The shift towards a technopolitical paradigm has brought a new set of actors with a new set of spaces and instruments into the political arena.
In his book The Rise of Nerd Politics, John Postill defines a new breed of citizens that engage in politics neither by joining democratic institutions (political parties, unions, civil society organizations, etc.) nor by hacking these institutions, but by “clamping”, that is, by using a new set of skills consisting on a mix of computer science, law, arts and culture, media and journalism, and formal politics.
These citizens are a global democracy buffer that is not happy with being a “passive victim” of politics gone wrong. The produce public knowledge at the very heart of the civil society operating in the intersection of technology and politics and caring a lot about the fate of democracy. These political nerds usually work in small groups and often partner with non-nerds for their political actions establishing ‘strategic part-NERDships’. Not all of them are libertarians, but anti-authoritarian, an anti-authoritarianism that comes in different kinds and from many different backgrounds. notwithstanding, they are not cyber-utopians, but look for short-term political impact. On the other hand, they are not rooted on cyberspace, but on local communities strongly linked with other movements at the international level. Nerd politics usually operate in four different but connected fields: data activism, digital rights, social protest, and formal politics.
There have been some other authors that have identified new actors, new spaces and new instruments of political engagement. And, for better or for worse, these new actors, spaces and instruments are increasing in number and in influence. And, I would add, in general they are a positive influence: some of them might just seize the power, but most of them genuinely aim for the power to be applied upon them in a fairer way. That is, they want to improve democracy and its quality.
In my theory of change of citizen participation I included a whole section or “program” devoted to these new intermediaries, as I believe that if their contribution is good, society (and especially governments) should promote them and their activities — as they usually do with other institutionalized actors of liberal democracies.
But defining and promoting are two completely different things. To define something (or someone, or someone’s actions) you focus on the how. To promote them, you need to focus on the why, because this is what you are actually promoting: a cause — and, indirectly, its consequences.
So, what is exactly what one would like to promote by fostering new intermediaries in citizen engagement?
In my opinion, what follows is what make new intermediaries interesting and, thus, worth promoting:
They work with informal and non-formal instruments and spaces. That is, they work extra-institutionally, meaning that they are not institutionalized (e.g. a political party) and most of the times they do not work or even circumvent institutions in their activities.
They work for the common good. That is, they pursue the benefit of the whole community, not individual benefit — not to speak about individual profit. Obvious of this may sound, it leaves aside some lobbies that work for a specific collective, which is not the whole society. E.g. working for cleaner air is not the same as working for bike riders, even if the latter still is a non-profit aspiration. So, we are looking for people with the whole society in their minds.
They increase or improve the commons. This is a precision of the former statement. There are many ways to work for the common good, as advocacy, for instance. But in my opinion one of the main strengths — and differences from former political approaches — of technopolitics is that it creates democratic infrastructure. Of course, infrastructure does not necessarily means a new parliament or a new civic equipment. Citizen democratic infraestructures, in a broad sense, can of course be spaces (physical or virtual) but other devices that can be used and appropriated by citizens to engage politically — with institutions or among themselves: digital platforms and software for deliberation and voting, handbooks and guides, toolkits and procedures… but also other knowledge-intensive devices such as facilitation services, open data, training, visibility or public diffusion, conceptual frameworks, de facto standards and protocols, etc.
They work for the improvement of governance. That is, the purpose of these infrastructures is specifically to better rule our collective goals, including a better definition of needs or diagnosis, a better deliberation for an improvement of the political instruments, more inclusive policies by not leaving any actor out, better assessment of impacts and evaluation of outcomes.
Summing up, what we are looking to promote is actors that fly under the radar of institutions (and are, thus, invisible to them), but that pursue they very same goals (the benefit of the whole society), and do it creating things (for the commons) that any citizen can use to improve the way we make collective decisions (governance).
I think this is an operational and functional approach to the new phenomenon of intermediaries and how to publicly contribute to unfold their potential to collectively leverage their work.
Notes from the seminar on inequality by Branko Milanovic, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 14 May 2019.
Branko Milanovic. World inequalities and the European social contract
After 1917 the world had a new way of production that lasted some decades and reached up to 1/3 of the population. And before, there were also different ways of production (e.g. slavery vs. free men, etc.) that lived together. This is not true anymore. Nowadays, capitalism rules alone —China being mostly capitalist in practical effects.
Global inequality has been rising since the early 1800s, stopped after WW1, rose again and stopped to grow once more after WW2. Around year 2000, due to the rise of Asia, global inequality begins to drop drastically. These are three periods: (1) fast growth of inequalities due to the Industrial Revolution, (2) the plateau of high but stable global inequality during the XXth century, (3) the decrease of global inequality due to the raise of Asia.
