REPORT. Catalan Participation Lab Network. Public facilities and social innovation

When working with the idea of the citizen participation ecosystem from the point of view of a national government, one of the basic questions is how the Administration should nurture and facilitate such ecosystem. There are, at least, two approaches that have been traditionally explored.

  • On the one hand, the Administration can fund the creation or growth of a body of professionals that can contribute to deploy a number of citizen participation initiatives all over a given territory. These professionals can work at the higher level of the Administration or can be distributed or scattered on lower levels of the Administration (i.e. local administrations), but the result is to be able to cover most necessities with a good amount of trained and dedicated professionals.
  • On the other hand, and sometimes compatible with the former approach, the Administration can fund the creation or growth of a constellation of facilities that would run initiatives specifically devoted to the promotion of citizen participation. They can have many names depending on their particular focus or especialization: citizen labs, living labs, social innovation labs, fabrication labs (fab labs), maker spaces, etc.

The problem with these approaches is, at least, double:

  • They are not very economically sustainable, as they require and maintaining groups of people and networks of facilities with a single purpose and which can very difficult be replicated or scaled outside of their specific area of intervention. Of course this is a goal worth aiming at, but for starters it makes the investment very demanding.
  • They are not very socially sustainable, as they divert the attention and focus of the citizen, which now has new places to go, which can be good, but also bad: people have a limited capability to gather at and to focus their attention on.

Another approach is to leverage the fact that there are already public facilities on place and that people are already using them and gathering around them. Thus, instead of creating a new network of people and facilities in addition to the existing ones, another approach could be creating a new network of people and facilities upon the existing ones, or in other words, overlapping new goals and uses with the already existing ones.

The Catalan ParticipaLab Network aims at just that. We borrowed the name from the successful ParticipaLab initiative of the Medialab-Prado in Madrid (Spain) but with the idea not to create a new big facility, not even a network of small facilities, but to weave a network of citizen labs by providing a portfolio of new content and services to the already existing networks. The logic behind it is to follow Artur Serra’s ideas on citizen labs, who proposes thinking of citizen labs as we do in public health systems: there is a large network of primary health care you go to when you feel sick, a second network of regional hospitals you are sent to if things get complicated, and national network of top-level hospitals you are sent to when the situation becomes really bad. Same would apply to citizen participation and social innovation.

With that logic in mind, big top-level citizen labs would be the top-level hospitals of democratic innovation; regional networks of living labs or fab labs or maker spaces would be the regional hospitals, and… and already existing public facilities should be able to act as primary democratic innovation points of access for the general population at the local level.

A first approach to this scheme I drafted it at The role of public facilities and civic centres in a citizen participation ecosystem.

After this first scheme, my colleague Yago Bermejo and I (much more him than I, truth be told) developed the main principles, guiding lines and preliminary portfolio for such a network of public facilities devoted to citizen innovation for quality democracy.

The result is the report Xarxa ParticipaLab de Cataluña. Equipamientos ciudadanos e innovación social [Catalan Participation Lab Network. Public facilities and social innovation], which is expected to be the blueprint and roadmap to deploy such a network from the Catalan Government. The report is in Spanish and Catalan and can be downloaded below.

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Documento completo:
Bermejo, Y. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Xarxa ParticipaLab de Cataluña. Equipamientos ciudadanos e innovación social. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
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Document complet:
Bermejo, Y. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Xarxa ParticipaLab de Catalunya. Equipaments ciutadans i innovació social. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.

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GUIDE. Guide to gender mainstreaming in participatory processes

Although I had been long interested on gender studies, during December 2018 and the first months of 2019 I began to actively search for documents that dealt with the issue of gender (discrimination, inequality, etc.) on citizen participation. I found out that there was quite a lot of literature on gender and democratic institutions, but nothing specifically on gender mainstreaming in participatory processes.

So, at the Directorate General of Citizen Participation and Electoral Processes we decided to do our own research and project on the issue. With the valuable help of Fundació Surt, and after an initial training, we analyzed public procurement, the facilitation of events, the evaluation processes, information and communication protocols, etc. under the light of gender mainstreaming.

