REDEM (I). Democratic Ethics and Politics

Notes from the conference Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective, organized by SciencesPo/CEVIPOF, and held in Paris, France, on 5 and 6 February 2020. More notes on this event: redem2020

Martial Foucault. The rise of populism and the collapse of the left-right paradigm

Politics of 2 new axes provides a comprehensive framework to understand anti-system forces in France, Europe and the USA:

  • Low life satisfaction and distrust in institutions are common to anti-system voters.
  • Interpersonal trust: split between radical left/right votes.

Determinants:

  • Life satisfaction and distrust in institutions: highly correlated to economic insecurity.
  • Interpersonal trust: mobility and loneliness in post-industrial societies

Policy consequences:

  • Redistribution and inequality. But part of the poor vote for anti-redistribute platforms.
  • Policies to boost generalized trust and fight loneliness at work and in remote territories (e.g. post Yellow Vests recommendations.

Annabelle Lever, CEVIPOF/Sciences Po

It is crucial that young people vote just so they can have some sense of ownership on elections, not only (though also) to legitimise the results of elections.

The design of electoral processes is not neutral. Not only it can radically change the results of elections, but also the perception about its fairness and how it considers the different profiles of voters.

Political scientists and their obsession with targeting has led to an alienating way of doing politics. People are aware of being targeted, of being manipulated. And they are sick of it.

Valeria Ottonelli, University of Genoa. Citizens’ political prudence and the ethics of voting

Prudence is the practical virtue that guides us in deliberating about the right course of action and acting accordingly, having in mind the science of the good and the particular circumstances ans stakes involved (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, book 6).

We need to theorize political prudence so that it is compatible with other political principles such as passion, responsibility, etc. And taking into account numbers, pluralism or the relation between individual and collective virtues.

The ethics of voting as an exercise of political prudence. Political prudence concerns the ethics of voting, demonstrating, deliberating, etc. The ethics of voting of a liberal democracy should be pluralistic, in the sense of plurality of considerations, and allowing different voters to state their preferences.

Carys Roberts, Institute for Public Policy Research

The system based on two major parties is in clear decline in the UK.

The income gap has widened in recent times, and this has had an impact on voting turnout. There was a hope on increased turnout in youth, but it has not turned out to be true.

Devolution of power to communities is a way to be explored when it comes to thinking in ways to strengthen democracy.

Discussion

José Luis Martí: maybe we have been focusing to much on elections and not on other ways of political involvement: organizing elections but also being involved on policy-making or design of public policies, etc.

Chiara Destri: how the ethics of voting affects legitimacy? Annabelle Lever: treating people as rulers, not only as voters has an important impact. This includes how parties recruit and promote members. Politics have become professional in a very narrow point of view: middle class, highly educated, etc. losing plurality and the grassroots components.

Ludvig Beckman: are duties of voters compatible with prudence? can our duty be not to exercise prudence? Valeria Ottonelli: there are examples, as not selling your vote, are a duty and are related to prudence.

Miljan Slavic: how do we interpret not participating in elections or voting with blank or null votes? Some of them are actually being critical with the system and saying it is not legitimate. How do we interpret all of them? Annabelle Lever: one should assume the worst, that people are disgusted with the system, or the candidates, or the whole thing.

Ismael Peña-López: we keep on insisting on how to engage youth, how to engage minorities, how to engage women, etc. in electoral participation. But we should not forget the other side of the equation: how do we make politicians more accountable, how do we make institutions more understandable, how to we make politics in general more transparent and honest, etc. We are in the middle of a paradox: as the world grew more complex, we shifted from direct to representative democracy; but now that the world is becoming even more complex, we demand that citizens are more informed and more engaged in politics; but, not to go back to direct democracy, but to “vote better”. Why not leveraging the effort we are demanding to citizens to improve decision making by letting them participate in deliberative or direct democracy instruments? Why not demand less to citizens and demand more instead to democratic institutions to reduce the complexity of the world for the citizens?

Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective (2020)

Draft Opinion. Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens

Cover of the draft opinion "Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens"
Draft Opinion “Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens”

On 9 December 2019, the Catalan Government presented a working document at the 26th CIVEX commission meeting of the European Committee of the Regions.

