Round Table: Looking into the future Mark Bullen (British Columbia Institute of Technology), Roni Aviram (The Center for Futurism in Education), Norbert Meder (University of Duisburg-Essen), Martha Stone Wiske (Harvard Graduate School of Education).
It is very unlikely that the technologies that we might here identify as revolutionary will actually be that revolutionary in the following years. Take the LMS as an example: almost every university in the world is now using it, but has it brought the revolution in education it promised 20 years ago?
[personal reflection: I’m actually teaching with my LMS in ways I could not offline: collecting tons of news on RSS aggregators, collaborating with wikis, sharing with slides (the students’ slides), debating with fora 24×7 amongst a group of 30+ people, etc.), staying tuned also 24×7 with microblogging, etc. LMSs being non-revolutionary, whose fault is it?]
How do we engage the faculty to try and get the best from LMSs? [that was exactly my point] How do we promote revolution within institutions?
Roni Aviram Navigating through the Storm: A vision for a humanistic ICT-based education for liberal democracies in the 21st century
(based on Aviram, R. (2010). Navigating through the Storm: Reinventing Education for Postmodern Democracies).
We have witnessed 30 years of failures on the practical and theoretical/academic levels. “So much reform, so little change” or “the more it changes, the more it remains the same”. ICT have not made a sustainable contribution to learning or led to meaningful change in education.
So much talk, so little solid knowledge. There is no common language or methodological infrastructure, no value-oriented systematic thinking, very limited rational discussion, limited accumulation of knowledge (just anecdotes).
There should be well defined, systematic, value-oriented paradigms relating to the goals of educagtion and the ways to realize them in the crazy, chaotic, digital world we live in. And a formation of rational discussion and learning processed to go with it.
We need a humanistic vision for ICT-based education, based on the values of liberal democracies: personal autonomy, dialogical belonging, morality. The new humanistic vision should support flexibility, personalization, analytical abilities, support for reflection, infrastructure for exploration.
At the technological level, all of this is feasible. We “just” need to overcome 2,500 years of “Platonic” educational paradigm and the total “economization” of our societies.
We need to refocus on understanding, not on information collecting.
Media can be used for problem solving, for rephrasing old problems, for trying new things.
Martha Stone Wiske
Data, information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom. Too much of information is focused on the transmission of information and not enough on enabling understanding.
Mobile and multimedia tools are helping people to get closer to knowledge but, are we paying enough attention at how they are affecting too the way we think?
There are two axis to deal with: long-wide learning (at the school, at home, at work) and long-life learning. And they deserve different approaches.
We must extend our work as educators outside of the school and the university: we have to engage our learners with their learning in a way that lasts longer than their schooling years.
Ismael Peña-López: I honestly think that the revolution will not come from us, the insiders, but from the outsiders. Institutions might be able to perform an evolution — which is good — but times are of a revolution. Political parties, newspapers, the entertainment industry crises, and it is not politicians, newspapers or artists the ones that will lead the revolution, but the people who love politics, journalism and culture. Same with education: there already exist things as open educational resources, remixing culture, badges, alternative reputation systems, crowdsourcing, MOOCs, PLEs that are providing good and sustainable alternatives to the educational system as we know it. It is just a matter of time that these new approximations to education are sustainable in time. We can now separate the content from the container, and think of ways of getting rid of assessment, evaluating teachers, credit recognition, reputation, promotion and tenure, research and focus on learning. We should start thinking about education and educators and not the educational system or educational institutions (Martha Stone Wiske points that this is especially true in college and higher education, and I fully agree with her in that point).
III European Conference on Information Technology in Education and Society: A Critical Insight (2012)
We are in the middle of an interesting perfect storm. Firstly, citizen participation is clearly on the rise, with more citizens demanding being listened to, and more public (and also private) institutions responding to these demands. Secondly, a call for that citizen participation to be accessible, flexible and inclusive, which is boosting online citizen participation as a complement to traditional participation channels and methodologies, thus enabling not only other means different than face-to-face, but also disclosing informal spaces for participation. Thirdly, the appearance or improvement of different kinds of technologies that come to enable or strengthen online communication (P2P networks, distributed ID systems, decentralized ledger technologies, etc.).
In this perfect storm, notwithstanding, we still often see “solutions looking for a problem”. That is, technologies that appear to fill a demand for more participation and more online participation, but that sometimes do not seem to fix the real problems that the online participation arena is having.
On a recent talk about the possibilities of Blockchain I came up not with what could Blockchain do for participation, but what were the main challenges that citizen participation in general, and online participation in particular was facing. And then ask whether technologies could be of any help in the list of challenges.