The result was triple. First, the aforementioned analysis and evaluation; second, a set of internal protocols to improve our own work; third, a Guide to gender mainstreaming in participatory processes so that anyone in the field of citizen participation can use and apply in their own citizen participation instruments.

The guide has been published in Catalan and English (see below) and the whole project was distinguished by the IOPD with a special mention in their distinction on the “Best Practice in Citizen Participation”, the award given annually by the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy to recognize public policies implemented by local governments.

Below one can download the guide and access the bibliography I personally used on gender planning and evaluation methodologies in relationship with citizen participation.

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English version:
Parés Martín, L., Sola García, M., Pacheco i Canals, J., Rodà Goula, B. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Guide to gender mainstreaming in participatory processes. Guies breus de participació ciutadana, 8. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
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Catalan version:
Parés Martín, L., Sola García, M., Pacheco i Canals, J., Rodà Goula, B. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Guia de transversalitat de gènere en els processos participatius. Guies breus de participació ciutadana, 8. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.

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Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019b). Barcelona digital city. Putting technology at the service of people. Barcelona Digital City Plan (2015-2019). Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019c). Decidim, la plataforma digital oberta i lliure per la participació i la innovació democràtica. Informe 2016-2019. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019d). Guia d'ús no sexista del llenguatge. 10 punts per visibilitzar les dones en el llenguatge. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019e). Guia de comunicació inclusiva. Per construir un món més igualitari. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019f). Urbanisme i gènere: marxes exploratòries de vida quotidiana. Quaderns metodològics feministes #1. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Alonso Álvarez, A. (2017). Moviment feminista i govern de la ciutat. Metodologia per a la transversalitat participativa. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Amat Garcia, C., Cardona Tamayo, H., Goula Mejón, J. & Saldaña Blasco, D. (2014). Walking India. Equal Saree research from 2010 to 2013. Barcelona: Equal Saree.
Amat Garcia, C., Cardona Tamayo, H., Goula Mejón, J. & Saldaña Blasco, D. (2015). Camina Tamshi. Recomanacions urbanes amb perspectiva de gènere. Barcelona: Equal Saree.
Astelarra Bonomi, J. (Dir.) (2003). Buenas prácticas y auditoría de género: Instrumentos para políticas locales. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Batalla Edo, E. (Dir.) (2011). Manual per a la incorporació de la perspectiva de gènere a l'àmbit del comerç urbà. Col·lecció Documents de Treball, Sèrie Desenvolupament Econòmic, 13. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Berbel Sánchez, S. & Geronès i Rovira, M. (2008). “Participació política de les dones”. In Bodelón, E. & Giménez, P. (Coords.), Desenvolupant els drets de les dones: Àmbits d'intervenció de les polítiques de gènere, Capítol 12, 199-231. Col·lecció Estudis, Sèrie Igualtat i Ciutadania, 2. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Bofill Levi, A. (2008). Guia per al planejament urbanístic i l'ordenació urbanística amb la incorporació de criteris de gènere. Col·lecció Eines 11. Barcelona: Institut Català de les Dones.
Carter, A.J., Croft, A., Lukas, D. & Sandstrom, G.M. (2019). “Women’s visibility in academic seminars: Women ask fewer questions than men”. In PLOS ONE, 14 (2). San Francisco: Public Library of Science.
Ciocoletto, A. & Col·lectiu Punt 6 (2014). Espais per a la vida quotidiana. Auditoria de Qualitat Urbana amb perspectiva de Gènere. Barcelona: Col·lectiu Punt 6.
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Delatte, M., Guijarro, B., Almirall, J., Llop, N., Adell, H. & Medrano, A. (2018). Anàlisi de la participació de dones en els espais institucionals i socials mixtos de la ciutat de Barcelona. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona, Liquen Data Lab.
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European Institute for Gender Equality (2018). Gender equality and youth: opportunities and risks of digitalisation. Brussels: European Institute for Gender Equality.
Galligan, Y. & Clavero, S. (2008). Assessing gender democracy in the European Union. A methodological framework. RECON Online Working Paper 2008/16. Oslo: ARENA.
Galligan, Y. & Clavero, S. (2012). Deliberative Processes and Gender Democracy. Case Studies from Europe. RECON Report No 17. Oslo: ARENA.
Garcia Ramilo, C. & Cinco, C. (2005). Gender Evaluation Methodology for Internet and ICTs. A learning tool for change and empowerment. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
Garcia Sànchez, A. (2008). “Polítiques i estratègies d'igualtat en l'àmbit local. L'experiència de l'Ajuntament de Sant Feliu de Llobregat”. In Bodelón, E. & Giménez, P. (Coords.), Construint els drets de les dones: Dels conceptes a les polítiques locals, Capítol 7, 149-165. Col·lecció Estudis, Sèrie Igualtat i Ciutadania, 1. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Gelambí Torrell, M. (2016). Guia pràctica per a la realització de polítiques transversals de gènere en l'àmbit municipal. Col·lecció Eines, Sèrie Benestar i Ciutadania, 2. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Generalitat de Catalunya & Institut Català de les Dones (2018). Guia per a la incorporació de la perspectiva de gènere en els contractes públics. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya, Institut Català de les Dones.
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Generalitat de Catalunya (2018b). Igualtat de dones i homes a empreses i organitzacions. Guia pràctica per diagnosticar-la. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
Gensana Riera, M.À. (2005). Informes d'impacte de gènere. Col·lecció Eines 1. Barcelona: Institut Català de les Dones.
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Kuga Thas, A.M. (2011). Gender Evaluation for Rural ICT for Development. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
Medina Bustos, A., Mompart Penina, A., Rubio Cillán, A., Vergara Garcia, F. & Zaragoza Cosin, S. (2018). Guia per a la introducció de la perspectiva de gènere en la planificació en salut. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
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Sabanes Plou, D. (2011). Gender Evaluation for Telecentres. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
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Saldaña Blasco, D., Goula Mejón, J. & Cardona Tamayo, H. (2018a). El pati de l’escola en igualtat. Guia de diagnosi i d’intervenció amb perspectiva de gènere. 2a edició. Santa Coloma de Gramenet: Equal Saree, Ajuntament de Santa Coloma de Gramenet.
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BOOK CHAPTER. The ecosystem of public governance: institutions as open infrastructures for collective decision-making