The aim of the working document was to spark a debate for an upcoming Opinion on the “Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens”. The working document had the following scheme:

  1. Bridging the gap between what leaders see vs. what citizens see
  2. Lack of identification of EU issues with daily-life issues
  3. An ecosystem of infrastructures of participation
  4. Engaged citizens in a technopolitical paradigm
  5. Transforming the administration(s)

Now, a draft for that opinion has just been published for its discussion during the 2nd CIVEX commission meeting. As it happened with the working document, my colleague Mireia Borrell, Secretary for External Action and the European Union of the Government of Catalonia, acts as a rapporteur, while I am appointed as an expert to draft the opinion.

A preliminary abstract of that opinion is as follow:

  • Proposes the setting-up of a Network of Open Participatory Governments, made up by regions and cities, with the purpose to translate upwards and downwards diagnoses, perceptions and proposals on European issues and decision-making;
  • Proposes that the Committee of the Regions designs, implements and coordinates such a network in collaboration with all other European institutions;
  • Expects that the Network of Open Participatory Governments can succeed in granularizing European policies and principles and breaking them into smaller, more understandable bits, thus contributing to bring them closer to the citizen, so that they can better draw the line that weaves macro-, meso- and micro-levels of policies;
  • Suggests that the Network of Open Participatory Governments is piloted during the Conference on the Future of Europe to enlarge, extend, intensify and enhance the dialogue between European institutions and citizens through local and regional authorities, contributing to translate upwards and downwards the deliberations taking place at different levels;
  • Wants to raise awareness on the fact that more and more citizens are moving towards a new paradigm of political engagement – technopolitics – which is characterized by horizontal relationships, distributed power and networks of collaboration, enabled and enhanced by digital technologies and open data, taking place in informal spaces and out of institutional circuits;
  • Believes that there are new ways of listening to citizens, new ways of enabling citizens to engage and participate in policy-making, and that a new ecosystem to coordinate the proposals of citizens and the responses of a multi-level administration undoubtedly require a thorough transformation of the culture of administration(s).

Our proposal of the functioning of the Network of Open Participatory Governments is summarized in the following figure:

The full text that will be discussed in the next CIVEX commission can be downloaded below:

logo of DOCX file
Working document:
Peña-López, I. (2020). Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens. Draft Opinion. Brussels: European Committee of the Regions.

Opinion Factsheet. Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens

Cover of the opinion factsheet "Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens"
Opinion Factsheet “Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens”

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.

On 9 December 2019 we presented a working document/factsheet at the 26th CIVEX commission meeting.

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:

  1. Bridging the gap between what leaders see vs. what citizens see
  2. Lack of identification of EU issues with daily-life issues
  3. An ecosystem of infrastructures of participation
  4. Engaged citizens in a technopolitical paradigm
  5. 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.

Full text downloads:

logo of DOCX file
Working document:
Peña-López, I. (2019). Local and Regional Authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens. Working Document. Brussels: European Committee of the Regions.

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Conference on Democratic Innovation (IV). Regional planning and collaboration

Notes from the conference Conference on Democratic Innovation. Open territories. Rethinking the physical space with the citizens, organized by the Secretary of Transparency and Open Government of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 November 2019. More notes on this event: territorisoberts2019

Regional planning and collaboration
Chairs: Cristina Palés. Cap del Servei d’Educació Ambiental de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Network for the Conservation of Nature
Marc Vilahur, President

Participation cannot take place at the end of a public policy decision, but has to be intrinsic to the whole project. Participation has to impact not only the key actors, but the whole of the citizenry and the whole of the Administration.

When participation takes place at the beginning of a policy-making process, people tend to turn complains into proposals, tend not to say “no” but “I would like this”.

Territory safekeeping is a formal agreement between someone that wants to use the territory and a civic organization that wants to take care of a given territory. In this case, civil society approaches better the territory than the Administration. There are communication and coordination channels needed between such organizations and the Administration, but the Administration should be able to step back and leave room for civil society organizations to play some roles related to the public good.

Safekeeping agreements are formal agreements, but are non compulsive, based on goodwill, adapted to individual and collective needs.