Europe (includes the US and the “Western” world) is shrinking at the global level: population, share of the global GDP, etc. This, among other things, means that other countries are catching up with European countries and some of their citizens are surpassing Western citizens in purchasing power. This does not mean that Europeans are moving down in absolute terms, but they do in relative terms: high income people from low income countries begin to be richer than low income people from high income countries.
There is an emergence of the global “middle/median class” and a shrinkage of national middle classes.
Migration is not something that will be a season matter. Migration will be with us for some decades. That is why it is so important. It will become structural at least for a very long time, as the tensions.
Another way to look at the tree ages according to inequality:
Age of empires and class struggles, there is a divergence between countries and between classes.
Age of the Three Worlds and diminished class conflict, with divergence at the peak.
Age of convergence and internal cleavages.
We have 10% of the people of the World living the same way they were living 1,000 years ago, in absolute poverty. Yes, we have improved a lot, but we are still leaving a lot of people behind.
It seems that most equalising policy instruments —labor unions, education, taxation to the richest ones— seem to have reached their limit. And not withstanding, capital concentration is growing, especially at capturing its rents, and this is newly creating inequalities.
Can we de-concentrate capital? By what means? Taxing capital, stimulating new enterprises that create de-centralized (new) capital, etc.
The past 25 years in the rich world.
Political/philosophical issues brought up by looking at global, as opposed to only national, inequalities.
What kind of policies, and what can they do?
Pere Almeda: is there a way that a global governance can control global finance / global capitalism? Branko Milanovic: On tax evasion that could actually work, also on tax dumping. But maybe not for other matters.
Mireia Borrell: why is it inequality bad? Is it “only” for moral reasons? Economic ones? Branko Milanovic: all of them apply. There is high impact by inequality on growth. See it, for instance, for gender discrimination and how inefficient it is to leave aside women’s talent.
Ismael Peña-López: we are not witnessing a growing de-materialization of capital, especially in the form of digital capital and knowledge. And some think that this democratizes the chance to access capital, as it is less costly an it is not finite (not a good with rivalry issues). There might be a tension between economies of networks and a digital-commons based production. Can the latter be a way to de-centralize capital? Milanovic: on the one hand, if capital ownership does not change, things might not change despite the fact that production technologies may. Besides, the definition of labor is changing a lot, so it really depends on how we define labor and capital and how we tax them. So the answer is not clear and it may vary a lot depending on definitions, ownership, taxation models, etc.
Natàlia Mas: what about fostering cooperatives? Branko Milanovic: a first interesting approach is how to make capital returns remain within the system, and be reinvested, put in innovation, etc. Another thing is how to work on ownership, like giving shares to their workers. This usually works, but it maybe would work better if not only top-workers got them, but all the workforce.
Jordi Angusto: how do we measure inequality better? will the gap between capital returns and labor returns keep on increasing? Branko Milanovic: technological change usually benefits owners of capital; as technological change will remain in the future (or increase), is is likely that capital owners will see their share in the global GDP grow. If we saw a democratisation of capital, that would certainly be the opposite case.
Marta Curto: given the mobility of capital, how do we tax capital? Branko Milanovic: it is very difficult indeed. Globalisation is like a huge tsunami and it is very difficult to tame. Pere Almeda: Maybe the creation of a global financial registry, but it would only be possible to do by a legitimised global organisation, which we have not.
Branko Milanovic: “homoploutia”: high capital and labor income received by the same people. Some people in the top are both capitalists and workers, which is a new thing compared to past times where one would be either one or the other, but never both. Homogamy has increased from 13% to 30% in 50 years. That is, what is the probability of someone at the top to marry someone also at the top. These two aspects make it more difficult to design policies that are effective in redistributing income or reduce inequality.
The whole book can be downloaded in preprint format. Please find below the abstracts and links to download both my chapter and the whole book.
Book chapter abstract and download
Most works on instructional technology focus on the potential – and sometimes weaknesses – of technologies to do certain things. This chapter will take the opposite approach: we will be looking at 10 different “institutions” in education (the school, the classroom, the textbook, the library, the syllabus, the schedule, the teacher, evaluation, certification and the curriculum) and see how, on the one hand, digital technologies are challenging the foundations of such institutions and, on the other hand, how they can strengthen their role in education by unfolding their reach and scope. Ours is, thus, an approach that focuses on transformation of institutions by pushing them outside of their formal education framework and into lifelong learning by being part of learners’ informal educational networks.
