Conferences 2.0: Scientists and Web 2.0

First of my three seminars imparted at the he Rich-Media Webcasting Technologies for Science Dissemination Workshop, organized by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics Science Dissemination Unit.

Main aspects
  • Introduction to the Web 2.0, stressing the fact that the web is the platform, that putting up content to the web has been made quite easy — caveat: provided you have access to a computer and good bandwidth —, the power of RSS, the challenge of filtering and content quality.
  • Conferences are one dimensional: content delivered at one time and one place
  • Conferences should shift from information exchange to knowledge exchange
  • Before conferences: data and information sharing through websites, blogs, social networks
  • During conferences: knowledge sharing through instant messaging, browsing, blogging and nanoblogging, social bookmarking, shared list of resources/bibliographies, multimedia files, presentations, paper repositories, etc.
  • During conferences: interaction fostered by wikis, blogging (comments)
  • After conferences: strengthening the network using social software, blogrolls, keeping the track of conference “official” tags, feedreading, etc.
  • Opennes, a must
  • Going digital, or how to create huge (infinite?) economies of scale
  • The web is the platform, the way to overcome space (and time) barriers
  • Link, link, link, or how to contribute to reputation and filtering
Live recording of the session

Using the EyA System — thanks to Carlo Fonda for making it possible!


Click here to download, or watch them on Slideshare:


ICT4D Conferences

9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries

Organized by the International Federation for Information Processing, the conference presents the following Sub-Themes:

  • The role of e-government initiatives in education and health, what lessons can be learned?
  • What are the experiences of ICT enabled development stimulated by efforts to develop indigenous ICT industries?
  • The role of cybercrime and its effects on development initiatives
  • What influence has ICT initiatives on rural development?
  • What are the consequences of new organisational forms enabled by ICTs for developing countries?
  • ICTs and social inclusion: experiences and prospects
  • What have been the consequences of implementing open source initiatives in government and in the private sector?
  • What are the infrastructure and human resources factors that influence the implementation of e-development initiatives?
  • Evaluating the role of international agencies in the implementation of e-development initiatives. What can be learned? What can be improved?

Conference data:

IST-Africa 2007

The goals of the IST-Africa Conference Series are Community Building to facilitate EU-African research cooperation and successful exploitation of research results, to stimulate take-up of RTD results by industry, Small and Medium Sized Businesses and the public sector, to promote knowledge sharing between commercial organizations, government agencies and the research community, to exchange experiences about the current state of eAdoption at a sectoral, national or regional level, and to support International Cooperation and open up the European Research Area (ERA) to Africa.

Core thematic priorities for IST-Africa 2007 are:
– eHealth – Services to Citizens, Technologies
– Technology Enhanced Learning & ICT Skills
– ICT for Networked Business – Future Forms of Organisations, Technology and Applications
– eGovernment & eDemocracy

Conference data:


ICT4D Conferences

eLearning Africa

International Conference on ICT4D

So weird they both take place same days!!!


Implementing Internet Voting. A policy brief

This is a personal position about the state of Internet voting and what could be done to implement it in the medium term in a thorough way. It does only reflect my own views and not necessarily represents those of my employer.

For the last months I have been working on whether and how to implement internet voting (i-voting), as the Catalan government submitted to the Parliament in 2016 and later on 2018 a bill to enable Internet voting for Catalan citizens living abroad.

Besides the desire to deploy new normative related to parliamentary elections, there also is a growing need to provide robust technologies for e-participation platforms. A good example of this is the recent tender issued by the City Council of Barcelona to provide the deliberative participation platform Decidim with appropriate e-voting (i-voting) technology. This technology would be used not only to vote for a specific citizen proposal, but also to sign citizen petitions.

Last, but not least, scattered —but relevant enough— initiatives raise in the civil society to implement i-voting for several purposes: elections in chambers of commerce, in school councils, in trade unions, in primaries in political parties, etc. are being held more and more frequently and are thus pushing forward the issue into the public agenda. How should a government be present in such a debate is becoming a major issue. Should it provide legal coverage? Provide methodology? A state-wide infrastructure?

My following reflections are the result of some reading on i-voting and e-voting in general, lots of conversations with experts in the field, and my attendance to Estonia’s 2019 Parliamentary Elections International Visitors Program (my personal notes on that event can be read at Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (I) and Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (II)).

