Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia
In June 2016 four friends gathered around a table. Ricard was working on his PhD thesis, which I supervised, and summoned the help of a data expert, Toni, and someone knowledgeable on analysing networks of people, Oriol — later on Núria Vega would join the team to improve the whole project and, specifically, bring brains and muscle to the field work.
At that time we believed that ICTs were having an impact on agriculture and people working in agroecology and cooperatives. But we suspected that there was something else. In Catalonia, cooperatives were changing the shape of the agriculture sector in the XIX century. After a long hiatus during the Spanish dictatorship (1939-1978), the agriculture cooperative sector (with quite republican ideas attached) kept on being dormant… until the breakout of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s.
That was more than a coincidence to us, so we decided to analyze it — it was Ricard’s idea: the rest just followed. But soon we saw that there seemed to be much more than just a rebirth of cooperatives: what was being deployed before our eyes was something new. Beyond using ICTs to improve management and/or make sustainable non-mainstream models that can barely compete with the big behemoths of the food industry, what we saw whas that ICTs seem to be configuring a brand new ecosystem of food production and consumption, including new ways to understand food as a public infrastructure.
While we waited for the paper to be published, Oriol left us forever. As we stated in the paper, Oriol, it was fun working with you while you were among us. Now you are gone, but the good work remains. So long, friend. Ricard, Ismael, Núria and Toni.
Article abstract and download
In Catalonia, agroecological cooperativism is part of a set of alternatives that appeared as a response to the current hegemonic food consumption model, controlled by large commercial establishments. It is defined by its promotion of short food supply chains (SFSCs), operates under the values of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and holds a strong political commitment. This article, on the one hand, studies the setup of agroecological cooperativism understood as the outcome of a network of producers, intermediaries and consumers and, on the other hand, examines the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the development of this consumption model. The data has been obtained through on-site interviews and online research on the 56 consumer groups and cooperatives present in Barcelona. Descriptive statistics and correlation analysis have been used to study them. The results prove the salient role that ICT has as a facilitator in the relational network established between the agents that take part in it, thus becoming a key characteristic element of the new agroecological consumer cooperativism.
Now, the Government of Aragon has published a book collecting all the speeches of the event. Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking inside black book [Opening institutions from within. Hacking inside black book] features 17 different initiatives from 20 different authors, ranging from living labs to institutional change, but always under the general topic of citizen innovation through citizen democratic engagement.
My chapter, Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia [Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation: From mass democracy to democracy networks] explains why and how the Catalan government aims at using citizen participation to transform the Administration with a higher goal: contributing to stop populism by helping citizens to understand politics… and using this higher goal to deeply transform how the Administration approaches citizens and how the monopoly of decision-making can be shared with them.
The whole book is in Spanish. See below the abstract of my book chapter and the book as a whole.
Book chapter abstract
Hay dos visiones complementarias de la participación ciudadana. La visión tradicional es que la participación nos ayuda a diseñar mejores leyes y políticas públicas gracias a hacer concurrir sobre éstas a más personas, con visiones diferentes y con conocimientos diversos. Gracias esta mayor concurrencia obtenemos leyes y políticas más eficaces -porque su diagnóstico y rango de soluciones es más ajustado- y más eficientes, dado que se incrementa el consenso, se reduce el conflicto y el diseño es técnicamente mejor.
Esta visión que podríamos adjetivar de esencialmente técnica puede complementarse de otra visión mucho más filosófica o incluso política en el sentido de transformación social a través de las ideas. Esta segunda visión es que la participación de carácter deliberativo podría constituir una suerte de tercer estadio de la democracia, tomando lo mejor de la democracia griega (directa) y la democracia moderna (representativa), a la vez que contribuye a suplir las cada vez más manifiestas carencias de ambas: por una parte, el coste de participar; por otra parte, la creciente complejidad de las decisiones públicas. No obstante, este tercer estadio, dada su naturaleza deliberativa, por definición debe darse en nuevos espacios y con nuevos actores, a incorporar al actual diseño de la práctica democrática centrado casi exclusivamente en las instituciones.
La sociedad de masas de las primeras revoluciones industriales ha dado paso a una sociedad de multitudes. La democracia representativa y las organizaciones de intermediación conviven ahora con redes distribuidas, desde donde la ciudadanía digital reclama una participación más directa y anhela una relación más horizontal con las instituciones. En los últimos diez años han brotado movimientos cívicos en casi todas las regiones del planeta que reclaman la apertura de los gobiernos.
Las estrategias de participación y transparencia en torno al paradigma del gobierno abierto, inauguraron nuevas cartas de servicio en la última década, pero han ido surgiendo otras formas de hacer, otras metodologías, que experimentan con aumentar el rol de los ciudadanos en los asuntos públicos, y que agrupamos a modo de síntesis en el concepto de innovación ciudadana, donde se integran también proyectos que exploran los límites de la innovación social, la ciencia ciudadana o el diseño abierto y colaborativo.
El Gobierno de Aragón, en pleno proceso de impulso del Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (LAAAB), quiso reunir a algunos de los técnicos y teóricos de estas nuevas formas de hacer, de pensar y de participar, referentes de toda Iberoamérica, para contribuir desde su experiencia a la reflexión global. Tuvimos la suerte de poder reunir a todos los participantes de este libro, una veintena de personas que consideramos referentes en sus respectivos campos, y que conforman una buena muestra de lo mejor que se está haciendo en Latinoamérica y España en el amplio universo de la innovación ciudadana. Todos los ponentes cedieron sus ideas para la publicación del libro que aquí se presenta: Abrir instituciones desde dentro [Hacking Inside Black Book].