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis I wrote about the differential impact of crisis in the Information Society based on the first fact that were quickly becoming evident before our eyes and at plain sight.

Shortly after, professors Josep M. Reniu and Víctor Meseguer led a monography on how the COVID-19 crisis was impacting democratic institutions and what to do about it. The book ¿Política confinada? Nuevas tecnologías y toma de decisiones en un contexto de pandemia [Confined politics? New technologies and decision-making in a pandemic context] focuses on how institutions are responding to a pandemic that keeps people at home or away from each other, and how they are figuring out ways of keeping in touch with citizens and keep performing the tasks they have been committed to.

I wrote a book chapter, the second one, with the aim to provide a wide landscape on how democratic institutions and the democratic arena are configuring themselves, and how the pandemic crisis may be an accelerator to it. On El ecosistema de gobernanza pública: las instituciones como infraestructuras abiertas para la toma de decisiones colectivas [The ecosystem of public governance: institutions as open infrastructures for collective decision-making] I take the idea of the citizen participation ecosystem to a higher level, trying to scale it up to the global public governance level.

To do so, I introduce the concept of ecosystems on social sciences, which have been applied with much success —in my opinion— to describe the quick deployment of digital business infrastructures. I describe such ecosystems as knowledge communities and infrastructures that wrok in open and shared ways, aiming at the building of a digital commons. Following, I review the idea of ‘the state as a platform’, ending up with a definition and proposal of the ecosystem of public governance, which I define as:

A public governance ecosystem is a technopolitical, self-organized, autopoietic, replicable and scalable system that articulates actors, spaces and instruments around a set of open and distributed infrastructures rich on knowledge for collective decision-making.

A preprint of the whole chapter (in Spanish) and the bibliography I used can be accessed below.

