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.
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?
Renos Vakis. eMBeD unit. The World Bank Behavioral psychology to improve decision making
We are human beings and, as so, we are social.
How do we make decisions?
What do decision makers do:
Contextual definition of problems.
Solution, evidence, iteration.
Main problems in decision-making:
Bias of confirmation: when the individual seeks or interprets new evidence as confirmation of their beliefs or theories already conceived.
Bias of confidence: when subjective confidence of someone over their own judgement is higher thant the objective precision.
Framing and aversion to losses: we tend to take more risks in the “losses” frame rather than on the “gains” frame. We prefer not losing rather than gaining.
Case study: paying taxes in Poland
(Some) people do not pay taxes.
Reasons: architecture is complex, mental effort to understand how paying taxes work, bad perception of what happens with taxpayers money (e.g. corruption), etc.
Possible solutions: improve electronic procedures, etc.
Experiment in Poland: sending letters to “remind” tax evaders that they should pay. Letters work, but they work better the harder the tone of the letter.
Case study: water saving in South-Africa
Water consumption invoices included explanations on pricing and the different price thresholds. Especially poor people was responsive to such information, but not as much richer one. Then other information was included: how one behaved according to the average citizen and publicly acknowledging those more efficient in saving water. Then rich people also were responsive and saved water.
Map a given process, identifying all the behaviors —especially decisions and actions— and see how they are conditioned or determined by information, beliefs, procedures and tasks, social norms, etc. This should help us to accurately find out the potential decision or action bottlenecks: steps where one may or may not make a decision or do an action depending on several factors. If these are properly identified and characterised, we can act upon those factors to improve the likelihood of decisions to be made and actions to be carried out.
Group decisions and mindsets
Customs It is what I want to do.
Descriptive norms Everyone does it.
Moral norms It is the correct thing to do.
Social norms It is what everybody expects from me.
Messages can be shaped in a way that refer to different kinds of norms and thus have different effects on people. Besides, social norms and mental models are strong conditioners (even determinants) of behavior and it is crucial to take them into account when designing and executing public policies.
Fixed mindset —belief that certain things cannot be changed, or that one is born with some skills that cannot be changed— vs. growth mindset— things can be changed, one’s own skills can be improved. We have to foster growth mindsets.
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.
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].