This policy brief necessarily comes in a very executive format. Many statements should be consequently be better and extensively substantiated, and much more brought to detail if there were to be accepted as a working policy departing point. Thus, the only goal of this humble reflection is to briefly list where we are at and peak at some of the hypothetical options ahead.

Internet voting in the world

  • The technology is mature. Although zero risk can not be guaranteed —and this is the main objection to i-vote at the moment— the number of countries and regions adopting it is growing: technology, not being perfect, does already provide more guarantees than other modalities such as the vote by mail, allows much more flexibility and has a hugely scales in costs.
  • Auditing the process is mandatory. It is, right now, the only way to ensure the same guarantees as face-to-face voting. Auditing should be extended, if possible, to the design of the software and not only to the implementation and vote scrutiny.
  • Awareness is essential for the success of electronic voting, both with citizens and with politicians. The main detractors of electronic voting, other than technologists (see more about this in the technology section), are citizens who also distrust the institutions and the political system in general. Confidence in the vote must therefore work in itself but also at the level of the democratic system.
  • A broad ecosystem of e-services and, above all, a simple user-friendly e-identity is a requisite so that electronic voting can be adopted massively. Digital capacity, infrastructure and awareness are inadequate without a habit of interaction between citizens and technology. This ecosystem must evolve in parallel in all areas.
  • Electronic voting has returns of scale. Returns in efficiency and efficacy happen not only at the economic level, but at the sociopolitical one: electronic voting allows citizens to consult more often, encourages citizen participation and approaches decision-making to the society, improving the perception on policy-making and accountability in general.

Main opportunities and challenges of Internet Voting implementation

  • Technology and the infrastructure network are easily accessible. There are national and international providers that can provide technology and services, and the infrastructure network of most developed countries is fully prepared for e-voting.
  • Audits are totally feasible. There are experts worldwide capable of performing e-voting audits and the costs are quite fair. In addition, it would be socially very much welcome and would provide guarantees and confidence.
  • More awareness should be raised about the advantages and disadvantages of electronic voting, as well as the risks of taking it forward. There still is not a solid consensus around the issue, which is much needed for its successful implementation.
  • Electronic identification systems are still not adopted by the majority of citizens and their use is still cumbersome. Paradoxically, citizens use electronic identity devices to carry out other transactions on a virtual basis, from banking and electronic commerce to social networking sites. It is, therefore, a problem of technological model and habit, not of lack of digital skills or lack of confidence in technology.
  • Regarding the performances of scale, implementing electronic voting only for parliamentary elections would be slow and expensive, since while voting on paper remains an option, e-voting is an added a cost and not a minor one. Instead, implementing electronic voting in processes of citizen participation, internal voting processes in the administrations, as well as mixed bodies —or even in the private sphere— would return undeniable advantages, both economic and sociopolitical.

Potential benefits

There are three broad areas where theory and experience identify possible benefits of introducing electronic voting in legislative elections. Due to the Catalan case, our reflections are the following:

  • Increase in the turnout / reduction of abstention. International experience is not conclusive on this issue. In most cases, it depends a lot on the social, cultural and political context of each moment. In most cases, the requirement of having to register for voting (especially when being abroad) as well as the multiple difficulties that accompany voting by mail suggest that voting would be positive in terms of increasing participation both in advance voting and voting abroad. On the other hand, if a single census was created —necessary requirement for Internet voting— electronic ballot boxes could be enabled for early voting outside polling stations such as civic centers or supermarkets. The convenience of this vote could also be a factor to increase participation. Finally, given the penetration of mobile telephony, Internet voting could be fostered with an awareness raising campaign and appropriate advertising, to try to increase young vote, although, as mentioned, previous experience is not conclusive in this regard. In short, significant growth in the vote abroad could be expected (more or less significant in relation to the current foreign vote in many places, but probably small in relationship to the global turnout), but not too relevant in the vote as a whole. It is worth noting, though, that if good voting systems have no clear effects on turnout, bad voting systems do have negative effects on the probability of voting, which goes from discouraging voting to directly not allowing it effectively. Electronic voting, thus, can have positive effects where the alternatives are perceived as (or simply they are) not effective for voting.
  • Reduction of costs. Internet voting is significantly cheaper than face-to-face voting, and especially on paper. However, total costs are only reduced if one modality is replaced by the other one. If the traditional voting system is combined with Internet voting, costs actually increase as the voting modes are expanded and, therefore, a new infrastructure and organization is added.
  • Transparency and accessibility. The clearest advantage of i-voting is the increased accessibility of voting. This should not be understood only as removing barriers for the disabled, but also to information and cognitive barriers that go with any type of electoral process. The efforts that accompany the deployment of electronic voting have a positive impact on trust in the system, opening the black box of the functioning of institutions, and by establishing new channels of communication between the citizen and the Administration.

