Notes from the conference on Youth and social and political engagement by Roger Soler-i-Martí. The conference presented the results of the Survey on participation and politics 2017 in youth, and was organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 June 2019.
Roger Soler-i-Martí. Youth and social and political engagement
The Survey on participation and politics 2017 in youth is about how young people get involved and engage in society. The survey has a double edge: democracy in society (involvement, engagement) and the future of society (youth).
How are youth different?
What differences and similarities are there between young people?
What is the impact of the social and political context?
Where are we headed to? What are the main trends?
Survey: people from 16 years old and up. Face-to-face interview to 1,900 individuals (1,000 16-29 y.o., 900 +29). November 2017.
Why youth are different?
Life-cycle: depending on your age, you have different interests. On the other hand, you learn how to get involved and engage as you get older.
Generation: having been born at a given time (and/or place) makes you different. E.g. in Western societies kids spend more time at school than their predecessors, and this is a differential fact.
The transitions between infancy and youth, and youth and adulthood have changed in recent years, sometimes even with trends that seem to go backwards (e.g. emancipated youth that go back to live with their parents). This affects the life-cycle and the generational logics.
Changes in subjectivities: the factors that shaped political attitudes are increasingly more individualistic and less institutional or cohort-related.
Transformations in democracy: the democratic landscape (definitions, beliefs, practices) has changed dramatically in the last years/decades.
Types of youth in participation:
Multiactivists (17.5%): expressive participation, participation as part of one’s own identity.
Connected (30.9%): they participate and engage, but are neither affiliated nor they feel engaging is an important part of their identities.
Associated (12.7%): what is important to this group is being affiliated to an organization and they rarely participate outside of it.
Passive (39%): very much related to inequalities and social-exclusion factors.
Family and income, the urban/rural factor, or gender are determinants of the different kinds of engagement. In the case of Catalonia, the independentist factor is also of importance.
A simple scheme of participation:
Can I participate? Social status, resources.
Do I want to participate? Values, vision of the world, that shape attitudes, opinions.
Do I have the means? Mobilization agents.
The Catalan independence movement
Pro independence people are more mobilized than non-independentists.
Notwithstanding, there does not seem to be a lot of differences in age when it comes to mobilization. On the other hand, many of them participated less during the hot days of September to November 2017, when the independentist movement reached its maximum. One reason may be that the topic is not very important for youth (compared to others); another reason is that these movements were led by institutions (political parties, big civil society organizations), which are not the main field of action of youth.
Lack of confidence with political parties and institutions in general.
Implication and engagement without intermediaries.
Different dimensions of political engagement.
Preferences for direct democracy.
Identity as a cognitive shortcut for political engagement less used in youth.
Normalization of extra-institutional participation.
Normalization of online participation.
Partisanism without delegation.
Ismael Peña-López: is there a difference in participation between girls and boys and related to the independentist movement? Could it be that the promise of a new republic is not feminist enough? Silvia Claveria (co-author of the research): young women usually participate much less, but the reasons are not clear. On the one hand, women are usually more adverse to risk, and a process of independence is obviously a risky one; on the other hand it is true that women my have not been represented enough by the independentist movement, very institutionalized and male led.
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.
Paradigmatic shifts in the analysis and practice of governance and public policies:
Interpretative shift: try and understand things differently.
Pragmatist shift: do practical and applied things.
Collaborative shift: do things together.
Participatory shift: participation as a starting point.
Deliberative shift: not any participation, but deliberation.
Two alternative explanations about global citizenry:
Decadence: people participate less, lack of trust and legitimacy of institutions, low social capital.
Progress: more educated and informed citizenry, less reluctant to challenge authority, new ways of engagement.
Participation can have different results depending on the stating point. There is a paradox that, while participation processes increase in number, so does inequality. Unless corrective measure are taken participation of all varieties will be skewed in favour of those with higher socioeconomic status and formal education (Ryfe & Stalsburg, 2012).
