Here is a presentation I have made for a workshop in Bruxelles, on June, 12, 2009. I would have any kind of reflections and suggestions which you can send at email@example.com thanks for your attention
To which extent eParticipation make the difference? [wrong question] Which kind of eParticipation make the difference? [could we do it better?] Which kind of eParticipation affect Democracy? or eParticipation can affect the Health of Democracy ? Where “to affect” means “to improve” therefore we suppose the existence of Sick and Healthy Democracies and the reason why we are investing so many resources on this topic, is because we are now experiencing a fairly “sickly democracy”. Since eParticipation (the solution) deals especially with engagement, inclusion, activism, hence “unhealthy” here is a democracy lacking those features.
In the eParticipation's game the main characters are two: Governments and Civil Societies -although usually the latter is the one considered really at stake. The unsaid truth is that eParticipation -at least as expected effect- seems not be directed to change Government's role [so to speak, its relationship with society]: eParticipation sounds as a “concession” from the top to the bottom, implicitly reducing Governments' role just to the creation of a space for participation . Governments do not participate, they simply wait for people's participation. The paradox is that the responsibility of creating and handling a public eParticipation sphere is delivered by the same Institution mostly in charge for the increased civic disengagement or “civic deficit”.
It seems that, referring to the outcome of participation, the use of ICTs is resolutive per sé . This approach is “ magic ” i.e. it seeks to impose to the external world the same laws in force on mental life and, more generally, to subject natural phenomena to the human will. In chapter three of “Totem and Taboo” (1912-1913), Freud develops his ideas about magic and one modality of thought - “ magical thought ”- that he compares to the omnipotence of ideas: “ Men freely believe that which they desire ” says Julius Caesar in “De Bello Gallico”, and what we “desire” is to make ICTs to work properly in order to implement eParticipation -and then, we strongly believe it .
So strongly that even some “ capital details ” are beyond the control in the eParticipation frame of wishes, for example the title of the collection of Material and Reports of the European eParticipation' Third Workshop (22 April 2009) which states: “ Reconnecting citizens with Politics and Policy Making (...)”. Now, the question is: when and where were citizens connected with Politics and Policy Making? To a large extent, they were not connected even in the Greek agora. I have taken this example just to focus your attention on the fact that narratives of eParticipation often recall scenarios which are confortably set in a past which is never really existed. What is happened in the U.S.A. with the election of Barack Obama, one of the most used examples of the web 2.0 potentiality, is really never happens before.
Should we reflect on the role that some “ beautiful and artificial” pasts play in the discourse of eParticipation?
I think that forcing eParticipation discourse into a frame of “ re-hyphen ” [reinforcing, rebuilding, ...] is the signal of the unconscious fear which afflicts human beings standing on the edge of the world they know and facing a new unfamiliar one . This happen because the discourse on eParticipation, as category of social analysis, presumes [needs] cognitive stability . Is not easy -when and if possible- to escape from the background of taken-for-granted beliefs, what Jurgen Habermas (1984) calls “ lifeword ”, made by a set of certainties of commonsense useful to establish channels of communication and understanding. Systems of disposable ideas affect judgments , perceptions, frames (see also Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and, more, accidentally recall uncomfortable memories by means of old slogans as
It was the'60s, breakthrough times of revolutions and innovations. Times during which people without ICTs putted forward claims still relevant nowadays. Give a glance to this: 1.We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our [*] Community. 2.We want full employment for our people. 3.We want an end to the robbery (...) of our [*] Community. 4.We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings. 5.We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this (...) society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society. 6.We want all [*] men to be exempt from military service. 7.We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of [*] people. 8.We want freedom for all [*] men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails. 9.We want all [*] people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their [*] communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States. 10.We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
This was the Black Panther 10 Points Manifesto, and I have deliberately omitted any reference to “colours” in order to underline just how (some of) these ten points could be attributed to the present civil society . It means that the people' needs change quite slowly as do the Institutional routines in dealing with them.
