We, the people- reloaded

This is the last of the series of research papers based on the community’s experiences of transition. And I have to say it is the one that resonated for me the most. I’ve been quite sceptical of mainstream politics for as long as I can remember and Magnus does a great job of making sense of the political reality in which our experiences in trying to affect change live. I found especially the analysis of the Occupy, Los indignados and Anti Acta movement very interesting and a few important things have fallen into place for me. Below I have not tried to summarise it, but to make sense of my own thoughts using Magnus’s research. And to map out a way for us to maybe move forward as individuals and as a collective.

All constructive input is very valuable. Remember that it’s these papers and feedback that will feed into the Transition Handbook for Policymakers, edited by Rebecca Collins and up by the end of the year.

How policymakers understand landscape of young people

There is a widespread notion that life for youth today is radically different than it was for previous generations fueled by information technologies, media and markets. Another dominating theme is the notion of crisis and uncertainty- cuts in education affect who is able to access higher studies when the job market for young and educated is poor with result that more young people become part of group of youth hardest hit by crisis. You could even go so far as to state that people are being excluded from being able to afford access to jobs. This is connected  to education as a sorting machine & it's function having morphed from ticket to social mobility to minimum requirement to access labour market (recommendations include open school to world). Another dominant theme is the idea of “new opportunities and possibilities” supposedly offered to young people in our “knowledge societies”.

What is meant by “participation”?

Both on the Edgeryders platform and beyond it is evident that there is a growing gap to bridge between how political institutions work and how political participation is perceived and practiced by the citizenry, especially younger people. The decline in memberships in formal organisations reflect the failure of policy-makers to align the work of political institutions with the expectations and practices of todays young people.

Where is Participation taking place?

It used to be that youth policy around participation was focused on bringing youth into the institutional forms of participation. In Edgeryders we are seeing how youth are active in creating their own initiatives and spaces that work with different kinds of procedures and practices than institutional politics. And civil/ political participation is not some separate activity or engagement separate from the rest of their lives. E.g. in a personal discussion about dilemma of choosing between getting paid for doing a job you’re uncomfortable with  and doing what you want without being rewarded financially for it. Discussion turns to one about the political situation that brought about the dilemma and which political actions and alternative economic systems which solve it e.g. time banks, alternative currencies, ways of sharing resources. Magnus divides the different forms of participation found in Edgeryders into 3 categories which he calls “Protest”, “Systems” as well as “Social Innovation & direct improvements”.

Protest: street protest movements

Anti Acta protests: In Anti-Acta in Poland you got a 7 hr long debate between activists and the Polish prime minister...How did this happen? While primarily directed towards influencing decision makers within political insititutions, they target a part of the political process that rarely interacts with citizens and this opens up space for the unexpected. More specifically they  target issues normally perceived to be just an administrative matter and turn them into contested political issues.

Both Occupy protest  & Los Indignados movements have captured  and directed currents in society that previously where unarticulated and could have been captured by far right movements. They are exploratory movements: clear problem space is identified but no formal demands directed to any decision-makers. How? First they experiment with new ways of tackling political problems ie. new forms of participation and new ways of connecting issues and struggles. Then try to articulate in practice & theory  alternative ways of being and acting politically.

Systems: invention of new kinds of political procedures and systems

This involves constructing some formal procedures and rule sets for enabling participation. Some, like Kyopol, are primarily concerned with participation in formal political process of political institutions (city to European level). They can be seen as a response to the failure of e-participation systems promoted top down widely regarded as inefficient, costly, technologically backward and unable to fulfill the real needs of users: “This is why the EU has not obtained much results, despite having invested more than 100 million euros in the last 10 years”. Others are primarily concerned with structuring participation among peers. These Often involve digital technology + software such as the experimental systems dealing with money, currencies & value.

Open Government initiatives see participatory potential in governments opening up information databases for the public to use & engage with as this allows citizens to engage directly with core of political institutions instead of interacting with only their representatives. This enables enables real cooperation between governments and citizens to create better services and use of data, especially as bottom up initiatives tend to be more agile and can lead the way if the data is made accessible in clean and appropriate formats.

Social Innovation and direct improvements

I discuss this in detail further in the summary.


Who sets the Agenda?

The way open government movements seem to be born based on accounts on Edgeryders is that a loose group of citizen enthusiasts get in touch with some insider knowledgeable about software or just enthusiastic about idea and start collaborating. The keyword here is collaboration. Processes that place too much focus on improving the work of political institutions and not on citizens own initiatives do not ensure that the right issues, and how they are perceived by the citizens, ever make it onto the agenda. Participatory Budgeting, ,  has been criticised for this reason.