The European higher education sector is moving online, but to what extent? Are the digital disruptions seen in other sectors of relevance for both academics and management in higher education? How far are we from fully seizing the opportunities that an online transition could offer? This insightful book offers a broad perspective on existing academic practices, and discusses how and where the move online has been successful, and the lessons that can be learned.
Higher Education in the Digital Age offers readers a comprehensive overview of the ways in which a move into online academia can be made. Analysing successful case studies, the original contributions to this timely book address the core activities of an academic institution – education, research, and research communication – instead of focusing only on online learning or digital strategies relevant for individual academics. Chapters cover online and networked learning, as well as the myriad ways in which the digital age can improve research and knowledge exchange with experts and society more widely.
Academics, managers and policy makers in higher education institutions will greatly benefit from the up-to-date case studies and advice outlined in this book. Academic administrators and academic project leaders will also find this a useful tool for improving the accessibility of their work.
Open social innovation is defined as “the creative destruction that aims at making up new processes that can be appropriated by the whole of civil society” (Peña-López, 2014).
One common denominator that can be found in successful initiatives that deal about political participation and engagement is that they use ICTs to remove barriers and/or equal the ground of participation (leaping the knowledge gap), create new platforms and projects shared by broad and multi-stakeholder communities (new processes phase) whose outputs and outcomes positively impact on the community and, at the same time, achieve reasonable levels of economical and especially social (self)sustainability (leveraging quadruple helix).
In the figure below we have drawn a scheme that aims to synthesise the common points that we have found in our review of cases and that are also pointed at in the literature. In the following sections we will explain how the initiatives we analyzed address each of the four layers into which we schematized their operational design and why addressing every layer is crucial for the final success of the project.
Government as a platform for open social innovation
The point of departure: socio-economic status and the knowledge gap hypothesis
In 1970, Tichenor et al. showed how mass media consumption did not necessarily had an evenly distributed positive impact on people’s knowledge. On the contrary, the impact depended on the point of departure, being much more significant on more highly educated segments of society. Thus, exposition to information depended on socio-economic status and did not add up to the pre-existing knowledge levels of the population, but had a multiplier effect: educated people will do better, uneducated people will do worse.
This “knowledge gap hypothesis” has proven true not only related to information coming from mass media, but from other knowledge devices such as public libraries (Neuman & Celano, 2006), the Internet in general (Bonfadelli, 2002; Selwyn et al., 2005; Van Deursen & van Dijk, 2013), instructional technology (Warschauer et al., 2004; Warschauer, 2008; Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010; Horrigan, 2016; Patterson & Patterson; 2017) or social media and e-participation platforms (Yang & Zhiyong Lan, 2010; Anduiza et al., 2012; Robles et al, 2012; Schlozman, 2012; Gainous et al., 2013).
Successful participation usually address as a first stance this situation. When addressing inequalities is not their first stance —such as in the case of projects explicitly addressed to employment— most projects include accompanying measures that aim at leveling the ground so that, according to their means, all players can engage in equal conditions.
At this level, which we call the point of departure, it is important that there are instruments that contribute to leap the knowledge gap by providing basic and operational resources that enable objective choice (Welzel et al, 2003).
In general, this stage is especially suitable for policies and programmes that address basic needs of the youth in particular and the citizenry in general. Beyond the obvious fact that individual development and progress is good per se, we want keep on stressing the fact that we have already stated: further measures to empower citizens will only work as desired if there are former leveling initiatives. Thus, formal education initiatives or employment programmes should be thought as a pre-requisite of higher level measures so that these can act as appropriate multipliers.
The micro level: enabling the social tissue
Once individuals are in (more or less) good conditions to be actual and active citizens, what naturally comes is that they coordinate to collectively promote initiatives. The more intertwined these citizens and their respective collectives are, the more resilient, sustainable, scalable and replicable their initiatives are. If basic conditions are a requisite for leveling participation and thus avoiding the unwanted outcomes of the knowledge gap, a tight social tissue increases the possibilities of success of a given social initiative.
Projects that plan ahead in this train of thought, design devices to enable social tissue creation or to strengthen the existing one. Financial resources, facilitators (such as social workers), members of the Administration or researchers that bring in background and context, etc. contribute to this goal.
Not surprisingly, face to face initiatives are more common at this stage, as they are welcome as better weavers of this social tissue. On the other hand, at this stage it is also worth noting that local leaders easily emerge when grassroots movements are fostered.
Being crucial the strengthening of the social tissue, local leaders and grassroots movements, the role of the government has to be stealth: the government thus becomes a platform that provides context, facilitates and fosters interaction while staying in the background. Attempts of the government to move to the forefront are usually perceived as patronizing or intrusive, and thus have a discouraging effect.