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Preprint:
Peña-López, I. (2020). “El ecosistema de gobernanza pública: las instituciones como infraestructuras abiertas para la toma de decisiones colectivas”. In Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. & Meseguer, J.V. (Eds.), ¿Política confinada? Nuevas tecnologías y toma de decisiones en un contexto de pandemia, Capítulo 2, 53-71. Cizur Menor: Thompson-Reuters/Aranzadi.

Bibliography

Adner, R. & Kapoor, R. (2010). “Value Creation in Innovation Ecosystems: How the Structure of Technological Interdependence Affects Firm Performance in New Technology Generations”. In Strategic Management Journal, 31 (3), 306-333. Indianapolis: John Wiley and Sons.
Al-Ani, A. (2017). “Government as a Platform: Services, Participation and Policies”. In Kamalipour, Y. & Friedrichsen, M. (Eds.), Digital Transformation in Journalism and News Media: Media Management, Media Convergence and Globalization, Chapter 14, 179-196. Boston: Springer International Publishing.
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Dini, P., Darking, M., Rathbone, N., Vidal, M., Hernández, P., Ferronato, P., Briscoe, G. & Hendryx, S. (2005). The Digital Ecosystems Research Vision: 2010 and Beyond. Brussels: European Commission.
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Janowski, T., Pardo, T.A. & Davies, J. (2012). “Government Information Networks – Mapping Electronic Governance cases through Public Administration concepts”. In Government Information Quarterly, 29 (1), S1-S10. London: Elsevier.
Ju, J., Liu, L. & Feng, Y. (2019). “Design of an O2O Citizen Participation Ecosystem for Sustainable Governance”. In Information Systems Frontiers, 21 (3), 605–620. Cham: Springer Nature.
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.
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Theben, A., Porcu, F. & Peña-López, I. (2018). Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work. Brussels: European Commission.
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Peña-López, I. (2011). “Striving behind the shadow – The dawn of Spanish politics 2.0”. In van der Hof, S. & Groothuis, M. (Eds.), Innovating Government. Normative, policy and technological dimensions of modern government, Chapter 8, 129-147. The Hague: TMC Asser Press.
Peña-López, I. (2014a). “Casual politics: del clicktivismo a los movimientos emergentes y el reconocimiento de patrones”. In Cotarelo, R. & Olmeda, J.A. (Eds.), La democracia del siglo XXI. Política, medios de comunicación, internet y redes sociales, Capítulo 10, 211-229. II Jornadas españolas de ciberpolítica, 28 de mayo de 2013. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales.
Peña-López, I. (2014b). “Innovació social oberta: l’organització política com a plataforma”. In Costa i Fernández, L. & Puntí Brun, M. (Eds.), Comunicació pel canvi social. Reflexions i experiències per una comunicació participativa, emancipadora i transparent, 59-75. Girona: Documenta Universitaria.
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia”. In Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.), Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book, Capítulo 11, 113-124. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.
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Peña-López, I. (2019b). “L’Estat com a plataforma: la participació ciutadana per la preservació de l’Estat com a bé comú”. In Nota d'Economia, 105, 193-208. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
Peña-López, I. (2020). “El impacto diferencial de las crisis en la Sociedad del Conocimiento”. In Gutiérrez-Rubí, A. & Pont Sorribes, C. (Coords.), Comunicación política en tiempos de coronavirus, Capítulo 25, 142-147. Barcelona: Cátedra Ideograma–UPF de Comunicación Política y Democracia.
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BOOK CHAPTER. The differential impact of crisis in the Information Society

The crisis of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is having an unequal impact on people, thus worsening the also unequal impact of globalization and the transition into the Information Society.

It is not only that wealthier and healthier people have more resources to face the crisis, but also that the way society is being reshaped (new relationships of production, experience and power) is also making more evident where we are facing as a society and what is becoming more obsolete. And the coronavirus crisis is especially hitting hard those tasks and institutions becoming obsolete.

But not only.

While two worlds overlap —the aging Industrial Era and the upcoming Information Era— there are also several views overlapping, and casting shadows that distort reality. There are some production sectors that are seen as obsolete by those in the Information Era, but that is becase positive externalities of their functions are not being taken into account.

