DemocraticCity (II). New generation citizen movements’ campaigns in Spain

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.

New generation citizen movements’ campaigns in Spain
Chaired by Miguel Arana, Labodemo

Matias Nso,

Our relationship with governments has not changed much since ancient times. On the other hand, reality does change constantly and very fast: political programmes cannot last 4 years unaltered. is a social enterprise that aims at changing how we connect with our governments so that they can make decisions together: either the politician or the citizen can make a proposal in the platform and then they can be debated by anyone.

Miguel Ardanuy, Head of participation, Podemos

We have to avoid that participation is something about very active minorities, but about majorities taking part in anything they are interested in. And, indeed, not slightly opening small rooms for participation, but enabling wide open participation in any kind of project, initiative, issue, etc. that the citizen may think of.

We have to make possible that issues that a person is knowledgeable/comfortable with, that they can participate.

Different initiatives at Podemos:

  • Participation portal. a space where to register oneself, have one’s own profile, vote, collaborate economically, share house and car (for given events), accessing other tools, etc.
  • Podemos Square. Main tool for deliberation.
  • Citizen initiatives. direct democracy mechanisms whose aim is reaching critical thresholds of support.
  • Appgree. Polling tool.
  • Loomio. Tool to improve debates and enable the reaching of consensus in small groups.

Participative action teams are made up by volunteers, coordinated by a person that are at their turn coordinated as a network. Their goal is to foster debates and activities on the field, including bridging the digital divide, so that no-one is excluded from participation.

Miguel Aguilera, Podemos Aragón and Zaragoza en Común

Participation not only is organized spontaneously bin different spaces, but needs being channelled through democratic institutions.

There is a power-law in participation: a few will participate a lot, the majority will participate very little. How do we cope institutions with collaborative structures? Option 1: we take the ones that participate a lot, put them inside institutions (e.g. the party) and make them work. Option 2: coordinate all participations… but how to and be efficient and effective?

Ganemos Zaragoza put up a tool to collaboratively filter and prioritise proposals, letting people evaluate and vote proposals, provide feedback and in general comment and debate the issues at stake.

It is not easy how the approved proposals are included in the political programme and/or put into practice.

Another tool that was used was an installation of Reddit, again to quickly evaluate proposals. The tool requires a minimum support by the members (23 persons, 0.2% of the total census) to be taken into consideration by the board of the party.

It is not enough to launch a tool for participation: one has to monitor the evolution, to facilitate the inclusion and voting of proposals, etc.

Conditions for an effective self-organized participation process:

  • Scalability.
  • Transform participation into action.
  • Shared rules.

Javier Toret, Barcelona En Comú and D-CENT

A collaborative process to make up the party programme. The process went through different stages where citizens and partisans could make proposals, evaluate them, discuss them and vote them.

A side-goal of the process is not only achieving a consensus around a political project, but also to open up he process and try and make it mainstream, try to make of Barcelona a city that is a reference in participative democracy, where co-government is a reality, where bottom-up participation mechanisms are just normal.

We aim for an integrated participation system for a democratic city.

Pablo Soto, Ahora Madrid

The Spanish Indignados movement changed the whole landscape in Spain. There’s a call for radical democracy all over Spain in the latest years.

Now many people feel empowered by new ways and tools of participation, and they do participate.

There is a risk that some collectives feel more empowered than others and participate more than others. We have the responsibility to make of these processes something balanced, unbiased, effective in democratic purposes.

On the other hand, most of these initiatives are run by volunteers and with meagre resources. If some of these initiatives end up being implemented by a municipality, we should be aware that resources will then be available and most likely abundant: we have to fight the de-naturalization of the processes, and be clever to use with intelligence these resources.

Governments should not aim at representing people, but at enabling that citizens can decide by themselves.


Q: How to make participation inclusive? Matias Nso: training is key, not only for making an inclusive participation, but to avoid that the design of the participation process embeds biases that would then corrupt the final outcome.

Pablo Soto: the nearer to one’s own backyard the issue is, the more the need to participate and the more difficult to manage it. In any case, binding consultations will become more and more important.


Network democracy for a better city (2015)

Technopolitics and the 15M. The power of connected crowds. Network system #15M. A new paradigm for distributed politics

Notes from the Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet. From the Global Spring to the Net Democracy, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 24-25, 2012. More notes on this event: comsc.

Round table: Technopolitics and the 15M. The power of connected crowds. Network system #15M. A new paradigm for distributed politics
Coordinates: Javier Toret

Gestation of the 15M, devices and augmented events, network system, emergence and self-organization. Evolution of the network system.
Javier Toret, Óscar Marín, Alberto Lumbreras, Pablo Aragón, Juan Linares y Miguel Aguilera.  Grupo @datanalysis15M (15Mdata)

Javier Toret: methodological reflections

It is important to stress the different approach of this research: instead of an ex-ante design and hypotheses, the huge amount of data allow for a reverse conception: see what are the patterns that arise and, after them, infer the hypotheses.