I here present these challenges by following what in marketing is called a customer journey. I draw an imaginary complete cycle of citizen participation, along which I present the different challenges that this citizen or the whole process finds in its way.
A citizen wants to have their say on a given issue. But, who are they? A clear identity of this citizen may be necessary to know whether they belong to a given demos. It is true that some participation processes, especially those based on deliberation —provide as much insights as we can, regardless of representativeness—, may not require identity. But we can also look at identity from the other point of view: not as in “who am I” but no “where do I belong to”, “where do my rights lay” or “who grants me citizen rights”. Identity, thus, is not about voting or paying taxes (only) but about knowing whether I am a citizen with full citizenship.
With some interests
A citizen does not necessary need to be interested in absolutely everything. It may just seem right not to invite him to participate in absolutely everything —some decisions we may think are of their interest despite their own preferences or tastes, like electing representatives: voting is even compulsory in some places—.
Knowing what are someone’s interests, and linking them to their identity may be useful either to explicitly invite a given collective to speak out their opinion, or for a given citizen to filter out what are the options available to speak out.
Individual or Collective
This citizen with some interests, is acting as an individual or as a collective? Is she a single person, or is it an organization? This question is not related with whether a citizen represents someone, but about what different legal frameworks allow to do to e.g. natural persons or to legal persons.
Knowing this difference —not a trivial issue— may be crucial to be able to participate in a given process. People may participate personally within an association, but most of the times only legal persons may be able to participate in a federation of associations.
But, of course, legal persons cannot perform actions, physically speaking: someone, a flesh and bones individual has to perform for them: has to represent them.
And sometimes different people can perform different actions in representation of a collective. That is, the collective can grant different powers to different people. For instance, many can give an opinion, but only one of them can cast a vote or make a binding decision.
So, knowing one’s identity is not enough: we may need to know whether they are representing a collective and, if they are, what can they do on its behalf.
In relationship with someone
This citizen, now that we can tell whether they are an individual or a collective, and which are their interests, it may be useful to know what are their relationships with other citizens.
A first approach to this is whether they are affiliated, formally or informally, to some other collectives, and what of affiliation or relationship they have with them. Besides the aforementioned issue of representation, the degree or intensity of relationships may be interesting to tell whether a citizen is a leader in their respective sector, and thus consider their participation in a different way.
A second approach, and most relevant here, is whether this relationship is with the Administration: that is, we want to record what kind of exchanges or transactions a given citizen has had with public bodies. This is important at many levels, among them treating the citizen consistently, recording their potential impact on public policies, identify valid interlocutors, publicise these relationships, etc.
Says or does something
Now that we know who the citizen is, what are their interests, whether they are a person or a collective, what kind of powers to represent this collective they have and what have been their relationships with other collectives (especially the Administration), now citizens want to say or do something.
In face-to-face participation — and most especially in formal meetings— minutes are taken or there are at least records of what is being said or done. Same should happen online. This is nevertheless much more complex in the online world: not only, as we have been saying, identity, etc. is more blurry and/or fluid, but there are also different degrees of formality and informality, usually a high diversity of channels which have to be coordinated or at least be made coherent and consistent and provide a comprehensive explanation of what is going on.
What is being said and done online has to be accompanied by the context in which it is being said and done, in the same way as in formal channels, where conversations and performances already follow a given protocol. This means not, of course, having to approve a formal protocol for everything happening online: hence the difficulty of this issue.
Delegates or is endorsed
When saying or doing these things, are citizens acting on their own? Or are they being endorsed by someone? Are they being delegated some other’s opinions or votes? How should we be taking into account this acting individually or collectivelly? Mind that this is a little bit different to representing someone or having been granted some powers. Representation and powers is more about the legal aspects of being empowered to do something. That is: who are you and what can you do on the behalf of someone else. By delegation or endorsement we look at the phenomenon from the other end: how should I, Administration, take into account this acting on behalf of someone? e.g. Representation is how you choose your elected representatives; delegation is how you will take into account their votes at the Parliament. It is a slight difference, but and important one.
But, beyond how you take it into account, we want to know whether this representation is permanent or temporary. Liquid democracy or proxy voting, changes in representation are much more easy in the online world but need being cleverly articulated. There is an increasing way to solve this technologically, but we are far from the best system —if there is such a thing.
Delegating one’s vote will involve identity, what powers am I granting and to say or do what.
In multiple instances and levels
Things that citizens can or want to do or say things. And they want to do or say things to the Administration (or to any other kind of collective), so that they are taken into account and public policies are put to work.
