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.
Open government data in new digital states: which libraries for which citizens?
I just published a short article on the future of libraries.
As the Information Society advances, the need of a dire transformation in what libraries do and their mission —among may other institutions— is becoming more and more urgent. My point in the article is that libraries need to transform themselves to help other institutions in their own transformation. Governments, Administrations and, all in all, all democratic institutions need to rethink themselves almost from scratch. And they will not be able to do it unless they find an active citizenry also rethinking its role as full citizens.
My line of thought, thus, in the article is how libraries can help citizens to become more active and empowered and, at their turn, these active citizens can help democratic institutions to become central in society again.
Citizen participation is entering a new era: the era of technopolitics. New forms of organization, of coordination, of civic action boosted by a new ethics and new methodologies, and all this made possible by new tools, spaces and actors.
However, this new era of citizen empowerment continues to require –probably more than ever– democratic institutions that are especially responsive to the changes that are taking place on the streets. Institutions that adapt, that innovate and that, ultimately, transform themselves to keep on being a chain of transmission between the will of citizens and collective decision-making.
This volume analyses how the City Council of Barcelona has faced and planned this transformation, and the impacts that the new strategy may imply on meanings, norms and power in the Administration-citizen relationship. It assumes a new game board, although the final outcome of the game is still uncertain.
The Spanish local elections in 2015 brought to many Spanish cities what has been labelled as “city councils of change”: city councils whose mayors and governing representatives come from parties emerging from the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement. Many of them, led by Madrid and Barcelona, tried to bring into office the same technopolitical practices that proved so useful to articulate a broadly supported movement when out in the streets.
But not only practices were put to work in decision-making at the local level. Also the ethos and values attached to them led, in many ways, with more or less success, the relationship between the local government and the citizenry. These values spin around citizen empowerment, participation, engagement and, in its most ambitious expression, devolution of sovereignty from the government to the citizen.
This book focuses on the socio-political environment where this phenomenon takes place, specifically in Madrid and Barcelona, the two major cities of the state and featuring these so-called city councils of change, and how it was deployed in Barcelona in the first months of 2016 during the definition of the strategic plan of the city. Using Anthony Giddens Structuration Theory, we will be able to assess if not the final outcomes and impact of this technopolitical turn in decision-making – surely too soon for such an assessment to be performed –, at least the main shifts in meaning, norms and power which, as tipping points, can shed a light on the main social trends that these political movements might be unleashing.
In Part I we draw a Policy Brief – Increasing the quality of democracy through sovereignty devolution – were we present the main drivers of change, the essentials of the several shifts brought by the new ethos, and the keys and aspects to be considered to understand the qualitative changes in our opinion already in play in the current political scenario.
Part II – ICT-mediated citizen participation in Spain: a state of the art – revisits e-participation since the beginnings of the XXIst century onwards and most especially in the aftermath of the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, proposing that recent ICT-based participation initiatives in such municipalities could be far from just polling the citizens and be, instead, the spearhead of a technopolitics-aimed network of cities. We critically explore the role of ICTs in reconstructing politics in Spain and which led to Spain’s new experiments in participatory democracy such as Decide Madrid, launched in the city of Madrid to enable strategic participatory planning for the municipality, and decidim.barcelona another participatory process launched in Barcelona initially based in the former.
This part provides an overview of the normative and institutional state of art of ICT-mediated citizen participation in Spain. The first section depicts the political and civic liberties framework in Spain. In the second section the landscape of ICT mediated citizen engagement is mapped. In the third section, we engage with implications of technology mediations for deliberative democracy and transformative citizenship.
Part III – The case of decidim.barcelona: Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement – analyses the participatory making of the Barcelona Strategic Plan (PAM) 2016-2019 for the whole term in office. The first section revisits the general context of the city in terms of ICT-mediated politics and explains the design and general functioning of the new strategic plan and its participatory process. The second section explains the methodology used for the analysis, which is carried on in the third section.
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.