The silent web 2.0 revolution occurring on the Internet, when analyzed through eParticipation lens, is close to a laboratory experiment where all variables are known and under control. Who is looking for a revolution? eParticipation projects prefer “evolution” which brings an implicit idea of doing better (Schumacher E.F. “Small is Beautiful”, 68, 1973/1993). After all, “power to the people” could be interpreted as degeneration of Democracy, what Polybius called “mob-rule” or ochlocracy . Otherwise “ a spectre is haunting Europe ...” the spectre of an undefined and heterogeneous civil society which is liable to get into mass, as Polybius wrote in Histories [Plb. 6.4]: “ Similarly, it is not enough to constitute a democracy that the whole crowd of citizens should have the right to do whatever they wish or propose ”.
<ul><li>So, what about the infinite freedom in the web? </li></ul><ul><li>Is eParticipation a tool available [at disposal] for all or just for some, and which ones -the ones more likely referable to an ideal-type of e-participant? </li></ul><ul><li>Speaking truth to eParticipation, the citizen we think about when designing eParticipation projects is quite an ideal-type i.e. a citizen </li></ul><ul><li>aware of limits and contradictions embodied in Democracy; </li></ul><ul><li>eager to put at stake his/her skills and knowledges; </li></ul><ul><li>enthusiastic, pro-active, hungry of informations; </li></ul><ul><li>reliable and which put trust in Institutions, Governments, elected Representatives; </li></ul><ul><li>which remembers when he/she was at the core of political arena and decision-making process and that would like to get back in game, as 'those were the times...'. </li></ul>
This ideal-type is the product of a precise discourse or narrative which use a language aimed at define “citizen need” in way which match with the outcome of eParticipation policy. The “aware citizen” is a good story ready to convince the audience that the issue of disengaged citizenship ought to be framed in a lack of participation tools. Notwithstanding the facts never “speak for themselves” (Dryzek, John S. “Policy analysis as critique” 2006:194) we better keep in mind that the conditions that led to the urgency of the response of eParticipation have also affected the quality of democratic response to the needs and expectations of citizens in ages past, and that applying only to the ideal-type dimension could turn not only to ineffective answers but also to exacerbate delays. The development of the projects of eParticipation must necessarily start from the “actual conditions” of society as proposed changes must be in a semantics relationship with citizens worldview, otherwise automatic resistances will reduce -just as is happening- most of eParticipation significance. Based on the dynamics of political representation, this conditions are supposed to be known.
However, the first of the seven “ Core Principles for Public Engagement” developed collaboratively in Spring 2009 by dozens of leaders in public engagement, emphasizes: 1. Careful Planning and Preparation: Through adequate and inclusive planning, ensure that the design, organization, and convening of the process serve both a clearly defined purpose and the needs of the participants .
In the representative democracy the representative is dependent on his/her electors and must take account of their will, if he/she wishes to remain in power by democratic means. How representatives today know the desires of the citizens ? By means of opinion polls and other surveys: in information society politicians and political parties are much better and more frequently informed about what voters are thinking than they were in the past.. But which kind of knowledge do they really have at disposal? And how they can use it ?
Edmund Burke (in The Works Of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, volume II, Dublin, University Library, 1841, “Speech at the Conclusion of the Poll”) note that: “ Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interest each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole … You choose a member , indeed; but when you have chosen him he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament . If the local constituent should have an interest , or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community , the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect .”
This long and extraordinary piece is useful to establish some points of debate. On one hand “Core Principles for Public Engagement” is a calling to “planning engagement process to intercept clearly defined purpose and the needs of the participants”. On the other, Burke presents the role of the Political Representative as untied from any spatial reference as it is a member of a “deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole”, a Representative, then, which knows clearly the general interests and the common good and that in order to take appropriate decisions to achieve them, he must decouple himself from the local dimension. Now, the question is: what kind of eParticipation process will be activated by an institution made up of representatives who are entitled to ignore the local dimension?