At this stage, Internet and social media initiatives should be addressed towards access to information and knowledge management, especially in knowledge-intensive sectors of both the productive economy and the civil society. But not only, digital skills on building digital personae or digital identities are key at this level so that the weaving of the social tissue can go beyond the local arena and, as we will see below, overcome barriers of time and space and enter the field of networking.
The meso level: weaving the networks
Citizens are usually part of different collectives and collectives usually operate at different levels or layers. Networks contribute to the exchange of knowledge between scattered individuals and collectives which would otherwise act as isolated nodes.
But not only networks contribute to the articulation of collectives of collectives, but also contribute to the diversification of the typology of individuals and collectives involved in a given initiative. Networks become useful instruments to articulate multi-stakeholder partnerships —formally or tacitly— and, if well balanced in their nature, these networks can promote interactions and exchanges between governments, higher education and research organizations, the industry and civil society organizations. The Quadruple helix model of innovation posits (European Commission, 2016) that only such kinds of interactions between these four types of actors can really produce innovations that do respond to the needs of the society at large.
We have found that the synchronization of layers is achieved by successful projects by means of networks. And that this synchronization is most of the times achieved by means of online platforms and other digital constructs.
At this point, digital literacy (information literacy and media literacy) become a key aspect for further developments. On the one hand, because networks (either facilitated by digital means or not) have a logic that is much different from industrial hierarchical models. On the other hand, because, when powered by digital platforms, its mere operation does require capacitation in a broad range of digital skills.
Networks, in a knowledge society, heavily rely on the gift economy and the ability to concentrate and distribute information that can be applied locally as knowledge. It is thus worth bearing in mind the complex constellation of literacies and competences that can be labelled as digital skills: technological literacy, informational literacy, media literacy, digital identity or e-awareness are just some of the names and concepts that are part of a set of skills that enable or foster other ones like creativity, teamworking, leadership or critical solving – or, in other words, XXIst-century skills (Ananiadou & Claro, 2006; OECD 2016a, 2016b).
The macro level: mainstreaming and institutionalization
If weaving the social tissue was the way to leverage the potential of now equal and individual citizens, institutionalization is the way to leverage the potential of quadruple helix-like networks.
Many projects aim at raising their goals at the upmost level and seeing them going mainstream. Only institutions, through regulation and policy-making can realize this aspiration.
Of course, most projects do not get to see their designs mainstreamed, especially during their limited time-spans. Thus, their proxy goal to mainstreaming and institutionalization is visibility. Successful projects are strong in advocacy and awareness rising, and they do it in two opposite directions. Firstly, as we just stated, by looking “up” towards the institutions, by showcasing and modelling, by comparing with other related projects. Secondly, by looking “down” to their communities, by assessing and evaluating their impacts, providing feedback to their citizens.
This double aim —mainstreaming by “looking up” and laying strong foundations for social sustainability— are typical of successful projects.
It is interesting to note how this stage is both the end of the process but also the beginning of a virtuous circle.
On the one hand, it aims at creating social infrastructures —policy, regulation, institutions— so that the benefits of the projects can become structural and not temporary, as embedding them in established and stable social structures are the best bet for replication, scalability and sustainability at large.
On the other hand, by establishing a dialogue with the citizens and looking for the individual impact, they address —this time with a top-down approach— the socio-economic layer where the whole process began in the first place.
(note: paper prepared after the fieldwork of Alexandra Theben on the Impact of the Internet and Social Media on Youth Participation and Youth work.)
Ananiadou, K. & Claro, M. (2009). 21st Century Skills and Competences for New Millennium Learners in OECD Countries. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 41. Paris: OECD Publishing.
What is democracy today? Is democracy always about being represented and some third parties making decisions in the name of the citizen? The concept of democracy has certainly shifted towards representative democracy. This specific understanding of democracy has been accompanied by laws that strengthen the idea of representative democracy and the emergence of a number of institutions to accommodate this way of working.
Initially there were three main actors — citizens, representatives and institutions — plus political parties to articulate the relationship between citizens and representatives. With the evolution of political parties, specially towards the cartel model, parties have taken the place of representatives and even embedded themselves into institutions.
Political Representation today is a legal relationship, non-disposable by the citizen, low binding for the citizen, and mediated (and conditioned) by political parties.
How is the Internet challenging this status quo? There have been many initiatives of many kinds (Decidim Barcelona, Appgree, Quorum, Qué Hacen los diputados, etc.) that are challenging the idea of representation.
