DemocraticCity (III). Experiments of democratic participation in Cities, A European perspective

Notes from the Network democracy for a better city, organized by the D-CENT project, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 5th, 2015. More notes on this event: DemocraticCity.

Experiments of democratic participation in Cities, A European perspective
Chaired by Fabrizio Sestini

Joonas Pekkanen, Forum Virium Helsinki and Open Ministry, Helsinki

More than 13,000 decisions in 2014 which now, by using Helsinki Decisions API, can be consulted, retrieved, filtered, geolocated, etc. The decisions involved most city board and city council members, linked institutions, etc.

The next challenge is to move from “talking to a third person” to “talking to each other”. To do so, the “social object” has to be found/created, so that it becomes the centre of the discussion. The aim is to turn public decision into social objects.

Marcelo D’Elia Branco, InforLibero, Brazil

After 2011, and for the first time in History, we lived a set of globally connected revolutions that were not initiated by institutions. The global revolution reached Brazil in June 2013 after a protest against pubic transportation prizes.

We have to be aware, though, of the fact that not everything that looks like a citizen revolution, a networked mobilization is not always what it looks like: in Brazil, on the streets, there are both citizen movements and the opposition to the government (by right wing parties), both aiming for a transformation, but with a very different nature both in the source and in the goals.

The “Marco Civil de Internet” (the Internet Civil Framework, or Brazil Internet Bill of Rights) was made collaboratively and using the Internet as a platform. The goal behind this bill of rights was to protect freedom of speech and other civil and political liberties in Brazil that in the new context of the Internet had been left unprotected. It had three pillars: net neutrality, privacy and freedom of speech. Among other things, it was a reaction to Brazil’s 2008 act on cybercrime, which abused many citizen rights.

Marcelo Branco critizises the agreement between the Brazilian government and Facebook to provide free Internet by means of the project He argues that it is a biased Interent access and that it opens a gate for espionage [I am for the project: better a biased Internet than none, provided this bias is public and opt-in is by default].

Robert Bjarnason, Citizens Foundation, Reykjavik

Electing representatives once every four years is totally outdated. This is one of the basis for disaffection in politics especially among youngsters.

Your Priorities” enables citizens to add ideas and points for and against the arguments of such ideas.

Better Reykjavík was born out the 2008 economic and trust crash as a citizens initiative. Opened a week before the municipal elections in 2010 and over 40% of voters participated, 8% adding content and over 1,500 ideas in total were created. Now there is a formal collaboration with the city of Reykjavík, connecting citizens with their representatives. Over 70,000 people have participated out of 120,000 inhabitants. 15 top ideas are processed by the city every month, 476 ideas have been approved.

The platform accompanies ideas with the required budget to make them real. This has a strong pedagogical power for the citizen, that has to allocate its “own budget” (in the platform) to the ideas of their choice, not being able (of course) to vote everything, but having to prioritise.

Sören Becker, Author of energy democracy in Europe
Citizen power and ownership in the German energy transition

There is an energy transition in Germany, with renewable energies increasingly replacing nuclear power. And not only a change of the source of energy, but also a shift towards new decentralized forms of organization and ownership, with circa 900 energy cooperatives (generation and grid operation).

Beyond that, the movement has achieved implication from municipalities, asking for the remunicipalisation of networks for electricity, gas and district heating.

Different aspects between state vs. cooperative ownership of energy supply concerning the demos, participation, financial benefits and main challenges.

Summing up, new participatory utilities can provide ownership beyond projects and coproduction, inducting indirect democratisation effects through organisational shifts. But there still are issues of control: membership vs. representation, state power vs. citizen control, smart information technologies vs. open access, ensuring ecological orientation and social values.

Hille Hinsberg, Praxis Estonia

The Estonian open government context is based on secure individual online access to private and public government data on citizens; low bureaucracy and good ICT skills to get things done; trust in government-provided infrastructure. e-Voting has taken place on 8 consecutive elections, over 30% of all votes were digital in 2015.

After the 2013 financial scandal, an assembly was formed heavily supported by a participatory process. 6,000 proposals and comments online; collating and analysis of web content; impact assessment and peer review on proposed legislative amendments; stakeholder deliberation seminars; grass-root participation, Deliberation Day, 314 participants or 62% of recruited sample select proposals to be sent to the Parliament.

Estonia has witnessed a decreasing trust for institutions, and in increasing trust for citizens and civil society.


Network democracy for a better city (2015)

Global Revolution (IV). Challenges, problems and innovations in the phase of evolution of the network movements cycle 2011-2013 (II)

Notes from the Three years of interconnected riots. Emergence, evolution and challenges of the network movements in the context of the #GlobalRevolution, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 23, 2013. More notes on this event: globalrev.

Rodrigo Nunes (PUC-Rio. Riots in Brazil)

The increase of corruption and the fall in the quality of public services converge in generating a general unrest in the citizenry. It is acknowledged that the general status of the majority of the population has improved, but people disapprove the way this has happened, many times based on commoditization of services, access to financial credit, and regardless of the social and environmental costs of increased access to consumption. “Changing the country” (the motto of the Workers’ Party) is not about higher consumption levels, but about another thing. The agenda of the movement thus globalizes, and focuses on a constituent/destituent power.

When social movements perceive that the opposition in the Parliament is using the destituent approach to undermine the power of the government, they step back and shift away from the destituent approach.

Now we are witnessing a full reshaping of the movement, following a re-specification of the identities, and going back to the local arena somewhat setting aside the national-wide issues. The shift is also back towards the left, back to emergency issues.

Indeed, we have to take into account that media usually rebrand the message(s) of the movements, thus causing even more confusion.

Marcelo D’Elia Branco (Free-software activist. Current project: Conexoes Globais)

#VemPraRua was organized in a decentralized way, and using the images from police violence to fuel the protests.

We have witnessed a shift in Brazil politics from following the politics from the “West” to having its own politics and leading its own development. This has increased the self-steem of Brazilians and, at the same time, the awareness that the future of Brazil is in the Brazilians’ hands. Thus the unrests and demonstrations: Brazilians feel the main actors of their own development and thus they step forward. Unrests and demonstrations in Brazil are about showing out empowerment, commitment, and not mere criticism.

But since June 17, the protests begin to be populated with all kinds of people, especially people from the right that aim at weakening the government by appropriating the movement.

Now the trademark of the protests in Brazil are the Black Blocs, which is bad, because the forms are more violent (despite whether they are legitimate or not) and are kicking citizens out of the streets.

Ali Ergin ( Occupy Gezi)

(his intervention, taped on video, will be uploaded to the Net soon)


Q: What are the main challenges? Nunes: Black Blocs have been useful to keep the movement alive and to avoid that the movement was captured by extreme-right parties or organizations. But it is true that their behaviour has also caused some harm in the image of the movement. What is needed now is diversifying the ways to exert activism, as Black Blocs have a very specific type of activism and of activist. There is an urgent need for a tactic diversification of the movement at the same time that there is a global interconnection of the world movements.

D’Elia Branco: we cannot analyse the current social movements, so very much brand new, in the typical classifications of the industrial society. Most of these movements scape the definitions of many post-modernist thinkers and philosophers.

More information


Global Revolution. Three years of interconnected riots (2013)