Oliver Escobar. Mini-publics for citizen participation

Notes from the seminar on mini-publics conference, 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.

Mini-publics

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.

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (II)

Notes from the seminarElections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections: presentations by election administrators and experts, organized by the Government of Estonia and held in Tallinn, Estonia, on 2 March 2019.More notes on this event: valimised2019

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?

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (2019)

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (I)

Notes from the seminarElections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections: presentations by election administrators and experts, organized by the Government of Estonia and held in Tallinn, Estonia, on 2 March 2019.More notes on this event: valimised2019

Priit Vinkel, head of the State Electoral Office
Estonia also votes with paper ballots

Voting with paper is about tradition, ceremony, ritual. People love going to polling stations.

It is possible to vote multiple times online, but only the last vote will be valid.

1099 candidates, 10 party lists, 15 independent candidates, 880,000 voters in Estonia and 77,000 abroad, 441 polling stations.

253 people voted by mail, 1776 at an embassy, 247,232 by e-voting. e-Voting has been increasing all over the years and more women are voting now.

Voting from home on election day (paper) does not cease to decrease, now ranging 6,000 voters.

Discussion

Only 5.3 people verified their electronic vote.

Some people vote more than once online (only the last vote counts) and only a very few people would finally vote on paper after having voted online.

Liisa Past, McCain Institute
Current state of health of cybersecurity in Estonia and elsewhere

You introduce technology very carefully.

Security is never achieved. 100% security is not possible, but not only at the digital sphere.

“Elections are general, uniform and direct. Voting is secret” (Constitutions of the Republic of Estonia, 60)

An advantage of e-voting in Estonia is the electronic ID system provided by the Government.

Comprehensive risk management:

  • Voting
  • Election technology.
  • Auxiliary systems, facilitators and vendors.
  • Integrated information operations.

Compendium on Cyber Security of Election Technology (PDF).

Way forward:

  • Risk management.
  • International cooperation. Operational information exchange and exercises.
  • Cross-agency cooperation.
  • Last mile in the EU context.

e-Voting is not a technical question, but a political and organizational one.

Robert Krimmer, Tallinn University of Technology
Cost of voting technologies

Main source of the research: 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 et al. (Eds.), Electronic Voting, 117-131. Third International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2018, Bregenz, Austria, October 2-5, 2018, Proceedings. Cham: Springer.

There is a general tendency of declining turnouts around the globe, contested by the implementation of new voting channels to make voting more easy or convenient for the voter.

Cost calculation is a most complex problem: shared resources, infraestructures that can be reused, resources that do not compute as a cost (e.g. volunteers), etc.

Voting Channel Cost per ballot (in Euro)
Early Voting in country centres 6.24
Advance Voting in country centres 5.07
Election Day Voting in country centres 4.61
Advance Voting in VDC 20.41
Election Day Voting in VDC 4.37
I-Voting 2.32

Electronic voting is, by far, the most cost-effective (cost per voter) of all channels.

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (2019)

Appointed Director General of Citizen Participation

Appointment as Director General of Citizen Participation of Ismael Peña-López
Appointment as Director General of Citizen Participation

On 19 June 2018 I have been appointed Director General of Citizen Participation at the Government of Catalonia.

Thus, I am now on leave from my position at the School of Law and Political Science at the Open University of Catalonia, to which I shall return when my duties are over at the government.

The Directorate-General of Citizen Participation belongs to the Secretariat of Transparency and Open Government, within the Department of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relationships and Transparency. I like to explain that the directorate-general I am part of has the responsibility to foster and facilitate the exercise of the “three democracies”, that is:

  • Direct democracy: the directorate-general is the responsible for running citizen consultations at the regional level (Catalonia) and helps local administrations to run their own.
  • Deliberative democracy: the directorate-general organises deliberative processes related to law-making or policy-making processes, or for better knowing the will of the citizenry in specific issues.
  • Representative democracy: the directorate-general is the governmental body behind the organisation of regional elections and collaborates in the organisation of sub-regional elections.

There are four impacts that as a directorate-general in particular, and as a department, we would like to have:

  1. An improvement in efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
  2. A decrease of populism in institutions and the public sphere.
  3. Citizens understand the complexity of public decision-making.
  4. Citizen participation and political engagement clearly shifts towards a technopolitical paradigm.

During my tenure — expected lasting 4 years —, we are planning to develop six programmes, based on an updated version of this Theory of Change of citizen participation:

  1. Programme of deliberative participation: to foster and improve projects on deliberative democracy, government 2.0, an appropriate regulatory framework for citizen participation, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through training, research and dissemination.
  2. Programme of electoral participation and direct democracy: to foster and/or improve electoral processes and projects on direct democracy, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through research and dissemination.
  3. Programme of internal participation: to work towards a transformation of how the Administration understands and makes use of collaboration within the government and with the citizens, by means of training and capacity building on participation, networks of support and work, communities of practice of professional innovation, and open communities of practice between public servants and citizens.
  4. Programme of collaboration: which aims at standardising and normalising public-social-private-partnerships and four-helix type of innovation initiatives.
  5. Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries: to contribute to the growth and consolidation of an expert or professional sector in the field of participation, to achieve the maximum quality in participation practices and projects by bringing onto the sector and engaged citizens knowledge, instruments, technological tools or resources in general.
  6. Programme of e-participation, electronic voting and technopolitics: to accelerate the adoption of ICTs in the field of participation thus contributing to ease and normalise e-participation, e-voting, e-government and e-democracy in general while, at the same time, transforming the paradigm behind citizen practices based on mostly passive or responsive actors to a technopolitical paradigm based on active, empowered and networked actors.

This is a most ambitious plan. Some of its parts are of course not reachable on a four-year basis. I am quite convinced, though, that one should plan for the long-run, to aim for ideal horizons, and just constraint oneself when it comes to planning the yearly budget. It is evident that intermediate milestones are needed, both to assess the evolution of one’s work as to provide voters with insights about the government’s performance for the due elections without having to wait for, say, 10 years.

But without higher visions there is no transformation possible. And if we want to have an impact, transformation of government in citizen practices is, in my opinion, an absolute need.