These three aspects, by themselves, are probably insufficient to initiate a strategy for the introduction of electronic voting and/or Internet voting, especially in parliamentary elections. Although it is generally a good idea making things easy for the voter —and the Internet voting undoubtedly does— the benefits in terms of electoral participation are doubtful, there are high implementation costs, and remaining doubts about electronic voting could be counterproductive.

However, the combination of the three aspects has, in our opinion, great potential. We believe that the international debate about Internet voting is no longer about whether but about when it is going to take place. Once it has been implemented for a given election, it is relatively easy to extrapolate methodology and technology to many other elections where the impact on increased participation and cost reduction can be enormous. It is in this scenario that we have to place ourselves and where a community can have huge returns on investment:

  • Increase of the citizen participation in the whole set of the different electoral calls as well as increase of the number of electoral processes of diverse nature.
  • Exponential reduction of the costs of electoral processes, again taken as a whole.
  • Improved knowledge of the functioning of public and private institutions where collective decisions are taken and/or representatives are chosen.

Consequently, a proposal of implementation strategy for Internet voting would be:

  • Use the electronic vote to increase the legitimacy of the democratic system as a whole, both at the institutional level and in civil society, based on facilitating electoral processes in all areas and encouraging participation. This includes:
    • Parliamentary elections.
    • Processes of citizen participation
    • Electoral processes of civil society
  • Implement an electronic voting system understood as a public infrastructure. This infrastructure must be involved in its design, open to the use of any user and democratic in its governance model.

Making steps forward: social and political levels

The nature, context and possible fields of deployment of an electronic voting project in a given administration exceeds, in our opinion, the scope strictly circumscribed to elections to its chamber of representatives.

In the same way, the strong technological component of this project also goes beyond the usual single-handed implementation of the typical technological application.

Thus, at the political level, one would propose:

  • Create a multi-stakeholder task force to define and foster a project for Internet voting as a public infrastructure.
  • Make a detailed inventory of the type of processes where Internet voting could be applied.
    • Elections to the chamber(s) of representatives.
    • Processes of citizen participation and citizen councils.
    • Citizen petitions and citizen polling of all kinds and at all levels of the Administration.
    • Electoral processes of bodies of the civil society (chambers of commerce, school councils, professional colleges, labour unions, political parties, etc.)

On the other hand, we believe that the level of knowledge and acceptance of Internet voting is still not optimal among many citizens. Moreover, we feel that, in some circles, there might be a need for a thorough debate on the benefits and possible risks of this modality in an open, broad and well-founded way, beyond academic environments or scattered appearances in the media.

This knowledge and acceptance, however, will hardly come only through awareness and dissemination campaigns: Estonia’s reality suggests that only through practice and habit comes the familiarity and necessary confidence to achieve high levels of legitimacy in the use of Internet voting.

One would, thus, propose at the citizen level:

  • The deployment of campaigns of dissemination and awareness raising about the potentials and risks of electronic voting to engage in a deep and grounded debate.
  • The celebration of academic and sector discussion conferences to define a consensual strategy of Internet voting as a public infrastructure.
  • The progressive and practical implementation of Internet voting in all kind of elections and voting processes: elections of public representatives, citizen polls, citizen petitions, professional chambers, school councils and university boards, labor union elections, primaries in political parties, etc.

Making steps forward: economic and technological levels

There are two key considerations when it comes to deploying an Internet voting strategy at the technical level: the resources that will need to be spent on it and the resulting technological model.

We propose, at an economic level:

  • To calculate the cost of implementing Internet voting according to the various scenarios, depending on the inventory of potential uses of Internet voting.
    • Implementation only in the parliamentary elections.
    • Implementation in all the electoral areas and of citizen participation with direct or indirect involvement of the Administration.
    • Implementation for the civil society at large as a public infrastructure, for free or under a given structure of fees.
  • Calculate the benefits of replacing the current voting modalities for scenarios with electronic voting, based on the previous calculations.
    • Depending on the technological model: commercial solution for rent, commercial solution in property, free software solution.
    • Depending on the coexistence or substitution of modalities, absolute or progressive.
    • Depending on the expected increase in participation, especially in areas where it is extremely low: collegiate bodies, civil society, etc.