<ul><li>However, the third workshop on eParticipation notes that the size scale of the process of eParticipation is a crucial variable for its success: </li></ul><ul><li>[“ The distribution of the different types of eParticipation across the different levels shows that the greater the geographic scale the more likely eParticipation is to be one-way and less sophisticated. The scale problem remains an important challenge ”]. </li></ul><ul><li>As the process covers a broader territory portion it tends to become simple web 1.0 i.e. information, non-participation. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus, the spatial dimension has a leading role. </li></ul><ul><li>Is it a well focused intervention more effective because of the knowledge that accompanied the structuring of the process? </li></ul><ul><li>Is there a price to pay to fulfill the admonition of Burke that if the local bodies express interests that are contrary to the common, it is the duty of the elected representative not to take it into account? </li></ul>
Is not an oxymoron. Useless knowledge is that you could easily do without whilst useful knowledge is the one you can not do without. The independent variable determining which kind of knowledge we need in a situation given is the context in which we are acting -so, the same knowledge can be useless or useful . This is what we can say about “knowledge in action” or on the use of knowledge. But what happen if someone should ask us to express all our knowledge ? There is not just one approach to follow nor a list -from the more important piece of knowledge to the less important because there are strong subjective influences in the making of knowledge : “ we can know more than we can tell ” (Michael Polanyi “The Tacit Dimension”, 1967: 4). Stating that knowledge is something different from an universally accepted thing, always true, verifiable (or falsificable, it depends) and transmissible could sound strange.
We have lots of researches and in-deep analysis about the state of the art of eParticipation in Europe and all over the world, and all of them are ready to use. We could say that the knowledge coming from those studies is exhaustive, and we would be on the right side. We already know how many projects are activated, in which countries, under wich european initiative, the amounts of budgets at disposal, and, unfortunately,
What is the reason to come here today, if we can share this knowledge by electronics means? The reason we are here today, I guess, is that we are eager to conquer the “knowledge halo” of eParticipation . The knowledge we are looking for is not given by numbers and charts - they are useful but not enough as we know more than we can tell . This kind of “ tacit knowledge ” is the rest of the iceberg we feel now as missing (Nonaka, Takeuchi “The knowledge creating company”, 1995:8).
This is truth for both sides , the side which plans , designs, implements and evaluates eParticipation projects as also –and maybe more, for e-participants . The tacit knowledge they posses is hardly for them to tell and hardest for us to understand . Tacit knowledge has lots in common with culture: it is forged by ideals , values , emotions , experiences . It is a knowledge intertwined with memories and traditions which coagulate in community narratives .
Are current eParticipation projects able to catch and understand this “symbolic capital” of communities? ( Apter, 2006; Bourdieu, 1977).
The opposite of “tacit knowledge” is “ explicit knowledge ” which is easily to be stored in a computer or expressed by conventional means. But, again, we should look forward and find a way to make the tacit knowledge treasured in the core of communities available for our purposes . No, we don't need to make a broad psychotherapeutic session but just analyze first how Institutions behave : “ Institutions provide procedures through which human conduct is patterned, compelled to go, in grooves deemed desirable by society. And this trick is performed by making these grooves appear to the individual as the only possible ones” (Peter L. Berger “Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective” 1963:87). It is quite logical to understand the wide variety of means - from policies to laws – which Institutions can use to shape societies. But Institutions are , so to speak, one of the society expressions . So, our attention should start from a different point of view
One useful way could be to ask communities to tell us their “ secret story ”, appreciating what they have to say about themselves. Well... maybe it is not so simple .
We should know the way citizens picture themselves and their relationship with Institutions; how they perceive Institutions ; i f they feel themselves protected and safe or in peril and if so, who or what is the threat; how they think about their future, if they are doing plans for their children or if they "prefer" to live hand-to-mouth. And what they perceive to be “interesting”, what worth a try to participate, what is their “history of participation” -in terms of record of answers obtained from the top.
Is it possible to constrains eParticipation projects to fit with the people and put their “tacit knowledge” at work? Should we ask people to collaborate with us in the making of eParticipation projects?
We should ask them to partecipate in the co-creation of tools tailored to meet specific needs and requests . First of all, so that they do not feel themselves inadequate to use the instrument of participation that has been created for them , sometimes by cloning one or the other best-practices: global best practices usually need to be locally reinvented . (David Ellerman “Helping people help themselves” 2006:140) . The implicit standardization by “e- tools” here is not a surplus value .
Since “ there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our eParticipation philosophy ”... how to 'get the whole system in the room'? We need something as 'Large Group Interventions' or Collaborative Inquiries.