Pitkin lists five characteristics of political representation that are necessarily changing with the digital revolution and the reasons behind the emergence of social movements in the XXIst century, especially after the Arab Spring and, for the case of Spain, the 15M Indignados Movement:
e.g. autorization changes meaning when people can for instance vote in primaries, or perform some degree of direct democracy within an e-participation initiative.
The potential of these tools majorly depends on usage, especially how representatives use them or allow their use by citizens.
Sebastián Martín Martín: how are this shifts affecting the definition of the people, the demos? Are we just looking at citizens as individuals only and forgetting that, since Rousseau, the people is something else, is the individuals but also the collective?
Sebastián Martín Martín: what if representative democracy is no more what it used to be, and embedding technopolitics in it is not feasible just because the assumption that there is such a represented sovereignty is not true? What if sovereignty resides not in the people but elsewhere (e.g. the European Commission) and thus cannot be devolved?
Sebastián Martín Martín: what if digital agoras are not Habermasian agoras, but places of polarization, hate speech, misinformation, etc.? What has happened elsewhere (e.g. Iceland)?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: can we generalize these initiatives? Isn’t it too early to propose a new comprehensive model for digital democracy?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: are we talking about Internet? Or are we talking about a new trend towards direct democracy? Is it true that “there is no way back” because of the Internet, or are there other reasons for a dire change in democracy and society? Do we need to improve representation, or intermediation, with independence of the existence of the Internet?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: is the Internet just a new aggregator of wills, or is it something else? Do we know how many people actually want to be represented? How many people are actually disenchanted by representation and why? Is it a crisis of inefficacy of politicians, or a crisis of inability to deliver of politics?
Joan Font Fabregas: is this a research on the impact of representation, or about the possibilities or potentials of the Internet to improve democracy? Is it the same thing?
Joan Font Fabregas: it is arguable that digital tools have a huge potential for transformation, but can we tell which ones work better than other ones? What are the drawbacks? Will all of them work in the same direction, or can they produce different (even opposing) conclusions?
It is true that the Internet will neither solve “everything” nor will the results be independent on the specific usage given to digital tools.
It is also true that it is difficult to make some statements about the potential of the Internet in politics. Will it deliver? Will it be revolutionary? We honestly do not know… yet. The research can only point at gates that seem to be opening and peek inside to see how a probable future would be like. But it seems obvious that if something as basic as communication has so deeply changed, it is to be expected that everything that is built upon commnication — as politics — will necessarily change and quite deeply.
How do tell the quality of open data? How do we know about its usage?
We have a lot of data, but we lack the storytelling, the visuals.
What makes sense for a government, what can work for them, what makes sense for technicians.
We need open data champions.
The charter seems simple but its application is complex. It is a good idea to ‘deconstruct’ it principle by principle, recommendation by recommendation, and go step by step while aiming for the whole.
Create networks of cities that have adopted the charter and see how they did it.
Competitiveness and economic development
We have to identify what is the problem. But not like “unemployment is the problem” but more focused on people. And then, try to come up with an idea that most people will quickly understand because it relies with some other familiar initiative (e.g. “Facebook for dogs”).
We can create the “Tinder for data”, a meta-data portal for open data. It would identify data that could be open and thus create opportunities.
Smart and resilient cities
Bring the users in the design of the projects.
Identify the key role players and establish communication strategies among them.
How do we enable the measurement of vulnerability and how to address it. What defines a resilient city.
Interdisciplinary collaboration and organizational change
Better name: culture change for common understanding.
Start with the challenge.
Creating common context.
Actively create and maintain feedback.
Go across disciplines and across sectors.
Interaction between civil society organizations and between civil society organizations and governments.
Entrepreneurs, SMEs, etc.: they might find hard to find the kind of information that is relevant to them. What are they needs? What are the usual tasks that require data? Awareness on their needs and awareness of the possibilities of open data.
Try and draw a chronological story of data for firms: When starting a business, what is the information that you need? What is the government spending (procurement) in the field? What is the budget and what is the execution of that budget. Do I have benefits for operating in this field? What are the trends in my area?
Making city services accessible
It is very difficult for people to see the safety net, to know what public services can one citizen access.
To build a healthy ecosystem, accessible, interoperable, sustainable, that relates referral providers and social service services.
Standards and interoperability
A good way to understand standards and interoperability is by looking at the path that goes from raw data to indicators, in an aggregation process.
The big issue is that standards apply to very small portions of reality, while reality is much more complex. Open data, smart cities, open government, etc. begin to create their own specific (ad hoc) standards that often overlap.