
  • Openness becomes the pre-requisite for deliberation
  • Accountability and legislative footprint emerge as an important by-product to achieve legitimacy
  • Participation leads to more pluralism and stronger social capital, which fosters deliberation, thus closing the (virtuous) circle of deliberative democracy.

What remains to be analyzed is the strength and stability of the new relationships of power and how exactly these will challenge the preceding systemic structures and lead to newer ones. The culture of participation was hitherto scarce and mainly dealt with managing the support of citizens in top-down type initiatives. Changing the mindset implied turning many of the departments and processes of the City Council upside down – a need for new coordination structures, a new balance between the central administration and the districts, a speeding up of the slow tempos of the administration, and new ways to manage public-private partnerships.

Using Anthony Giddens’ Structuration theory, this case study examines the e-participation initiative of the City Council of Barcelona (Spain), decidim.barcelona. The study analyzes the inception and first use of decidim.barcelona for the strategic plan of the municipality in the years 2016-2019.

The case of the participatory process of the City Council of Barcelona to co-design, along with the citizens, the strategic plan 2016-2019 of the municipality is an important milestone, both in the local politics of the region, and in Spanish politics in general. It embodied the demands of the many that took to the streets in May 2011. The grassroots movement in Barcelona self-organized and won the local elections in May 2015, bringing their hacker and technopolitics ethos to the forefront of local politics. Not only does the way participatory process of early 2016 was put into practice matter, but also how it was technically designed and integrated into the core of policy making in sustainable and replicable ways. This is evidenced in the widespread adoption of this model across other Spanish cities and also by supra-municipal entities. The model, and the tool, is being replicated by Localret (a consortium of Catalan municipalities) and the Barcelona County Council. Both these institutions will replicate the initiative (participation model and technological platform) in other municipalities, while also creating a coordination team to share experiences and methodologies or prioritize needs for improvement.

The 180º turn that decidim.barcelona represents in governance goes beyond just “listening” to citizens and “giving them a voice”. In this case, citizens are:

  • Invited to design and improve upon the participatory process
  • Invited to contribute proposals that will be debated and could translate into binding legislation (provided some technical and social thresholds are reached).
  • Invited to monitor and assess both the process in its procedures as in its outcomes (in what has been called the Metadecidim initiative).

This has been done not by substituting other channels of participation but by improving the traditional ways to engage in local politics (face-to-face, channeled through civil society organizations or other institutions) by complementing them with new ICT-mediated mechanisms.

This case study is divided into three main sections. First, we examine the institutionalization of the ethos of the 15M Spanish Indignados movement, the context building up to the decidim.barcelona initiative. In the next section the methodology, the case, its design and philosophy are discussed in greater detail. Anthony Giddens’ Structuration theory and Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network theory are unpacked here. In the final section, the results of the project are analyzed and the shifts of the initiative in meaning, norms and power, both from the government and the citizen end are discussed.

Downloads

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Full report:
Peña-López, I. (2017). decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. Bengaluru: IT for Change.

Related works

Official reports
Peña-López, I. (2017). decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. Bengaluru: IT for Change.
Peña-López, I. (2017). Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain. Bengaluru: IT for Change.
Other writings
Peña-López, I. (2017). “Participation in Spanish Municipalities: The Makings of a Network of Open cities”. In ICTlogy, March 2016, (162). Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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.
Speeches
Peña-López, I. (2017). Sovereignty in the digital age. Keynote speech at the All Digital Summit, Barcelona 4-5 October 2017. Barcelona: All Digital.
Peña-López, I. (2017). decidim.barcelona. from e-participation to the devolution of sovereignty. “ICT-mediated citizen engagement: Voice or Chatter?” webinar 5 July 2017. Bengaluru: IT for Change.
Peña-López, I. (2017). Voice or chatter? Transforming democracy in technopolitical institutions. Civic Tech: creating and enabling networks for a liquid democracy. Maker Faire. 18 June de 2017 Barcelona: Caixa Fòrum. Barcelona: Ateneu Barcelonès.
Peña-López, I. (2017). Voz o propaganda? Transformación democrática y tecnopolítica. Seminar for Civic tech? Utopías para el cambio, 3 July 2017. Barcelona: Escuela Cívica.
Peña-López, I. (2017). Veu o propaganda? Transformació democràtica a les institucions tecnopolítiques. Cicle “La cultura del vot”: Quin futur per al reformisme democràtic? Anàlisi de les experiències conegudes a l’Estat espanyol. 12 de juny de 2017. Barcelona: Ateneu Barcelonès.

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.

Downloads

logo of PDF file
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.

Downloads

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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.

Metadecidim (II). Silvia Luque: The participatory experience of the Municipality Action Plan through the decidim.barcelona platform

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.

Silvia Luque, Fundació Ferrer i Guardia
The participatory experience of the Municipality Action Plan through the decidim.barcelona platform

One of the biggest challenges in a hybrid online-offline participatory process is, precisely, how to balance participation in both spaces, virtual and face-to-face.

The oneline platform has been the amplifier of what was going on in the offline arena. It also gathered all the information and contributed to trace the participation footprint.

Of course, the digital platform itself held lots of debates and collected proposals directly online.

Mobile points — ad-hoc kiosks on the streets — provided offline feedback from what was happening online.

The online platform was both a participatory platform and a work platform: everyone worked within the platform. Both citizens and managers used the platform for all the tasks and procedures related to the participatory process.

There was a good balance between online and offline participation, though in the online platform there was slightly more participation. The platform, though, affected the topic: in wellbeing, there were more proposals offline, while in the topic of environment more proposals came online. This sure has to do with the profile of people that participate online or offline. On the other hand, face-to-face events were mostly organized by the city council, who did not organize the same amount of events for each and every topic of the Municipality Action Plan. Participation and proposals, also, not necessarily go hand in hand: one can find topics highly participated that produced relatively few proposals, and lowly participated topics that notwithstanding produced lots of proposals. The topic and the nature of the participation sure explain the differences.

The nature of participation was also diverse: make proposals, comment on the proposals, support others’ proposals, vote proposals, attend events, interact with a mobile point, comments on online debates.

New tools require new literacies and new working logics. And also taking into account the possibility that there is a digital divide. As online and offline behaved differently, the most promising approach is a hybrid one that enables both logics of participation.

Metadecidim (2016)

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)