Beyond the economic issue, the technological model also has an impact on the confidence in the system as well as its flexibility. Although we have stated that the technology is mature and that auditing guarantees almost full confidence on Internet voting, it is no less true that this audit, to be fully comprehensive, must have total access to the code of the software, which is not always possible and, in any case, easy to do.

In the long term scenario —electronic voting as a public infrastructure applied to multiple areas of the Administration and civil society— we believe that the best option in terms of economic costs and trust in the system is free software. Only this option makes the economic returns to be highly growing with the number of votes and gives total confidence to the various stakeholders —not to mention the administrative simplification for the disappearance of the public procurement of electronic voting services.

We would propose, at the technological level:

  • An inventory and analysis of the current free Internet voting software solutions: reliability, scalability, flexibility, total cost of ownership, existence of a community of developers and users, etc.
  • Evaluate the institutional possibility (resources, political capacity, etc.) to create a consortium/community around a new free software tool that can become the de facto standard in the field of electronic voting.

These technological considerations are for the medium term and, in no case, they should suppose an impediment to the initiatives of Internet voting that could arise in the short term, that would have to execute with the concurrence of the market.

Regarding the consortium or community around a free software tool, it would be advisable that it be composed, at least initially, by a group of governments of an international nature (states, regions) with the triple objective of collecting all the sensitivities/needs a tool of this type, increase its legitimacy and distribute the development costs.



Priit Vinkel, head of the State Electoral Office, Government of Estonia

Casper Wrede, Elections administrator, Government Offices, Government of Åland

André Fecteau, Policy Analyst, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Government of Canada


Jordi Barrat. Professor, Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Josep Maria Reniu, Professor, Universitat de Barcelona

David Dueñas-Cid, Assistant Professor, Kozminski University
Researcher, Tallinn University of Technology

Robert Krimmer, Professor, Tallinn University of Technology

Guillem Clapés, Analyst and political advisor

Adrià Rodríguez-Pérez, PhD student, Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Analyst, Scytl

Mihkel Solvak, Researcher, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies

Martin Möller, Researcher, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies

e-Voting private sector

Liisa Past, Expert in cybersecurity, McCain Institute

Peter van der Veldt MSc., Sales Director Europe, Smartmatic

Jordi Puiggalí, CSO and SVP Research & Development, Scytl


Barrat i Esteve, J. & Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. (2004). Informe de las experiencias de voto electrónico empleadas en las elecciones catalanas de noviembre 2003. Tarragona: EVOL2.
Barrat i Esteve, J. (2004). Informe político-jurídic sobre la viabilitat del vot electrònic. Informe provisional. Barcelona: Fundació Jaume Bofill.
Barrat i Esteve, J. & Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. (2004). “Legal and Social Issues in Electronic Voting. Report on the Catalan Essays during the Elections of November, 2003”. In Padget, J., Neira, R. & Díaz de León, J.L. (Eds.), e-Government and e-Democracy, 129-137. Col. Research on Computing Science #8. Tarragona: EVOL2.
Barrat i Esteve, J. & Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. (2005). 1995-2005. Deu anys de vot electrònic a Catalunya. Arxiu de recerques 1457. Barcelona: Fundació Jaume Bofill.
Barrat i Esteve, J., Cantijoch, M., Carrillo, M., Molas, O., Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. & Riera, A. (2007). El vot electrònic a Catalunya: reptes i incerteses. Col·lecció Polítiques, 56. Barcelona: Fundació Jaume Bofill.
Barrat i Esteve, J., Castellà i Roca, J., Gascó-Hernández, M., Dueñas-Cid, D., Alfons Ariño, L. & Martínez Dalmau, R. (2018). Votacions electròniques: una eina de gestió pública per a la millora de la qualitat democràtica i la participació política. Estudis de Recerca Digitals, núm. 17. Barcelona: Escola d'Administració Pública.
Cucurull, J., Rodríguez-Pérez, A., Finogina, T. & Puiggalí, J. (2018). Blockchain-based internet voting: systems’ compliance with international standards. 21st International Conference on Business Information, Berlin, Germany, July 18-20, 2018. Berlin: BIS.
d'Ambrosio i Gomáriz, A. (1999). Iniciación al voto electrónico. Quaderns electorals #3. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
European Commission (2018). Compendium on Cyber Security of Election Technology. CG Publication 03/2018. Brussels: European Commission.
Krimmer, R., Volkamer, M., Cortier, V., Goré, R., Hapsara, M., Serdült, U. & Dueñas-Cid, D. (Eds.) (2018). Electronic Voting. Third International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2018, Bregenz, Austria, October 2-5, 2018, Proceedings. Cham: Springer.
Krimmer, R., Dueñas-Cid, D., Krivonosova, I., Vinkel, P. & Koitmae, P. (2018). “How Much Does an e-Vote Cost? Cost Comparison per Vote in Multichannel Elections in Estonia”. In Krimmer, R., Volkamer, M., Cortier, V., Goré, R., Hapsara, M., Serdült, U. & Dueñas-Cid, D. (Eds.), Electronic Voting, 117-131. Third International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2018, Bregenz, Austria, October 2-5, 2018, Proceedings. Cham: Springer.
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Devaux, A., Faulí, C., Stewart, K., Porcu, F., Taylor, J., Theben, A., Baruch, B., Folkvord, F. & Nederveen, F. (forthcoming). Study on the Benefits and Drawbacks of Remote Voting. Brussels: European Commission.
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Devaux, A., Faulí, C., Stewart, K., Porcu, F., Taylor, J., Theben, A., Baruch, B., Folkvord, F. & Nederveen, F. (forthcoming). Study on the Benefits and Drawbacks of Remote Voting. Technical Appendices. Brussels: European Commission.
Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. (2007). “Oportunidades estratégicas para la implementación del voto electrónico remoto”. In IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Ciencia Política, (4). Barcelona: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. (2008). “Ocho dudas razonables sobre la necesidad del voto electrónico”. In IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Ciencia Política, (6). Barcelona: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. (2012). “¿Innovar o “maquillar”? La incorporación de las TICs a los procesos político-administrativos”. In International Review of Information Ethics, 18, 194-199. Edmonton: International Center for Information Ethics.
Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. (2014). “Demasiados talones para un solo Aquiles. Los riesgos del voto electrónico.”. In Cotarelo, R. & Olmeda, J.A. (Eds.), La democracia del siglo XXI. Política, medios de comunicación, internet y redes sociales, Capítulo 4, 81-105. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales.
Sánchez i Picanyol, J. (2005). La Democràcia Electrònica. Barcelona: UOC.


Oliver Escobar. Mini-publics for citizen participation

Notes from the seminar on mini-publics by Oliver Escobar, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 26 March 2019.

Oliver Escobar, University of Edinburgh and What Works Scotland

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.
  • Deliberative.
  • 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):

  • Citizens’ juries
  • Planning Cells
  • Consensus conferences
  • Deliberative polls
  • Citizens’ assemblies

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?

More information

Escobar-Rodríguez, O. & Elstub, S. (2017). Forms of Mini-publics: An introduction to deliberative innovations in democratic practice. Research and Development Note, 8 May 2917. Sydney: newDemocracy.
Smith, G. (2009) Democratic innovations: Designing institutions for citizen participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Philipp Schmidt. Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?

Notes from the conference Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?, held at the MACBA Auditorium within the framework of the Debates on Education, initiative of the Jaume Bofill Foundation and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, in Barcelona, Spain, 11 December 2014.

Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?
Philipp Schmidt, Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab

The Internet changed how talent is distributed. And talent is distributed equally, but opportunity is not.

If we take 1088AD as the foundation of the University — the year of the foundation of the University of Bologna —, it is a huge achievement that it has lasted that long, but it also means that there are many tensions piled up along time, as its model has remained mainly unchanged. And engagement seems to be at its lowest levels when we measure lectures, accoding to Roz Picard’s work. When facing the future of education, we should certainly challenge the concept of the lecture.

How do we learn? How do we create an engaging learning experience?

4 Ps of Creative Learning:

  • Projects. Does not necessarily mean “building” something, but the idea of setting up a project with goals, processes, tasks, milestones, etc.
  • Peers. Sharing, collaboration, support.
  • Passion/Purpose. Connection with your personal interests, so you’re engaged by the idea. Attach people to the things they are already interested.
  • Play. Taking risks, experimenting, not being afraid to fail.

