Notes/ reflections from Digidem's Citizen Platform Install Fest --> collective intelligence for democracy

A brief scattering of notes from the main portion of Digidem’s workshop on their digital democracy platform, held at SWAP: So What About Politics today in Brussels (worth checking out the line-up - strong curation of the network)…

  • Facilitated by
    Vanessa Tonini (Caelum + Marialab - Brazil)
    Sanna Ghotbi (Digidem Lab + City council member - Sweden)

  • The workshop aka “install fest” had the goal of gathering feedback on their citizen platform Consul to take to their residency at MediaLabPrado on “Collective intelligence for democracy” coming up this month.

  • The Consul tool is widely used as participatory platform - 30+ cities and organizations (eg. housing company) - but there is a need to improve it

  • “The tool won’t make democracy, the people will”

  • The City of Madrid’s use of the Consul tool

  • Can put proposals from everywhere but can only vote if registered as Madrid resident

  • A debate is before a proposal to discuss an issue

  • The difference with Loomio is that Loomio is better for smaller groups (like organizations) while Consul can be used in larger scale - created for the citizens and the city

- Shared reflections/ discussions:

  • The importance of managing expectations of civil society and the amount of input and time they put into participatory democratic processes --> the importance of feedback loops and visible government responses - Eg. In Madrid 1% (27,000 people) of peer support is needed for a proposal on Consul for the Council to vote on it

  • Before starting with these platforms we need to ask where is direct democracy already being engaged**

  • SO important to think about digital literacy and accessibility - eg. Madrid have serving stations for Consul for those people that wouldn’t or can’t access it independently

  • How you create a culture in the city council for response? Not just a platform/ tool but needs to be a part of a whole strategy --> Also importance of how you present the tool as this affects who uses it

  • See G1000 face-to-face method from Brussels - random citizen proposals for development

  • (This was my main point…) The importance of incorporating the function of community collaboration to mobilise autonomous responses into the platform. Also knowing that there are discussions offline as well and balancing between them + leveraging the participatory processes that are already working in the locale.

  • A key concern in the discussion was security issues - No SSL on landing page - way too easily hacked. The site is encrypted and disaggregating data through user journeys. Also importance of anonymity for users - how has the platform been developed in a participatory process?

  • See DECODE project (“Giving people ownership of their data”)

Opportunities:

  • How these participatory democratic platforms can translate to regional or even global issues?
  • Other ways of deciding that aren’t based on the majority
  • Potential of neighbourhood associations to mobilize / partner for access/ engagement/ motives by citizens
  • Importance of aligning processes/ methodologies between online and offline consultation
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I’d be curious to hear if anyone here has had direct experience with Consul but particularly what your thoughts are on the power these kinds of digital democracy platforms have? Are they effective in bridging the divide between decision makers and citizens? What about accessibility? Could incorporating functionality for self-organized responses to community and infrastructure issues be beneficial or trying to do much / inappropriate/ confusing?

I think the neightborhood level might be the best place to test this sort of thing because many of the people already know each other or the degree of separation is small. The trust level might be better overall plus the scale is smaller so the issues like security might not become too large to sort out. At the city level you need a lot of verification to insure that you have trustable information. Some clever people with a strong stake in a given outcome could game t he system and skew the results. Game it by creating fake accounts, hacking into polling, making unreasonable arguments on the opposite side of a debate…things like that.

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Yeah absolutely. In fact I’m surprised the option of fake accounts didn’t come up in any of the conversations I’ve been in around digital democracy to date. I appreciate the approach of coupling it with existing trust networks and social infrastructure and think this opens up great opportunity around the edge between online and real-life community collaboration that we’re exploring. Thanks for the thoughts - will inform the UNDEF application on civil society and citizen science/ policy advocacy if we go ahead with it.

Related to it are reviews of businesses where people create accounts to trash competitors. This becomes less of a problem the bigger the sample size, which is the basis for sites like Yelp, but even then their business model can get in the way such as the current controversy with Travelocity where they depend on money from hotels and restaurants and have been found to scrub out negative reviews (and hiding the fact from the public). The point is, just because you can make some great networked software that seems like it will solve age-old issues with fair democracy and civic participation, doesn’t mean it actually will.

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