From my personal point of view, the one which shows most features for our purposes is the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) . Basically AI is the strategic composition of elements collected on the ground through an appreciative style i.e. a new positive frame in which communities can recognise themselves as owners of a genuine capital of strengths, capabilities and skills that could and should be exploited and turned into energy for change and create (Elliott, Ch. “Locating the Energy for Change: An Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry” 1999). Briefly, Appreciative Inquiry can be applied on communities through the four following steps:
# Discover. Communities must recognize their footprints while collecting stories. People interact through focus-groups via structured interviews in order to recall the times when the community was at its best and how “best” is now considered within the community. Reality is a construction as well as memories; AI in this phase plays the role to teaches how to discover the most appropriate positive frame in which the community shows its best profile. AI is both inquiry and change because people start to think and talk about themselves in terms of capabilities instead of inabilities.
# Dream. Once picked up past success, are the conditions to achieve great outcomes from the inside still there? Which were the conditions of social relations during peak moments? In adherence to assumptions of brain-storming sessions, people arranged in groups and involved in this phase are primarily stimulated to give their contribute no matter of how much relevant it seems to be at first glance. “Good visions” are shared among community members, because they come from the same positive frame. Once collected, such visions are presented to the other groups in order to work on them further but in different ways.
# Design. This phase acts as a “filter” of collected visions: here they are “named”. The Design phase persuades to choose among different available options, “what should be” from the within of community. It is a conscious re-creation or transformation, through which structures, strategies, processes and images match with the positive community’s past (Discovery) and its highest potential (Dream).
# Deliver . Which practicalities are needed to support these visions? Which kind of knowledge, expertises in previous identified fields, experiences and skills? Which long or short term strategies? The community in this phase tend to test -and often to discover and appreciate- the availability of institutional linkages. It starts to self-evaluate the resources needed to achieve what were materialized on Design phase. Learning how to deliver a dream is a test for community itself: it shows the availability and nature of hidden potentials which require further attentions.
Motivations in favour of Appreciative Inquiry are substantive : it is an action-research (Kurt Lewin, “Action Research and Minority Problems”, Paper, 1946) and collaborative research able to put us in touch with the community tacit knowledge . As “The world, as we perceive it, is our own invention” (Heinz Von Foerster “The Construction of a Reality” 1984) through AI people are facilitated to learn how to talk about themselves and, in a double loop, every single person is motivated to recognise his/her co-production role of community “symbolic capital”. AI is social inclusion, participation, a step forward toward active citizenship, wich creates expectations and let people free to draw their future.
“ The Angry Mob” by Kaiser Chiefs (English indie band) We are the angry mob We read the papers everyday day We like who like We hate who we hate But we're also easily swayed “ People have the Powe r” by Patti Smith I believe everything we dream can come to pass through our union we can turn the world around we can turn the earth's revolution we have the power People have the power ...
Regional Council of Veneto: “Coro” and “Demotopia” experiences In every political system we find institutions whit different degrees of separation from the territory. In the italian political system the Regional Council is, more than others, expression of the land. To the Regional Council of Veneto, as required by the Constitution, is given the role to perform legislative and administrative tasks, and functions of inspection, investigation, and inquiry.
-CORO- To the Regional Council of Veneto, administrating the territory means, above all, to know the territory. The Council wants to achieve a kind of local knowledge rooted in the territory, which is created, used and filtered by the citizens. This heritage of Veneto people is what the Council has decided to use under the creative sign of harmonization, in order to improve the effectiveness of institutional actions. Someone said that you can not obtain democracy through revolution because democracy is the necessary condition to have a revolution. The "democratic revolution" in Veneto is called "CORO" [Chorus]. It would be improper, however, to consider it as one-way manifestation of will by the Regional Council. What was done was simply to create a tool that could strengthen the relationship between institutions and civil society characterized by a common will of the people of the Veneto Region, which is already perceptible.
The metaphor of the “Chorus”, which gave name to the initiative, is absolutely proper. One CHORUS of several elements, each with its own role, oriented in achieving an original harmony which should coincide with the life of every civil society, based on solidarity and civic sense, respecting the history and traditions. It might sound strange to talk about traditions in these times in Italy focused on innovation in the public administration. As expressed above, it is necessary to reflect on the necessity to combine the ICTs with a “sense of place” that characterized every context. Is highly necessary to contextualise any territorial goverment instrument in order to achieve a Public Administration able to totally interface with its territory, as it is the territory.