But quite often —and this is especially true with Public Administrations— collectives of people follow a hierarchy: e.g. your municipality’s health system depends on your region’s health system that depends on your state’s health system.
Or, depending on your interests (e.g. the environment and Global Warming), you may want to do or say things on Global Warming to your city council, to your regional government and to your national government. Different things, at different levels, but on a similar issue.
Or. As a public body, you may want to infer the macro policy from the micro policies put at work or suggested at lower Administration levels. For instance, the local strategy on urban mobility will necessarily shape —or will be determined— by the national strategy on mobility.
Can we, by means of technology, make easy the granularization of macro-level policies into micro-level ones? Can we, by means of technology, make easy the inference of micro-level policies into macro-level ones?
This will, in part, depend on who you are and what can you do (powers) at different Administration levels. That is, what are your citizen rights depending on your citizenship considering different demos belong to or different governments that rule your life.
With different weights
We have considered, so far, “one individual, one vote”. But in many cases there this rule could be changed and, instead, grant the citizen with more “votes”, that is, that their voice or decisions or actions have more influence, more weight than de voices or decisions or actions than other citizens’.
The evident application of this differential weighting is, of course, representation and delegation. It may be just common sense that someone representing a organization can have an influence proportional to the people that they are representing, that is, the people that delegated their voice or vote to their representative. Thus, two people representing a huge and a tiny collective, respectively, would have a higher or lesser influence when they participate e.g. in a public consultation.
But we can go one step further. We may want to grant different power of influence to different actors. Some people are directly affected by public decisions while others are only indirectly or partially affected, or even not affected at all. E.g. when considering issuing a new regulation on diabetes, citizens with diabetes will surely be more affected than citizens with no diabetes: weighting their decisions might be taken into consideration.
Or we might even want to weight citizens’ opinions depending on their position in society (e.g. a renowned scholar in the field), what they have done and said before, what people have thought of what they have done or said before, etc. Technologies can not only be helpful in the mere weighting, but in calculating the most appropriate weights.
Revisits or checks actions
So, citizens do or say things, depending on many factors, etc. Once it is done or said, and time goes by, can people, citizens or Administrations, go back and see who said what and why? Can they trace and see the relationships between all the transactions (interactions, exchanges, etc.) done in the past?
Being able to follow the steps being taken is crucial for assessment and evaluation. Policy footprints are important, but they become essential, when complexity increases. And we are not talking here about the complexity of the issue, but about the complexity of the solution and, more specifically, the complexity with which the policy instrument was designed —in our case, with a plurality and diversity of actors, contributions and channels.
And checks how it fits within the overall plan
Even more, can this traceability be put in context and see what was the impact (not the mere aggregated result) of one single contribution? Can one make this inference from the micro to the macro level?
This aspect is, in my opinion, much more than —I insist— a mere aggregation of individual wills and says.
Checking how each and every piece of opinion, issued in formal or informal ways, scattered across a great diversity of channels and formats, is about finding where are the critical masses what, what are the behavioural patterns are which are the main trends. Which is not a minor thing.
By identifying critical masses, behavioural patterns and main trends we are able to both focus and forecast. By focusing and forecasting, we can become more effective and become more efficient.
Checks for accountability
Beyond fitness in the overall plan, we want to know: what happens afterwards? Can citizens and Administrations follow-up and monitor what use is being made by the ones taking into account (or not) their acts and voices? Can one see the evolution of the progressive triage, acceptance or rejection of proposals, adoption, transformation or improvement, etc. that end up in a final decision or policy? Who ended up doing what? Who took responsibilities?
Accountability brings us back to assessment and evaluation. In this case, not only about how the policy instrument was designed, but how was implemented and put into practice. And, most important, what results did it have and which were the impacts of such results.
Accountability closes the cycle of policy-making, and we can begin again with the diagnosis of the issue or the situation, which brings us back to the who, and back to identity, here taken as a target: who did we impact with our policy and how.
Summing up: current challenges of online citizen participation
As it can be seen, all these issues are very deeply related among them. In my believe, one should not address a single issue (e.g. identity) without addressing the whole journey of a citizen participation process. Identity is defined, also, by representation or delegation, and representation implies taking into consideration weighting or accuntability. An so on.
Thus, the question Will [fill with the name of a technology] contribute or solve the problem of citizen participation? may not be the correct approach. It may be more useful to ask what specific issues of the process can it contribute to improve and within what mix of other tecnologies. And how will they be merged and inter-operate among them. Which may be the question.
