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Within the framework of "political experimentation", a perspective from which to observe the vibrant development of political innovation in Latin America - and also in Spain -, we are presently launching the series The ecosystem of an open democracy. This is a Democracia Abierta initiative in collaboration with apps4citizens, a Barcelona-based platform that promotes the development of technology for purposes of social and political collective commitment.
For some years now, we have been witnessing the emergence of relational, crossover, participatory power. This is the territory that gives technopolitics its meaning and prominence, the basis on which a new vision of democracy – more open, more direct, more interactive - is being developed and embraced. It is a framework that overcomes the closed architecture on which the praxis of governance - closed, hierarchical, one-way - has been cemented in almost all areas, resulting in high levels of disaffection towards traditional organizations: parties and institutions, unions and non-profit organizations, the media and the universities.
What are the essential elements to understand this new scenario? How are power roles being reshaped? How do technology platforms contribute to this transformation? The answers to these questions are key to understanding this new ecosystem.
To this end, we have commissioned a series of articles, to be published over the next quarter, covering the different aspects which are contributing to the emergence of the ecosystem of an open democracy.
The new geographies: participatory cities
While cities have become fundamental actors in a global context, replacing nation states, they are also the scene where growing social inequalities are being generated. The invisibility of a substantial number of citizens is demanding more spaces for participation. The full potential of participation is to be found at the local level, since this is where it is easier to identify social agents, and also the issues promoting people’s empowerment.
Technology and democracy
The effervescence of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is boosting the drive towards a more open democracy. But their adoption is a matter of debate. The introduction of closed technologies does not match the will to open up participatory processes. Open technology, which allows for a more democratic, crossover use, should be the option.
Technology platforms and community building
Technology becomes an essential tool for broadening the spectrum of participatory activities and, at the same time, for building communities around issues of common interest. The platforms usability allows for a wide spectrum of functions: from collective pressure to change the media and political agenda, to finding alternative funding mechanisms.
Data and confidentiality
Instant messaging has become the main digital tool for social and political activism. But while its implementation is growing, so do doubts about its confidentiality. In this context, encryption has become a key element to ensure the confidentiality of citizen participation.
Information and electoral mobilization
Technology has also allowed participatory processes to be more informed – at least theoretically. So, traditional processes such as calling elections are now being enriched through tools such as ideological checks which allow citizens to contrast and better understand electoral programs, and encourage participation.
Campaigns and political activism
Activists have an outstanding role in Internet-based campaigns. Sometimes, helping the candidate; sometimes, showing his weaknesses, even using content generated by the candidate himself. In any case, activism overcomes the control of the party machineries and thus challenges the traditional political communication models.
Open innovation in the public sector
"An important part of the demand for more open participatory models has fallen on the role of Public Administration in modern societies. Transformation is heading towards more digitized, transparent, crossover and open spaces, but also towards the empowerment of all social agents. The challenge for Public Administration is to find, design and create the innovation connectors, reconfiguring both the institutionalization of public life and the governance of the commons".
Citizenship and participation
Often the design of participation itself has excluded some of the social actors – by omission, because they did not feel empowered by the issue, or through technological manipulation. The open participatory processes, by bringing together all the agents involved in a particular issue and focusing on a local area, where agents and issues are more identifiable, favour more democratic spaces for deliberation.
Citizenship and production
Democratizing all areas includes democratizing production. The producer citizen, on the one hand, enjoys the opportunity of benefitting from networked knowledge and, on the other hand, takes advantage of the existence of production spaces. This new paradigm demands new skills allowing a wider inclusion of all social sectors. The appropriation of shared knowledge is key to the promotion of a democratic and open productive citizenship.
Networked and community production
The fablabs – that is, the spaces generated around the producer citizen - are structured as a network, share production processes, and adapt to the territory where they are located. This comes to respond to what people are seeking in terms of their own, local – though open and connected - demands, and enables makers to proceed through different fablabs, sharing spaces of knowledge and production processes.
When all the articles in the series have been published in Democracia Abierta, we will offer an e-book compilation, which will be presented in a one-day conference next June, at the apps4citizens headquarters in Lehmann Factory, Barcelona, available through live streaming.
The aim of this new series, which adds to what Democracia Abierta is already undertaking with UPDATE in Brazil, is to enrich the survey of ideas and initiatives around innovation and technopolitics which are emerging on both sides of the Atlantic and which are structurally reshaping the exercise of democracy and citizen participation in an environment of rapid change and increasing political uncertainty.