For this reason CHORUS is both an instrument of knowledge of instances of the regional community and an instrument of democratic participation that serves as a feed-back of administrative actions. Through CHORUS the different voices that make up the aspirations, needs, conflicts, fears and expectations, become clear to both, institutions and the same people who, just like in a choir, play different roles and parts. Through CHORUS the Public Administration shall evaluates the effect of its actions and calibrates the scale of the shot of intervention, if and when this became necessary.
The administration web 2.0 provides a bidirectional movement of innovation and change that involves all the government and citizens. What really makes the Administration “Public”? In Italian language we use the word “public” also to define a set of individuals attending an event [which is the “audience” in English]. At this moment, you are my audience, here, my “public” if we were in Italy. The “audience” which the Regional Council of Veneto has in mind, however, is one participative audience. And this is the great challenge.
Let us return to the "CHORUS": have you ever seen a choir during a performance? Often the singers put a hand to their ear. They do this to test the tone of the sound produced as a single and also, and above all, the appropriateness of that sound with all of the sounds emitted by the choir of which they are part. This double movement, singular / plural, is perhaps the essence of the experience of e-participation CHORUS that should, in the will of the Council of Veneto, lead the people towards a new form of civil consciousness, which is rather the soul of every country mature democracy, so to speak think themselves as one irreplaceable part of a whole harmonious. The goal, visionary and perhaps even poetic, yet firm and decided, is a new citizenship that can consciously feels as one aspect of the government structure of the territory, no longer “audience”, but the protagonist, no longer mere statistic data but pulsing reality that animates and forges the place where they lives.
For this we need a Public Administration that knows how to listen to citizens and also be able to develop effective responses to the needs, expectations and, why not, dreams of this new aware citizenship. According to the double movement imposed by the web 2.0, the Regional Council of Veneto wishes to rethink the Public Administration how closely interrelated with its territory, its region, its people. And do this in order to be able to democratically identify the appropriate strategies for the exploitation of the talents, experiences and practices that distinguish the Veneto Region and characterize it, like the other Regions of Italy and Europe.
-Demotopia- The Non-Place of Participation The name complete is “Demotopia: Non-Place of Participation”. I have suggested several other options but the majority of the working-group was fixed on the needs to untie the participation and, in so doing, to make it available for everyone and everywhere. Some of the newest insights about one e-participation based on co-creation tools were not available at that time. What is Demotopia? Is the place-no-place of Democracy.
It is an experiment wanted by the Veneto Regional Council to create a space to discuss on eParticipation and about eParticipation. The Regional Council of Veneto with the project “demotopia” launches one open laboratory of democracy, where you can discuss and reflect on the participation of citizens in political choices through the means of network communication. The program of “demotopia” is structured in two phases of work that will be developed throughout 2009 .
- The first consists by the analysis of projects carried out recently in Italy and especially in the Veneto Region to develop initiatives for e-democracy and e-participation. The analysis will be conducted entirely online through the cooperative interaction among people, research groups and institutions and will enable to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of projects. - The second phase is given by a conference to be held in Venice at the Telecom Future Center Italy, November 20 2009, during which we try to give an organic structure of the results emerged during the analytical work in order to constitute a framework for the implementation of futures initiatives for active participation.
Through these two phases of work, demotopia intends to create a real interaction among the users of the network, or "telematic citizens ", and the institutional actors involved in direct management or the representation of political and social values locally connoted. The working methods will be modeled on the Web 2.0 communication and enabling, when they are needed, the tools to make the discussion more lively and encouraging the expansion of the core participants. Therefore, the analytical work on the network will be developed by reference to the communities already working on issues of social renewal. The conference will be conducted according to a model with strong interaction between the speakers, participants and those who followed the project on the network.
The topics at stake will be those about rules of e-participation and how the interaction between institutions and citizens behaves on the digital age. Tables for work and discussion will be open on the criteria for representation in situations of digital divide; on a comparison of institutional representation and reputation in the network. What is the criterion of representation or the importance to speak in the network? Who represents whom? Who has the right to speak on the network, and why? What are the criteria for evaluating the contents of the different positions? What people think when talking on eParticipation? The organizational structure that will support the entire project will be leaded by a coordination team and a group of institutional partners of the project. These two formalized groups are joined with the leaders of communities of practice in order to compose a network of actors motivated and interested in this workshop.
Thank you, for your interest and patience . [email_address]