What about open social learning? We have to acknowledge that most of the “advancements” and “innovations” in education have limited themselves to replicate the actual educational model. Are open social learning communities the future of education?


  • Contribute over consume.
  • Peer to per over top down.
  • Discover over deliver.

The future of education is not technology. The opportunity of internet is not connecting computers but people. It’s the community what matters.

Success criteria of the MIT Media Lab:

  • Uniqueness. If someone is already doing it, we do not do it too.
  • Impact. It has to change people’s lives.
  • Magic. It puts a smile on your face.

The Learning Creative Learning began as a course and ended up as a community. The course itself enabled community building through individual, decentralized participation. A report on the experience can be accessed at Learning Creative Learning:
How we tinkered with MOOCs
, by Philipp Schmidt, Mitchel Resnick, and Natalie Rusk.

Organization of an Edcamp in the line of barcamps or unconferences, but online, using Unhangouts. Unhangouts leverages on Google Hangouts, enabling splitting in several “rooms”.

Most of the times, the online experience ended up in several offline meetings, so it’s good to combine both ways of communicating and organizing. On the other hand, the experience proved to be highly engaging, as people would be much more prone to participate.

It’s all about networks and communities.

Discussion. Chairs: Valtencir Mendes

Q: how can you explain why the US is so advanced in learning and, on the contrary, it performs so poor in PISA tests? Schmidt: we should be careful about taking PISA as the measure for everything. That said, there’s a huge problem of underinvestment in public schools and universities, thus the bad scores.

Ismael Peña-López: when we talk about MOOCs, and most especially cMOOCs, we usually find that participants have to be proficient in technology, have to know how to learn, and have to have some knowledge on the discipline that is being learnt. The intersection of these three conditions usually leaves out most of the people. How do you fight this? Schmidt: there does not seem to be a single solution to scaling cMOOCs, and maybe one of the solutions is to take some compromises while keeping the philosophy of the cMOOC. For instance, use some common technologies even if they are not the best ones or the preferred by the leaders. Stick to few tools, good (somewhat centralized, planned) moderation, etc.

Q: how this specific example influenced schools? Schmidt: Learning Creative Learning courses was a course for teachers. That was a way to infiltrate schools from the backdoor. Same, for instance, with Scratch, which is used widely and carries embedded most of the philosophy of the MIT Media Lab.

Q: people usually neither like nor know how to work in groups or collaboratively. If groups work it usually is because there is a strong leader. How do you do that (leading or setting up a leader). Schmidt: we know some of the reasons why groups do not work. But the solution may not be that there needs to be a leader, but leadership. And this leadership can take different forms. Facilitation, the group fabric, etc. can be ways to approach the point of leadership.

Valtencir Mendes: how can we assess and certify what is being learnt this way? Are open badges a solution? Schmidt: certification is very important, as most of the people that approach these initiatives already have a degree. How do we reach people that are looking for a certification and would never participate in such initiatives unless they issue certificates? Communities are extremely good at figuring out who is good at what, who you go to ask a question, etc. Portfolios, portfolios of the projects they have done and the network of people you’ve been working with. Last, the monopoly of certification may have been a good idea in the past, but it may already not be a good idea any more, and it would be better many more ways to get/issue a certificate.

Q: how do you work with soft skills, how do you introduce open social learning in the corporate world to learn these skills? Schmidt: some things are very difficult to teach, but are easy to learn. Many of these soft skills are easy to learn if you create the appropriate context, even if they would be very difficult to teach. But it still is a very hard to solve problem.

Q: can these initiatives work in crosscultural contexts? Schmidt: this is a very complex question. For instance, authority if very related with culture: how do you manage authority in a crosscultural setting? Or, for instance, addressing elder people is differently regarded depending on the culture. So, there are no systems to support crosscultural learning and thus we have to see it case by case.

Josep Maria Mominó: are we now witnessing the end of the hype of technology in education? did we have too much expectations and we now see the impact is poor? Or what will come in the future? Can we really trust the initiative of teachers? Will that suffice? Schmidt: we usually have to wait a whole generation to see impacts in society, and this generation is just now coming of age. On the other hand, we should be expecting not a technology driven change, but a socially driven one. And this may already be happening.