DigEnlight2019 (II). Democracy Organisation

Notes from the conference Democracy and Media in the Digital Era, organized by the Digital Enlightenment Forum and the Delegation to the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Brussels, Belgium, on 14 November 2019. More notes on this event: digenlight2019

Democracy Organisation
Chair: Jacques Bus, DigEnlight

In various places activities are ongoing or have been done to analyse and strengthen
involvement of citizens in political decision making. This session presents some and gives
the lessons learned.

Marc Esteve del Valle (Univ Groningen, NL)
Platform Politics: Party Organization in the Network Society

Based on article Platform politics: Party organisation in the digital age.

Transformation of modern political parties

  • Weakening of traditional partisan attachment (ideology)
  • Fall of party membership
  • Increase volatility of the electorate

The organizational response: Stratarchy (Eldersveld, 1964): different organizations within the party are hierarchically ranked, but can follow their logic, with a certain degree of independence.

The technological response: development of internal computer-mediated communication networks (Margetts, The cyber-party)

Platform politics: new digital intermediaries into the structure of political parties, to facilitate internal communication, engage in political decision-making, organize political action, and transform the overall experience of participation in political parties (Lioy et al., 2019). They vary depending on who owns the platforms: open or closed platforms. Platform politics ranges from traditional mass-politics parties to movement parties.

General observations:

  • Lack of internet proficiency (PD)
  • Limited participation on the membership base in online votes (M5S)
  • Centralization of the voting processes (Podemos)
  • Technological challenges (PSOE)

How do we measure the impact of such practices? Are we reaching more people? Are we getting more voters?

Clodagh Harris (UCC, IRL)
Doing democracy differently – lessons from Ireland’s Citizen Assembly

What is a citizens’ assembly? People randomly selected to reflect gender, age, education, socio-economic status. It is a deliberative body to learn, discuss and decide.

We the citizens. Speak up for Ireland, 7 regional meetings, with 100 randomly selected citizens, 1 weekend of deliberation (June 2011). It worked particularly to reform programs.

Convention on the Constitution 2012-2014, 66 citizens, 33 political representatives. They looked at 8 topics relevant at the constitutional level. Met for 9 weekends. Historical outcome making legal same-sex marriage, after a popular referendum that came from the assembly.

Citizens’ Assembly, 2016-2018. 99 citizens, 5 topics (abortion, ageing, climate change, fixed term parliaments, Ireland’s referendum process. 1 referendum to amendment the constitution. Oireachats Joint Committee on Climate Action, all government Climate Action Plan.


  • Recruitment and attendance: age, affluence and education correlate positively with participation.
  • Government responsiveness.
  • Ad hoc process.


  • Referendums as a result.
  • Enhanced democratic decision making.
  • Input & throughput legitimacy.
  • Wider and public knowledge and acceptance.

Cato Léonard (GlassRoots, BE)
G1000 Belgian Citizens’summit

Cato Lonard was the Campaing leader of the G1000 Belgian Citizens’summit

In Elections, everybody votes, but nobody speaks. There is a lack of knowledge amongst citizens on the details.

In Polls, we ask people what they know, but not what they do not know.

Can we use another instrument — citizens’ assemblies— to listen, to learn what we do not know and to speak up? Can we organize the shouting into something productive? Can we achieve consensus through debate?

750 citizens:

Take aways:

  • Diversity of participants is key.
  • Participation charter: what will be done with the result? How will you measure success?
  • Let citizens and stakeholders decide on the subjects to be discussed.
  • Have experts to provide insight and specific information.
  • Be transparent on the whole process.
  • Digital tools are excellent to accompany the process, but cannot replace face to face confrontation between opponents.

Ostbelgien model: several citizens’ assemblies, coordinated by a citizen council, and proposals are sent to the Parliament.

Erika Widegren (Re-Imagine Europe)

ICTs have revolutionized how communications take place.

The whole political system is designed to create a divisive society. There are no incentives to create deliberation spaces or instruments. How can we address this?

Parties are trying to change values of people across the world, not only practices. And this is something that is spreading quickly due to social networking sites.

We have built a system that is giving all the attention to the ones that manage to get it, to the ones that game the system to get it, and it is not the ones that have more deep thoughts or ideas on the common good.


Q: how does one recruit people for citizens’ assemblies? Harris: it is made by polling professionals to avoid biases. Léonard: first, you define your target, then you recruit based on demographics, and then you try and “fill in the voids” of the underepresented people, with the help of the organizations that represent them.

Q: do does one remove the incentives of polarizing, if one knows that it will give more votes? Marc Esteve: we have to avoid echo chambers, and we have to raise awareness of the existence of such echo chambers, and we do that by increasing digital and media literacy.

Q: how do you ensure that you do not include a bias when informing/educating participants in citizens’ assemblies? Harris: there always is an advisory group working with experts to make information accessible, as neutral as possible, to provide context to all statements when they are partial, etc.

Q: how do we ensure a healthy debate? Marc Esteve: deliberation requires moderation. Citizen spaces do not need to be “horses without reigns” but should have rules as we find in institutional spaces.


Democracy and Media in the Digital Era (2019)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2019) “DigEnlight2019 (II). Democracy Organisation” In ICTlogy, #194, November 2019. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from https://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4700

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