When considering sustainability, scalability and the transformative impact of citizen participation, it becomes strategic the promotion and articulation of a global participation ecosystem that shares the same values, vision and objectives. This model of participation, in addition to being shared, must be effective and efficient, which is why one would consider necessary that it also has a globally shared set of infrastructures in the field of participation. These infrastructures are, among others, an Administration coordinated at all levels so that it can optimize the available resources, a business sector that shares the participation model and collaborates in its improvement, consensus methodologies, technologies that incorporate these values in their design and methodologies and, finally, a network of training actors that share frameworks of skills, concepts and learning resources.
Public facilities network within an ecosystem of citizen participation
The Administration (taken as a whole) has several networks of public facilities —telecentres, libraries, civic centers, centers for young and old people, etc. An ecosystem of citizen participation can collaborate with the Administration’s networks of public facilities by superimposing a (new) layer of democratic innovation on the existing equipment networks. It is, then, not about creating a new network of facilities, but rather offering the existing ones a portfolio of services related to citizen participation, democratic quality and social innovation in politics and democracy, so that they enrich and complement what they currently offer to the citizen.
At the same time, it is about contributing to the transformation of public facilities that has already begun: from facilities that provide services to facilities that become citizen infrastructure.
The entry into the Information Society, as well as the advances in all areas of the social sciences, mean that the mission and organization of these facilities are in the process of being redefined. Among others, there are some aspects of this redefinition process that we want to highlight:
- The evolution towards more citizen-centered models, where assistance and accompaniment also give way to empowerment strategies.
- The equipment governance model as an important factor in achieving its mission, the organizational design and the services it offers.
- The inclusion of elements of social innovation for the co-design and co-management of the centers.
- The incorporation of ethical and integrity codes, as well as democratic quality both in the operation and in the intrinsic values of the services.
We here propose a set of strategic and operational goals that could lead the development of a network of public facilities within an ecosystem of citizen participation.
Goals of the network of public facilities within an ecosystem of citizen participation
- Convert civic facilities into reference spaces in the municipality in terms of citizen participation.
- Raise citizens’ awareness about democratic quality, citizen participation and innovation in political and democratic processes.
- Support local administrations in projects of citizen participation and social innovation in political and democratic processes.
- Support citizens in citizen participation processes, increase their participation and open up the sociodemographic range of the participants.
- Promote social innovation projects in the field of civic action, politics and democracy.
Operational goals: participation processes
- Train the facilitators of public facilities in Open Government: transparency, open data and participation.
- Creation of a digital mediation protocol on citizen participation for public facilities in the Administration, with the aim of supporting citizens with less digital competence in online participation processes.
- Support citizens who have more difficulties to participate in citizen participation processes on digital platforms.
- Involve citizens who are experts in digital participation platforms to support citizens who are less knowledgeable about the platforms or who have greater difficulties using them.
Operational goals: social innovation in politics and democracy
- Train the facilitators of public facilities to be agents promoting the creation of democratic innovation projects.
- Help citizens define, pilot, replicate and scale social innovation projects in the field of civic action, politics and democracy.
- Promote and support the development of democratic innovation projects within the logic of social innovation.
- Articulate networks of social innovation in democracy at the local level.
- Standardize and enable replicability and scalability of democratic innovation pilots.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Marcus Carlsen Häggrot, Goethe University, Frankfurt a.M.
Nomads are usually excluded from the electoral process as they cannot be assigned to a specific constituency. Maybe we should reconsider the concept of constituency, especially when residence is decreasingly important in an increasingly mobile society — and most especially within the European Union, with so many expatriates.
Single member plurality systems:
- Pros: popular self-government, accountability, eliminates extremist parties
- Cons: unequal power over policy, vertical inequality, anonymity
Two round election systems put voters in a trade-off between maintaining their integrity or having to vote (in the 2nd round, considering their 1st option did not pass) the lesser undesired one.
José Luis Martí, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona. Globalizing democracy, deterritorialisation and Crowdlaw
A new reality:
- Growing complexity
- Digital revolution: deterritorialisation
- Crisis of democracy: dissatisfaction with institutions, populism, concentration of power, etc.
Globalising democracy: in the XVIIIth century, due to a new social, economic, technological and political scenario lead to a scaling-up of democracy, from the city level to the state level. Maybe, the new scenario coming on the XXIst century should lead us to the scaling-up of democracy, from the state level to the global level.
On the other hand, we are witnessing the (new) rise of cities, the nearest administration to the citizen, able to coordinate between cities. The paradox is that cities are increasingly able to address global issues, while their demos is obviously not global. We certainly have to rethink the traditional approach to democracy and participation. Again, the need to deterritorialise democracy.
And, besides the territorial factor, the deliberative phase and the voting phase of democracy get increasingly intertwined and their differences blur. e.g. liking a proposal on an online participation platform can mean nothing, can mean just endorsement of the idea and thus remain at the deliberation stage, or can boost the proposal and, past a threshold, make it binding, thus entering the voting phase.
Elise Rouméas, CEVIPOF/Sciences Po. Do I go with my party or my beliefs?
Compromise: a decision-making procedure based on reciprocal concessions. There are many reasons for compromise in face of conflict, and many times they have to do with the ethics of voting.
What happens when, to reach a compromise, you “betray” some of your main principles? Tactical voting as an internal compromise. What is wrong, if anything, with tactical voting?
Two main objections:
- Wrong attitude: dishonesty, “gambling”.
- Wrong outcome: mediocrity, obscurity. Not a true revelation of preferences.
A positive case for tactical voting: we have the moral obligation to vote tactically when we have campaigned for a strategic voting.
There also is the idea of reaching a second-best outcome when the optimum is not reachable.
Ismael Peña López, Government of Catalonia
Andre: are you proposing a guild-based democracy, with different levels of participation? Can we shift to a commons-based democracy?
Andrei Poama: what is the role of representative democracy and elected members in such a democracy?
Ismael Peña-López: we should certainly promote a commons-based democracy in the sense that anyone should have the tools to make collective decisions. Horizontal networks have proven to be effective, if appropriately facilitated, in diagnosing, deliberating and negotiating. Representative democracy institutions still have a crucial double role: (1) to nurture and take care of this democratic commons and (2) to provide the holistic vision required to connect the different dots and to be able to draw the big strategies, maybe too abstract for grassroots participation methodologies.
Laurentiu: there’s the statement that shifting from hierarchies to networks does not necessarily means losing power. How to back this statement? Based on what theory?
- Hierarchies are very sensible to voting with one’s feet: digitization scales-up the power of voting with one’s (e-)feet. Exiting the system (or circumventing it) is stronger than voice.
- Network effects are stronger than economies of scale.
- The estate/administration is the central node.
- Networks are based on a different currency: the gift economy.
- Institutionalising informal participation.
- Enforcing through law and budget.
Chiara Destri: are there externalities in such distributed models? What about accountability? Ismael Peña-López: in a distributed system, accountability is not accurately allocated to anyone and externalities (positive and negative) can go wild as they are difficult to bring inside the system. Institutions thus have the duty — and may be the best positioned — to institutionalise what is going on in a distributed network for collective decision-making, in order to internalize externalities and to allocate accountability.
Reconstructing Democracy in Times of Crisis: A Voter-Centred Perspective (2020)