Challenges of participatory governance:
Inclusion and diversity.
Quality of dialogue and deliberation.
Impact: participation has to be connected with decision-making.
3 components of ‘What works Scotland’:
Inclusive and multi-channel.
Empowered and consequential.
People in Scotland usually trust their institutions, but would rather be more involved in decision-making processes. Notwithstanding, they still find it too costly/difficult to participate. In addition to this, Scotland has a municipalities structure that implies one of the highest people/city council ratios in Europe (i.e. more than triple than that of Spain). This gap, and the perceived cost to participate, means that people usually participate very little… unless it does matter: the Scottish referendum was participated by more than 80% of the total population.
New strategy to foster participation:
Democratic transformation and social justice.
Focus on improving outcomes.
From consultation to co-production.
Based on deliberation.
New statutory basis for community planning partnerships.
New obligations for public authorities and community planning partners.
Participation requests: any citizen can request taking part on any decision-making process.
People are compensated for participation, so that participating comes at no-cost for them.
Composition of mini-publics aims at reflecting the reality of society: age, gender, education, etc.
And not only composition: facilitation is accurately designed, so that there are no biases or inequalities during deliberation. The design of such processes usually takes months. Facilitation or participation does not always mean talking: there are other non-verbal ways of participation. Plurality of means to participate make it easier for anyone to believe, at the end of the process, that they could have their say in the process.
Some deliberation processes have incentives to drive proposals to some given goals. E.g. if your proposal reduces inequality, it is valued more positively than if it “just solves an issue”.
Mini-publics are especially suited for complex issues. This implies a quite long period of information and learning about the issue. It takes lot of time and people end up becoming “citizen representatives” even if they were never chosen by anyone or are actually representing anyone.
An interesting idea is a two-chamber parliament where one chamber is chosen by elections, and another one by lottery. Both models have pros and cons: combined, we could maybe have a very strong model of parliament.
Civic organizations have a new role in mini-publics: they do not bargain with the Administration, or with the mini-publics, but their role is providing information, evidence and arguments in favor of their positions. This changes the rules of the game, favouring arguments in detriment of negotiation strength.
The scholar-academic mix is achieved with a thorough incentives design. Scholars are assessed by their social impact, and taking part in such projects as What Works Scotland is good for their social impact score. On the other hand, capacity building within the Administration is very important: training public servants so that they become experts and can also perform analysis and research on their own processes is key.
Main types of mini-publics (see below Escobar-Rodríguez & Elstub, 2017):
People usually are satisfied of having taken part on a mini-public, although they find it tiring. For many people it may be the first time they take part in something related to citizen participation. They usually change or reshape their own opinion. The next level —quite a challenge, nevertheless— would be that they lasted long, or that they became structural.
It is better to think about ecosystems of participation rather than on participation processes.
How do we foster participation in an environment that does not welcome participation? In these cases, before going straight to citizen engagement, you have to create the appropriate conditions. This means thinking in the long term, identifying all the relevant actors, envisioning and sharing the goals, etc.
It is crucial to create the institutional spaces to back participatory processes. We have to be very aware that we need to work for a good fit of representative and deliberative democracies. Deliberative or participatory democracy can not be an isolated bubble disconnected from the rest of democratic institutions.
One have to separate dialogue from deliberation. One is for diagnosis, the other one to make one decision. They can be two phases of the same process, but they definitely need different approaches. In dialogue processes, one tries and leave out the decision phase so that people can suspend judgement and, above all, do not work to kill the alternative —because you already made your own decision.
How do we ensure that people understand the issue and the proposals made? One has to assess, first of all, the information available. Are they facts or just suppositions or opinions? After this, one has to design a good learning process so that people can learn. Evidence says that people usually are able to learn and make informed and thorough decisions. Evidence also shows that diversity usually works better than expertise. There is a limit in how much do we need to know about the technicalities on a specific issue to be able to make a decision: we are not substituting experts, but complementing the most technical decisions with the ones that have a social impact or nature. We need pilots to fly the plane, but people to decide where to.