This reflection has just been published as a book chapter, where I describe the uneven impact of the COVID-19, and why some social functions are really obsolete, but why some others should be revalued so that they do not disappear —and, on the contrary, should be treated with care.

The full book is called Comunicación política en tiempos de crisis (Political communication in times of crisis), coordinated by Antoni Gutiérrez-Rubí and Carles Pont Sorribes, to whom I am really thankful for putting together the book in such short time and by quickly inviting me to part of it.

My book chapter is entitled El impacto diferencial de las crisis en la Sociedad del Conocimiento (The differential impact of crisis in the Information Society) and can be downloaded below. All texts are in Spanish.

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Full chapter:
Peña-López, I. (2020). “El impacto diferencial de las crisis en la Sociedad del Conocimiento”. In Gutiérrez-Rubí, A. & Pont Sorribes, C. (Coords.), Comunicación política en tiempos de coronavirus, Capítulo 25, 142-147. Barcelona: Cátedra Ideograma–UPF de Comunicación Política y Democracia.
logo of PDF file
Full book:
Gutiérrez-Rubí, A. & Pont Sorribes, C. (Coords.) (2020) Comunicación política en tiempos de coronavirus. Barcelona: Cátedra Ideograma–UPF de Comunicación Política y Democracia.

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Current challenges of online participation: a citizen e-participation journey

  • Identity
  • Interests
  • Powers
  • Reputation
  • Representation
  • Transactions
  • Traceability
  • Transparency

Current challenges of online participation

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

  • Identity

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

  • Identity
  • 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

  • Identity
  • Powers
  • Representation

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

  • Identity
  • Representation
  • Transactions

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

  • Powers
  • Transactions

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

  • Identity
  • Powers
  • Representation
  • Transactions

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

  • Identity
  • Powers

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

  • Identity
  • Powers
  • Reputation
  • Representation

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

  • Transactions
  • Traceability
  • Transparency

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

  • Interests
  • Powers
  • Transactions
  • Traceability
  • Transparency

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

  • Transactions
  • Traceability
  • Transparency

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.

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IDP2016 (X). Céline Deswarte: Towards a future proof legal framework for digital privacy in Europe

Notes from the 12th Internet, Law and Politics Congress: Building a European digital space, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, School of Law and Political Science, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 7-8 July 2016. More notes on this event: idp2016.

Keynote speech. Chairs: Pere Fabra

Céline Deswarte. Policy Officer, European Commission. Directorate General for Communication, Networks, Content and Technology.
Towards a future proof legal framework for digital privacy in Europe

EU legal framework for Digital Privacy: General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679/EU + ePrivacy Directive 2002/57/EC.

When you are surfing online you produce key information on time of connection, browsing history, location, etc. which can be retrieved. Telecom providers must anonymize or delete traffic and location data of their users and subscribers. When it is stored in hour own computer (e.g. cookies) the user must have given their prior consent after having been duly informed.

But is it consent strong enough? It is difficult to understand that consent is given “freely” if data subject has no genuine or free choice or unable to withdraw consent without detriment.

Protecting your personal data, when e.g. buying online. Companies must rely on a legal basis to process personal data, and respect principles of data processing.

On the specific issue of profiling, sharing personal data with a third party implies the right to be informed about it. Profiling is lawful unless it is equivalent to a decision with legal effects that is significantly harmful to the individual (e.g. one can lose one’s own job). Besides, there has to be a respect for the individual’s rights, e.g. the right to object at any time including profiling, and then data processing must stop.

Member states shall ensure the confidentiality of one’s electronic communications and related traffic data. So, it is not only about privacy in the sense of what you do, but also in the sense of what you say and to whom.

The big problem here is to whom applies all this regulation, as actors are many and different. So far, these principles only apply to telecom providers, while new market players like Voice IP or instant messaging, etc. do not need to respect this. In other words, social networking sites provide communication services but do not fall into the category of telecommunications providers.

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12th Internet, Law and Politics Conference (2016)