The experience of Geoinquiets
Marc Torres, Membre de Geoinquiets i Geostart

The change of culture in the Administration is a transformation, not just an evolution, on how public workers work. It is becoming more about reaching consensus, about talking to others and about listening to much more others. In many senses, this is what most innovative public workers were looking for: to open up their work, to be allowed to explain what they think and what they do, to address specific actors — not necessarily always the same ones —, to disclose working for the public good as the public good is a common matter.

We have to think about the we, not about the I.

With participation, we can address the citizens, but also let public workers share their experiences and their diagnosis.

Participation is about building a knowledge network, a unique and collective network that thinks and acts.

Participation is much more than contributing to a top-down project. Participation should also be understood as people doing things for the sake of it, as people taking the initiative to address and solve problems, with or without the Administration. Sometimes these grassroots initiatives are the seed of major collective planning projects or policy-making initiatives in general. This is also participation.

We speak about co-deciding, but can we speak about co-participation? About designing the very same processes of participation?

The experience of Mirapeix Lawyers
Carolina Mirapeix

Most people realize that there are plans or regulations just when they want to do something, and the regulation would either not allow them to do it or force them to do it in a given way. This usually leads to conflict: people are surprised and, even worst, people tend to think that something illegitimate happened. “Why was I not warned? Why wasn’t I aware of this?

When planning becomes norm, transparency and participation take on a new meaning. Participation has to come at the very beginning of planning. The diagnosis, the forecast, the responsibility of planning have to be shared by all actors, public and private. And for participation to be possible, information is a must. Information that is easy to find and easy to understand.

Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)

Conference on Democratic Innovation (III). Regional planning and citizen participation

Notes from the conference Conference on Democratic Innovation. Open territories. Rethinking the physical space with the citizens, organized by the Secretary of Transparency and Open Government of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 November 2019. More notes on this event: territorisoberts2019

Regional planning and citizen participation
Chairs: Laura Suñé. Sub-directora general de Participació Ciutadana de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Regional planning guidelines in Euskadi
Rafael Sanchez Guerra. Tècnic del Govern Basc

When one mainstreams citizen participation in policy-making (e.g. regional planning), participation is not something that is added somewhere in the project, but that is taken into account in all key points during the deployment of the project. Sometimes as a one time thing (e.g. a participatory processes), sometimes as a structural thing (e.g. advisory councils).

Doing participation processes during the design of a political instrument may seem as it slows down things, but in reality it provides useful information and legitimacy that, afterwards, is less conflict, better instruments and, thus, policies that run smoother and faster.

It is important to disclose all processes, to adapt language and concepts to the different target groups that one is addressing, be sure that everyone understands each other, have flexibility to adapt to different timings.

Master regional plana of the Generalitat de Catalunya
Josep Armengol. Sub-director general d’Acció Territorial i de l’Hàbitat Urbà de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Trust between different actors — especially between the Administration and the citizens — is a must. There is no way things will work in the future (or in the present) without increasing levels of trust. Indeed, oftentimes participation is not as much about policy-making but as trust-building.

Initially, master plans in regional planning were regulated by the law. Thus, departments used to follow the regulation strictly, and implement participation processes where the law had put them. But it did not work. Citizen platforms would appear regardless of the regulated spaces for citizen participation.

One also would doubt about whether citizen organizations were really democratic themselves, whether they represented many people or none, etc.

Honest, flexible, ad-hoc participation processes came to improve this two-ways lack of trust. Participation has been rich in their contributions, in reducing conflict, in being able to tell who wants to build for the common good and who wants to destroy and who wants to make the public good work for one’s own private interest.

Participation is now introduced at the very beginning of the process. It is not an information session, but a diagnosis and design session. Participation is open where decision-making is still open: it is crucial to match expectations with reality. Mapping actors correctly is also very important to gather all the different realities and views upon a given topic.

Regional planning strategy in Aragón (EOTA)
Carlos Jesús Oliván. Cap de Servei de Participació del Govern d’Aragó

LAAAB methodology, based on an open and collaborative design of public policies, as in a lab. Using design thinking during the design of policies and also of participatory processes.

For the regional planning strategy, participation sessions were turned into workshops, where real proposals had to be designed, not just stated. Besides, “real people” endorse or sponsor all proposals, so that one can come back to them for more details, etc.

The return phase is crucial, and one has to clearly explain what proposals were accepted and put into practice, and which ones were not, and why.

