Social networking sites and democracy: rethinking participation.
The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation
We’ve talked too much about citizen participation… we’ve been talking too much about it despite the fact that we are still doing too little.
The more global thing always has a very local background. Most big civic actions begin with small, local initiatives.
Representative democracy is old, and has aged badly. Public representatives are seen not only as unable to solve problems, but even to identify them. Will participation turn old representative democracy into a young participative democracy? The problem is that we use a loudspeaker to talk to people and let them decide… on a previously set of options. Participation is not about letting people give their opinions on what is already decide, but about deciding what has to be decided.
Then comes commitment. In participation, is there a commitment to take action? to transform things? Or is it just faking decision-making but, all in all, not deciding anything?
Participation should also raise awareness… on the limits of participation itself: what can be decided and what not, what are the costs of any option/decision, etc. It is crucial that people understands how did we get here, what is the logic and the process and means by which a final decision was made. The solution may be agreed by everyone or not, but the process should.
Participation, and even agreement or decision-making is not about turning diversity into a homogeneous mass. It’s about finding common goals within disagreement. Same with how to lead and how to facilitate a process. Who is an influencer, who is a local leader? Unless one does not know and engage these leaders and influencers, civic action is bound to failure.
Participation has to be inclusive. We should care that everyone participates, that everyone is engaged with both the topic and the process. This engagement many times by setting up places where people can meet each other, interact, do things together… not necessarily related with participation or decision-making, just creating bounds.
Defining clear goals and places for deliberation should be a top priority once a community and problem have been identified. Then, it necessarily comes making participation a collective action. And a collective that is connected. Collective: many people; connective: the collective connected.
If possible, participation should be disruptive, innovative: it is engaging and, most of the times, efficient in optimizing the resources at reach.
The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation (2014)
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2014) “The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation” In ICTlogy,
#135, December 2014. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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