The public does not exist: publics do. Publics are a construction. And a variable and flexible one. What public are you going to listen? An aggregative public built after a poll? Or a deliberative public that was build after questioning the issue and reflecting about it?
Mihkel Solvak, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies i-Voting and reliability
(note: we are using i-voting for Internet voting, and not e-voting as electronic voting also covers on-site electronic voting with e-voting polling machines)
Share of people who trusts i-voting has ranged from 53 to 77% since 2005 and now seems steady at 70%.
Surprisingly, people that trust less i-voting do not vote less electronically than those who do — although those who trust i-voting are much more likely to use it than those who don’t.
But the distribution of trust on i-voting is not a normal one: a majority totally trust the system, a minority totally distrusts it, and the rest are distributed evenly in between.
What we also see is that trust increases along time, and more people are thus shifting to i-voting. But even people that only vote on paper see their trust increased. There are two reasons for that: a precondition (one was also convinced about trust and that is why one shifted to i-voting) and a usage effect (after having switched to i-voting and having had a good experience, this increased one’s trust on i-voting). Trust is mostly a precondition, user experience adds very little. People with high pre-existing trust self-select into i-voting.
Higher rates of trust make the system more resilient, especially to reputation attacks. But we also need criticism to improve the system or not to forget about cyber-security.
It is worth noting that trust in i-voting positively correlates with trust in paper voting and trust in institutions in general. And there does not seem to be a negative correlation with higher levels of digital literacy (the hypothesis being that the more you know computers, the less you trust them).
People that shift to i-voting usually never shift back. But for those who do not vote, they can shift to paper voting and back to non voting.
Martin Möller, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies Landscape of political parties in Estonia: past and present
We witness an increasing stability in the Estonia political arena. But not only in terms of how many parties, or whether there are new parties entering the arena, but also between the manifestos of the different parties. Parties are becoming more similar between them.
Of course there are some differences in the left-right dimension and the liberal-conservative dimension.
Future of (Estonian) elections
Speakers: Priit Vinkel, Liisa Past, Robert Krimmer, Mihkel Solvak, Martin Möller.
Although society is moving towards a paper-less world, paper voting probably will not disappear. But, as new technologies appear, it is probable that new channels (including new electronic channels) will appear and will be used for voting.
Liisa Past: we have to move from a technocratic debate on voting to a democratic debate, to a debate about rights. This includes mobility, convenience.
Liisa Past: we have to confront supply chain management of elections. This is were the risks are, and this is beyond technology. What is more scary: a single firm controlling the whole process as a black box, or the Estate providing all technology and everything?
Quim Brugué, Universitat de Girona Participation: what are we talking about?
Participation is not new. We’ve been hearing about this since the 1970s and there already is a boom of citizen participation in the early 1990s. The first decade of 2000s, until 2007, witnesses a quick rise of citizen participation, with a strong support of the Administration. These are years of learning to participate in “good times”. It was an experimental period. There was no consensus of what was the purpose of participation. Many times the issues were not crucial to citizens, but very marginal: no “serious stuff” was shared with the citizen. It generated some not purely legitimate practices where participation was a means to give local administrations or civil society organizations either resources or a public platform were to air their ideologies. This experimentation also led to more focus on the methodology rather than on the issues: people did not want to solve a specific issue but “do participation”.
Experimentation, lots of resources, focus on the instrument rather than on the topic led to some tiredness and disenchantment with citizen participation. This did not last long: the 2008 crisis put a stop to the whole trend.
2011 — 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, Arab Spring, Occupy — was the outburst of a sense of lack of quality democracy. Citizen participation came back to the spotlight, but not on a period of dire crisis. The paradox was that when participation was most needed, lack resources due to the crisis could not meet the needs.