The whole book can be downloaded in preprint format. Please find below the abstracts and links to download both my chapter and the whole book.
Book chapter abstract and download
Most works on instructional technology focus on the potential – and sometimes weaknesses – of technologies to do certain things. This chapter will take the opposite approach: we will be looking at 10 different “institutions” in education (the school, the classroom, the textbook, the library, the syllabus, the schedule, the teacher, evaluation, certification and the curriculum) and see how, on the one hand, digital technologies are challenging the foundations of such institutions and, on the other hand, how they can strengthen their role in education by unfolding their reach and scope. Ours is, thus, an approach that focuses on transformation of institutions by pushing them outside of their formal education framework and into lifelong learning by being part of learners’ informal educational networks.
The European higher education sector is moving online, but to what extent? Are the digital disruptions seen in other sectors of relevance for both academics and management in higher education? How far are we from fully seizing the opportunities that an online transition could offer? This insightful book offers a broad perspective on existing academic practices, and discusses how and where the move online has been successful, and the lessons that can be learned.
Higher Education in the Digital Age offers readers a comprehensive overview of the ways in which a move into online academia can be made. Analysing successful case studies, the original contributions to this timely book address the core activities of an academic institution – education, research, and research communication – instead of focusing only on online learning or digital strategies relevant for individual academics. Chapters cover online and networked learning, as well as the myriad ways in which the digital age can improve research and knowledge exchange with experts and society more widely.
Academics, managers and policy makers in higher education institutions will greatly benefit from the up-to-date case studies and advice outlined in this book. Academic administrators and academic project leaders will also find this a useful tool for improving the accessibility of their work.
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.
Programme of deliberative participation: to foster and improve projects on deliberative democracy, government 2.0, an appropriate regulatory framework for citizen participation, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through training, research and dissemination.
Programme of electoral participation and direct democracy: to foster and/or improve electoral processes and projects on direct democracy, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through research and dissemination.
Programme of internal participation: to work towards a transformation of how the Administration understands and makes use of collaboration within the government and with the citizens, by means of training and capacity building on participation, networks of support and work, communities of practice of professional innovation, and open communities of practice between public servants and citizens.
Programme of collaboration: which aims at standardising and normalising public-social-private-partnerships and four-helix type of innovation initiatives.
Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries: to contribute to the growth and consolidation of an expert or professional sector in the field of participation, to achieve the maximum quality in participation practices and projects by bringing onto the sector and engaged citizens knowledge, instruments, technological tools or resources in general.
Programme of e-participation, electronic voting and technopolitics: to accelerate the adoption of ICTs in the field of participation thus contributing to ease and normalise e-participation, e-voting, e-government and e-democracy in general while, at the same time, transforming the paradigm behind citizen practices based on mostly passive or responsive actors to a technopolitical paradigm based on active, empowered and networked actors.
This is a most ambitious plan. Some of its parts are of course not reachable on a four-year basis. I am quite convinced, though, that one should plan for the long-run, to aim for ideal horizons, and just constraint oneself when it comes to planning the yearly budget. It is evident that intermediate milestones are needed, both to assess the evolution of one’s work as to provide voters with insights about the government’s performance for the due elections without having to wait for, say, 10 years.
But without higher visions there is no transformation possible. And if we want to have an impact, transformation of government in citizen practices is, in my opinion, an absolute need.
The study analyses 50 good practices and 12 case studies to examine the impact of the internet, social media and new technology on youth participation and look at the role of youth work in supporting young people to develop digital skills and new media literacy.
In my opinion, the main result of the study confirms what others have already found and that is increasingly becoming the trend in inclusion and development: top-down approaches only do not work, and bottom-up, grassroots initiatives are necessary for projects to work. In other words, weaving the social tissue has to come first for any kind of community intervention one might want to deploy.
The 10 pages of conclusions can more or less be summarised this way:
Socio-economic status is crucial at the individual level and the knowledge gap has to be addressed immediately before social interventions.
Enabling the social tissue at the micro level contribute to strengthen the community and thus improve the diagnosis and mobilise social capital.
As people act in different communities, weaving networks at the meso level makes sinergies emerge and synchronise multilayer spaces. Skills and training are key at this level.
Once the initiatives have begun to scale up, it is necessary to mainstream and institutionalise them at the macro level, which means fixing them in policies and regulation. Quadruple helix of innovation approaches are most recommended.
The acquisition of digital skills has to be based on digital empowerment, on a sense of purpose.
Digital participation and engagement has to aim at being able to “change the system”, to structural changes, to digital governance.
The now mostly deprecated approach of build it and they will come should leave way to an approach in the line of empower them and find them where they gather. That is, to look for extra-institutional ways that young people participate and engage to design your capacity building and intervention scheme.
The study examines the impact of the internet, social media and new technology on youth participation and looks at the role of youth work in supporting young people to develop digital skills and new media literacy. It is based on an extensive collection of data, summarised in an inventory of 50 good practices and 12 case studies reflecting the diversity of youth work from across the EU. It confirms that youth work has an important role to play, but more has to be done by policy makers at both EU and national level to respond to the challenges and adapt policies in order to foster engagement and active citizenship of young people.