The aim of the working document was to spark a debate for an upcoming Opinion on the “Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens”. The working document had the following scheme:
Bridging the gap between what leaders see vs. what citizens see
Lack of identification of EU issues with daily-life issues
An ecosystem of infrastructures of participation
Engaged citizens in a technopolitical paradigm
Transforming the administration(s)
Now, a draft for that opinion has just been published for its discussion during the 2nd CIVEX commission meeting. As it happened with the working document, my colleague Mireia Borrell, Secretary for External Action and the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, acts as a rapporteur, while I am appointed as an expert to draft the opinion.
A preliminary abstract of that opinion is as follow:
Proposes the setting-up of a Network of Open Participatory Governments, made up by regions and cities, with the purpose to translate upwards and downwards diagnoses, perceptions and proposals on European issues and decision-making;
Proposes that the Committee of the Regions designs, implements and coordinates such a network in collaboration with all other European institutions;
Expects that the Network of Open Participatory Governments can succeed in granularizing European policies and principles and breaking them into smaller, more understandable bits, thus contributing to bring them closer to the citizen, so that they can better draw the line that weaves macro-, meso- and micro-levels of policies;
Suggests that the Network of Open Participatory Governments is piloted during the Conference on the Future of Europe to enlarge, extend, intensify and enhance the dialogue between European institutions and citizens through local and regional authorities, contributing to translate upwards and downwards the deliberations taking place at different levels;
Wants to raise awareness on the fact that more and more citizens are moving towards a new paradigm of political engagement – technopolitics – which is characterized by horizontal relationships, distributed power and networks of collaboration, enabled and enhanced by digital technologies and open data, taking place in informal spaces and out of institutional circuits;
Believes that there are new ways of listening to citizens, new ways of enabling citizens to engage and participate in policy-making, and that a new ecosystem to coordinate the proposals of citizens and the responses of a multi-level administration undoubtedly require a thorough transformation of the culture of administration(s).
Our proposal of the functioning of the Network of Open Participatory Governments is summarized in the following figure:
The European Union is entering a sort of constitutional process. The Conference on the Future of Europe will be a two-year time span devoted to reflect what the EU should be like in many issues, and aiming at institutionalizing this reflection in the form of formal agreements, maybe a new treaty, maybe even a/the constitution.
There is —amongst many others— a big fear driving the conference: the huge disconnection between European institutions and citizens’ daily lives, that increasingly leads citizens to take shortcuts in the forms of populism. A populism that increasingly turns to be sheer fascism. This fear, though, can be turned into an opportunity to engage citizens more and better in public decision-making at the European level. This is the take of the European Committee of the Regions, that believes that European institutions may reconnect with their citizens by reestablishing the transmission chain between them by means of municipalities and regional governments.
This summer, the European Committee of the Regions commissioned my colleague Mireia Borrell, Secretary for External Action and the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, to be the rapporteur of an upcoming opinion on Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens. I was appointed to support her as the technical “expert” to draft the opinion.
The document is structured as a set of strategic questions that can lead a debate on the problems causing the disconnect between political institutions and citizens, and how a structural ecosystem of citizen participation could bridge this growing chasm between representatives and people. Questions — and tentative proposals for each sub-set of questions — are grouped in the following topics:
Bridging the gap between what leaders see vs. what citizens see
Lack of identification of EU issues with daily-life issues
An ecosystem of infrastructures of participation
Engaged citizens in a technopolitical paradigm
Transforming the administration(s)
The document is publicly available and can be downloaded below. First, in its original language (English), then in the different official languages of the European Committee of the Regions.
Participation cannot take place at the end of a public policy decision, but has to be intrinsic to the whole project. Participation has to impact not only the key actors, but the whole of the citizenry and the whole of the Administration.
When participation takes place at the beginning of a policy-making process, people tend to turn complains into proposals, tend not to say “no” but “I would like this”.
Territory safekeeping is a formal agreement between someone that wants to use the territory and a civic organization that wants to take care of a given territory. In this case, civil society approaches better the territory than the Administration. There are communication and coordination channels needed between such organizations and the Administration, but the Administration should be able to step back and leave room for civil society organizations to play some roles related to the public good.
Safekeeping agreements are formal agreements, but are non compulsive, based on goodwill, adapted to individual and collective needs.
The experience of Geoinquiets Marc Torres, Membre de Geoinquiets i Geostart
The change of culture in the Administration is a transformation, not just an evolution, on how public workers work. It is becoming more about reaching consensus, about talking to others and about listening to much more others. In many senses, this is what most innovative public workers were looking for: to open up their work, to be allowed to explain what they think and what they do, to address specific actors — not necessarily always the same ones —, to disclose working for the public good as the public good is a common matter.
We have to think about the we, not about the I.