So, what is citizen participation? Many things:
Democracy of the moderns: do not trust citizens, trust representative. Risk: “they do not represent us”
Referendums, polls. Empowerment vs. experience of elder people
Democratize policies: participation, consultation vs. authority, legitimacy
Democracy of the elder: trust citizens, do not trust representatives. Risk: elitism
Technology plays a different role in each different approach. While it is not yet clear neither the better technology or methodology nor the impact or degree of improvement, it does seem clear that there is a trend towards empowerment of the citizen. And a thing that has not changed is that every option carries an underlying ideology: while deliberation is about the “we” and about building a solution, polling is about the “I” and winning the preferred option.
Antonio Calleja, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute Decidim
Especially since 2011 we’ve been witnessing a crisis of representative democracy and a rise of “datacracy”, where who owns more data can affect or even interfere representative democracy and its processes.
Decidim aims at being an alternative to big corporations controlling the platforms that will be used by “datacrats”. Decidim is thought as a political network.
As a political network, Decidim has a community around the platform that deals about strategic and technological issues, also including research, dissemination, etc.
Decidim begins with the strategic plan of the city council of Barcelona in 2016. Initially based on the citizen participation software of Madrid, Cónsul, it was later recoded as a new platform on 2017. New features have been added since.
An important feature is the ability to track what happens with a given proposal by a specific citizen: how it is included in an approved political measure and the degree in which this measure is executed.
(NOTE: case study on Decidim: Peña-López, I. (2017). decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. Bengaluru: IT for Change)
Rosa Borge, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Research project to test the deliberative capacity of several projects that have used Decidim to enable citizen participation. 18 projects were analyzed, choosing first level processes such as strategic or investment plans at the local level.
Decidim has become central in organizing and managing participation processes in municipalities. It is worth noting that the platform was used by municipalities with governments from different parties, and ranging from left to right in terms of ideology.
There does not seem to be a pattern between the number of participants, number of proposals and number of comments to these proposals. The evolution of participation processes varies a lot depending on a wide rage of reasons.
The tool has proven useful to run three dimensions of participatory processes:
The reasons to run participation processes and to do it online are many. Sometimes it is a honest need, sometimes a way to be trendy and get more votes in the coming elections, sometimes it is mandatory by law depending on the kind of policy to be passed. What is clear is that many times there lacks a deep reflection on why and what for developing participation initiatives at the “theoretical” level (purpose, design, limitations, etc.).
The research analyzed the quality of deliberation performing content analysis and according to several indicators like equality in the discourse, reciprocity, justification, reflexiveness, pluralism and diversity, empathy and respect, etc.
Results show that there certainly is a good degree of depth in the discourse and a real debate with pros and cons on the proposals. The dialogue shows almost no effect of echo chambers but, on the contrary, dialogues provide reasoning, proposals or alternatives.
Unfortunately, the debates that take place on the institutional platform are not transposed on other social networking sites like Twitter, were the audience could be bigger and reach a greater range of actors.
PESTEL and DAFO analyses were conducted to better understand the environment and main trends.
On the cons side, there still is a certain lack of commitment from political leaders. On the pros side, online participation attracts new actors to participatory processes that were not the usual suspects of citizen participation.
Anna Clua: what has been the impact of the digital divide? Have municipalities taken it into account? Rosa Borge: municipalities do not have the resources to measure and seriously address the issue. Notwithstanding, some of them are aware of the issue and thus have made some projects (e.g. training) to try and bridge it during participatory processes.
Manuel Gutiérrez: does online deliberation create more or less discourse fallacies? Rosa Borge: in general, the research has not found many bad practices. On the contrary, quality of the debate was high according to the indicators chosen. Of course the methodology is arguable and there were some methodological issues that are worth being reviewed.
Quim Brugué: can we deliberate on everything? Should we deliberate when the government has already decided on a given issue? What for? Rosa Borge: of course if the decision is already made, it may not make a lot of sense. Notwithstanding, most dedicions are not “totally” made and all comments and shades of meaning poured on the platform are taken into account by decision-makers — as stated by officials and politicians during the research.