The 15M means that a technological and social critical mass takes the street: a long history of movements, unrests and protests finally crystallize as a major protest and camps all over Spain. The profile, though, is not the usual profile of a social movement, but of a network movement: there are several sub-movements in action, several hashtags and memes, several proposals, etc.

A working hypothesis is that as the network movement grows, the interest and participation in “real” politics also grows. Technopolitics is neither slacktivism nor cyberactivism: the goal is real politics and “real life”. Technopolitics is a tactical and strategic use of digital tools and collective identities. The aim of technopolitics is to organize, communicate and act.

Technopolitics have a certain sense of forecasting: they anticipate what is going to happen, or what is about to happen, and help it in finally making it happen, catalysing the change. Technolpolitics drive the flow of the collective action.

Technopolitics, though, heavily rely on technology, in two ways: (1) people intensively use technology to inform and be informed, to coordinate and organize, but also (2) online participation counts as 100% participation, it is not a second best but simply another channel for participation and engagement. Technopolitics normalizes the use of technology.

Another working hypothesis is that the Arab Spring was a reference for the 15M, and the demonstrations on Tahrir Square were key for AcampadaSol (the camps initially in Madrid Puerta del Sol square and after in the rest of Spanish squares).

Alberto Lumbreras: tools

Analysis is done by following the movements of hashtagsin Twitter, including the ‘flocks’ or ‘swarms’ of Twitter users. And thus be able to tell the political relationship between hashtags, users, etc.

To analyse flocks one can either follow the hashtag in real time or recovering data (e.g. from Topsy), analyse what users are following or tweeting two different (but related) hashtags, and then analyze them with a social network analysis software (e.g. Gephi).

This flock analysis allows testing (1) whether the 15M was the product of prior citizen movements in Spain and (2) whether it had any relationship with the Arab Spring. For instance, 31% of the users that tweeted under #spanishrevolution had already twitted #nolesvotes (the movement against bipartidism in Spain). And what also happened is that #spanishrevolution brought back to life #nolesvotes [disclaimer: data are not still very accurate].

Issues: Topsy provides a truncated and thus biased sample of the tweets; we do not know how big has a flock to be to e considered as the generator/influencer of a movement.

Javier Toret: on the precedents of the 15M – Democracia Real Ya – Toma la Calle

Democracia Real Ya was able to activate and engage many existing platforms and groups that had either been very active in citizen protests/demands or were planning to be or wanted to but did not know how (e.g. how to create a critical mass and be relevant).

15M was active in 59 cities through 59 local groups: the explosion of the #15 as a big event/movement turned itself into a massive creation of local camps and local groups connected at a national level, but acting somewhat individually/locally. The affective commotion fostered a distributed and self-organized movement; and the viral propagation was key for the local nodes to be able to be effective.

But, what happened between the 15M until the 22M so that the phenomenon boosted the way it did?

The growth of profiles follows a pattern of simple and logical self-organization fostered by technology. Attention is synced around some very specific issues (e.g. nobody searches “democracy” in Google in Spain… until May 2011, when it peaks!). The 15M can be understood as an event, an augmented event, interconnected and that affects people whether they are present in the physical space or not.

The 15M fosters a cognitive diet: instant messaging, blogging, usage of social networking sites, etc. are intensively used in search of information and communication channels, in search of knowing, in search of understanding.

It is important to note the importance of the subjective/emotional factor of the 15M. The 15M enters the emotions of people and this is shown by what people tweeted those days. There is a need for an emotional analysis of the 15M as it will contribute to explain how it worked and spread.

Óscar Marín: emotions in Twitter

To be able to analyze emotions in Twitter some questions have to be made in order to establish an ontology: what are the predominant emotions in the 15M, what is the emotional charge, what is the relationship between the emotional charge and virality. After these questions, a list of expressions is created that identifies emotions, a grammar is used to detect negations, and a corpus of twitts is tagged manually so that the analysis can be iterated.

What data show is that there is more emotional virality (vs. non-emotional virality) when people are physically together. Or, in other words, the virality of emotional tweets is not unconditionally superior to non-emotional virality, but it depends on people being physically together. We can check this for instance by seeing that emotional charge is much bigger around May 15th 2011 (previous day and a few following days) than on any other date in the time-span of the movement.

Physical events, and the emotions of “empowerment” and “indignation” are they keys to understand the emotional factor in the 15M movement.

Related to emotions, some questions can be also put about the vocabulary: does it evolve, does it have anything to do with virality, what is the frequency (temperature) of a given term, is the vocabulary used coherent, etc.

Data show that, initially, terms rotate with certain speed and that they are weakly related one with each other (low cohesion). As time advances, the vocabulary has much more cohesion, becomes more restricted (less words) and more stable (remain longer in time): the message becomes clearer and stronger. Last, as the core event (camps) fades away, so does the vocabulary, that again has lower cohesion and higher rotation.


Q: It would be in interesting outcome of emotional and vocabulary analysis the finding of outliers.

[the session goes on in a second part, which I cannot attend :( ]


Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet (2012)