Participation processes are about building trust. Sometimes they may not be very productive in terms of content, but they are productive in terms of building citizenship.

Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)

Conference on Democratic Innovation (II). Regional planning, transparency and open data

Notes from the conference Conference on Democratic Innovation. Open territories. Rethinking the physical space with the citizens, organized by the Secretary of Transparency and Open Government of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 November 2019. More notes on this event: territorisoberts2019

Regional planning, transparency and open data
Chairs: Núria Espuny. Directora general de Transparència i Dades Obertes de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Mar Santamaria. Urban planner, 300.000km/s

Can we map cities differently? Instead of just a descriptive mapping based on buildings, roads, rivers, hills… can we map other information such as social or public assets? Yes, we can add layers to maps that include not only morphology, but behaviours, sensations, emotions.

We can, for instance, map electrical consumption in the city at the block level. This can be helpful not only to know where consumption is, but to map poverty and social exclusion by tracking the determinants of specific electricity consumption patterns.

Mapping not only assets, but uses, can be useful to find out how the social contract is being subverted by misuses of formerly agreed public assets.

We can also map last-mile usage of public infrastructures, especially roads and streets. One can plan the city perfectly and find out that e.g. delivery of online purchases destroy all your planning. Mapping the way delivery services work and plan how this is happening can be done by using open data and it is a new way for urban planning.

This is the case of the Use planning of Ciutat Vella (PDF) that mapped the usage or urban assets in the Barcelona district of Ciutat Vella (old downtown). Beyond planning, it deals about looking at citizens as an asset and as an active actor.

And now urban planning is not anymore about making a static diagnosis of the situation, but about having tools for dynamic action.

Under this paradigm, open data are a must. Open data are disclosing a new way of understanding the territory, of acting upon it, of assessing policy-making.

Of course, if (open) data are a must, the governance of (open) data are also a must. Hence, the public/collective governance of data. And this includes, of course, citizen-generated data, not only data generated or published by the Administration.

Miguel Mayorga, Jorge Rodríguez. Architects and urban planners, Mayorga-Fontana.

Architects usually worked depicting things, while engineers usually worked with relationships. Now we can have a strong link between things and their relationships thanks to technology. The word ‘smart’ in ‘smart city’ is not about being smart, but about linking things and their relationships, stocks with flows. The city is made no more of things, but of things that have relationships with things.

Participation is not a trend: it is here to stay. Participation helps to find patterns, to map relationships and behaviours.

Data come from many sources. Some of them are open data generated by the Administration, other are big data generated automatically, other are data than one has to generate with qualitative and quantitative methodologies, such as polling, focus groups, etc. People are good “sensors”: they see, they watch, they reflect, they generate knowledge that can be “queried” with appropriate methodologies and technologies. Participation is about making the best of this “human sensors”, about getting the best from people.

Camil Cofan. Sub-director general for Urban Planning, Generalitat de Catalunya

Four steps in opening up regional planning:

  • 2002: Management of regional planning records (GEU), to better manage documents and initiatives on regional and urban planning.
  • 2007: Catalan register of regional planning (RPUC), to gather and publish all regional and urban plans in Catalonia.
  • 2010: Catalan urban map (MUP), to map all regional and urban interventions.
  • 2017: Open Data.

The strategy on open data aims at being useful both for the Administration and the individual citizens (especially professionals or regional and urban planning). The idea is to have a unique tool that works well for many purposes.

The Observatory of the Territory aims at gathering all data and information on regional planning in a single place.

Discussion

Ismael Peña-López: What are the incentives that professionals have to be involved in opening data with the Administration? Mar Santamaria: To better understand the data, how they were created, what is their source. Be able to find new ways to apply data, to improve one’s own projects. Miguel Mayorga: Participation is a must and has come to stay. Anyone, Administration and citizens, should acknowledge that. And participation should be mainstreamed, we should learn how to better measure times and timelines, how to map and engage different actors, etc. Technology can help in levelling languages, concepts, etc. between the different actors gathered around a project. Núria Espuny: participation in opening data also helps the Administration to identify the priorities and where the bigger returns are.

Jorge Rodríguez: it is important to involve people before the public decision is made, not after, when we just inform of the decision.

Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)