With participation, we can address the citizens, but also let public workers share their experiences and their diagnosis.
Participation is about building a knowledge network, a unique and collective network that thinks and acts.
Participation is much more than contributing to a top-down project. Participation should also be understood as people doing things for the sake of it, as people taking the initiative to address and solve problems, with or without the Administration. Sometimes these grassroots initiatives are the seed of major collective planning projects or policy-making initiatives in general. This is also participation.
We speak about co-deciding, but can we speak about co-participation? About designing the very same processes of participation?
The experience of Mirapeix Lawyers Carolina Mirapeix
Most people realize that there are plans or regulations just when they want to do something, and the regulation would either not allow them to do it or force them to do it in a given way. This usually leads to conflict: people are surprised and, even worst, people tend to think that something illegitimate happened. “Why was I not warned? Why wasn’t I aware of this?
When planning becomes norm, transparency and participation take on a new meaning. Participation has to come at the very beginning of planning. The diagnosis, the forecast, the responsibility of planning have to be shared by all actors, public and private. And for participation to be possible, information is a must. Information that is easy to find and easy to understand.
Can we map cities differently? Instead of just a descriptive mapping based on buildings, roads, rivers, hills… can we map other information such as social or public assets? Yes, we can add layers to maps that include not only morphology, but behaviours, sensations, emotions.
We can, for instance, map electrical consumption in the city at the block level. This can be helpful not only to know where consumption is, but to map poverty and social exclusion by tracking the determinants of specific electricity consumption patterns.
Mapping not only assets, but uses, can be useful to find out how the social contract is being subverted by misuses of formerly agreed public assets.
We can also map last-mile usage of public infrastructures, especially roads and streets. One can plan the city perfectly and find out that e.g. delivery of online purchases destroy all your planning. Mapping the way delivery services work and plan how this is happening can be done by using open data and it is a new way for urban planning.
This is the case of the Use planning of Ciutat Vella (PDF) that mapped the usage or urban assets in the Barcelona district of Ciutat Vella (old downtown). Beyond planning, it deals about looking at citizens as an asset and as an active actor.
And now urban planning is not anymore about making a static diagnosis of the situation, but about having tools for dynamic action.
Under this paradigm, open data are a must. Open data are disclosing a new way of understanding the territory, of acting upon it, of assessing policy-making.
Of course, if (open) data are a must, the governance of (open) data are also a must. Hence, the public/collective governance of data. And this includes, of course, citizen-generated data, not only data generated or published by the Administration.
Miguel Mayorga, Jorge Rodríguez. Architects and urban planners, Mayorga-Fontana.
Architects usually worked depicting things, while engineers usually worked with relationships. Now we can have a strong link between things and their relationships thanks to technology. The word ‘smart’ in ‘smart city’ is not about being smart, but about linking things and their relationships, stocks with flows. The city is made no more of things, but of things that have relationships with things.
Participation is not a trend: it is here to stay. Participation helps to find patterns, to map relationships and behaviours.
Data come from many sources. Some of them are open data generated by the Administration, other are big data generated automatically, other are data than one has to generate with qualitative and quantitative methodologies, such as polling, focus groups, etc. People are good “sensors”: they see, they watch, they reflect, they generate knowledge that can be “queried” with appropriate methodologies and technologies. Participation is about making the best of this “human sensors”, about getting the best from people.
Camil Cofan. Sub-director general for Urban Planning, Generalitat de Catalunya
Four steps in opening up regional planning:
2002: Management of regional planning records (GEU), to better manage documents and initiatives on regional and urban planning.
2007: Catalan register of regional planning (RPUC), to gather and publish all regional and urban plans in Catalonia.
2010: Catalan urban map (MUP), to map all regional and urban interventions.
2017: Open Data.
The strategy on open data aims at being useful both for the Administration and the individual citizens (especially professionals or regional and urban planning). The idea is to have a unique tool that works well for many purposes.
Ismael Peña-López: What are the incentives that professionals have to be involved in opening data with the Administration? Mar Santamaria: To better understand the data, how they were created, what is their source. Be able to find new ways to apply data, to improve one’s own projects. Miguel Mayorga: Participation is a must and has come to stay. Anyone, Administration and citizens, should acknowledge that. And participation should be mainstreamed, we should learn how to better measure times and timelines, how to map and engage different actors, etc. Technology can help in levelling languages, concepts, etc. between the different actors gathered around a project. Núria Espuny: participation in opening data also helps the Administration to identify the priorities and where the bigger returns are.
Jorge Rodríguez: it is important to involve people before the public decision is made, not after, when we just inform of the decision.