The key term is influence- simply participating in process that is already defined does not guarantee real influence; the youth active on edgeryders would hardly settle for being included in taking part in decisions at the end of processes where the problem has already been formulated. In fact many of the issues that e.g. participants in Edgeryders engage with are issues that in the mainstream politics are not considered political issues. Examples include the massive mobilisation of young people in Europe against the ratification of the ACTA treaty. Institutions and traditional political stakeholders treated were taken by surprise by young people’s engagement in what they incorrectly perceived an administrative matter: they hadn’t realised that for young people ACTA was a contested political issue. This is far from an isolated incident. Youth policy focuses on fostering participation in decisions within areas already defined as influencing the lives of young people. The result is that 1) wrong decisions are made and 2) no policy addresses issues that young people are discovering as important. Many initiatives e.g Los Indignados aim to establish new procedures and forms of interaction where political discussions & actions are made possible. This process orientation is often criticized by outsiders as weakness but from within movements it is seen as an indication of trying to address the roots of the political situation rather than try to superficially address the consequences. This is consistent with broader societal trends of moving towards open-ended forms of participation correlated with the rise of networked communication technologies enable users to create new forms of organisation and information exchange.


A new role for institutions?

Youth policy tends to rely on a perspective where participation equals participation in formal political processes and stable memberships in organisations. Edgeryders neither act alone nor are interested in participating in already established structural participation. Actors- individuals, groups- form clusters that use their force to act on an issue. Once the act is performed they disperse only to form again if another act is needed. The act can be anything from working on documents, spreading information, sharing knowledge to actually gathering physically for demonstrations or to participate in conferences. They do not need to know that they are in a cluster performing a particular act together. Institutions are not used to dealing with this kind of activity and these forms of association but they stand to benefit from them. By participating in youth-led initiatives rather than in formal decision-making processes young people learn many things. They learn how the world works and how political processes are structured today. They also learn how it could be structured and learn to critique the current models for political participation. Learning from and participating in promising new ways of embarking on collective process to change the conditions of society offers many opportunities for institutions to evolve, adapt and re-build legitimacy amongst the citizenry.

Facilitating Prototyping cultures

Many of the initiatives displayed on Edgeryders are about creating new social infrastructures based on commons and sharing as creative responses to the trio of ecological, economic and political crisis.They are trying anything and everything all at the same time, engaging in radical innovation and ground-breaking work often outside any formal spaces. In fact social innovation and direct improvements are the category of political participation that is most hard to distinguish from other ways of simply improving living conditions together with others. Through direct improvements of living conditions, they enable new forms of participation and political relations to emerge. Characteristically these initiatives
  • start in single but radical issue or demand
  • present an achievable solution which poses a challenge to existing structures
  • involve multiple stakeholders, tend to go viral and are based on building a community
  • practice design in use: they adapt, improvise and expand issues as more stakeholders become involved

Examples in Edgeryders include:

  • Occupation of Teatro Valle in Rome is part of series of Theatre occupations across Italy- what started out as occupations to try to prevent closure of theatre turns into hub for social experimentation in neighborhoods where they are located.
  • Addiopizzo initiative in Sicily is an initiative kind of like a fair trade motive supporting Sicilian restaurants who refuse to pay “protection” money to the maffia.

In fact many people are doing innovative, ground -breaking work  completely out of any formal space. From initiatives that directly address perceived short-comings of existing political systems by building software to facilitate alternative ones, building operating systems for the planet, looking at the banking systems from a new perspective, monitoring the global net for restrictions to online freedom of expression and privacy in order to restore them, building software to facilitate collective sense-making and decision-making processes  all the way to developing response kits for communities to keep health care systems going during economic meltdown. In the process they are prototyping the new society, trying anything and everything all at the same time to address common challenges. They are like society’s distributed Research and Development lab, trying everything and anything all at the same time to address common challenges. What seems to drive these form of poltical and civic participations is a combination of many different factors that are place and context specific: Young people’s attitudes towards the political sphere are influenced by many areas outside of the traditional concerns of youth policy including: education, employment, inclusion and health, finance, housing, transport and growing environmental concerns. What is omnipresent is a gap between what are perceived as distant social forces and the influence of institutional bodies: a sense that institutional politics is incapable of, or unwilling to, address the complex issues that the world is facing today. This is not as simple as to say that governments should “move out of the way and let youth determine their own lives”. Edgeryders are prototyping the new society but they can’t do it without institutional support. Challenges to youth and volunteer-led initiatives outside formalised organisations include:

  1. Continuity: Lack of continuity due to lack of resources: process oriented practice based on time and resource consuming volunteer efforts can easily lead to individual and collective burn out before reaching stage where political gains are institutionalised and secured. Corporate world have abundance of resources to throw at this so rarely problem for them.
  2. Sustainability: Successful at getting things started, gathering people, spreading information and working up energy for new form of participation at beginning of a project.  Also problem with funding structures:  Recurring problem between social design intervention in people’s lives that require long-term commitments to achieve desired impact, and funding structures that premier short-term contracts suggestion: more focus on mapping and making use of networks that already exist in communities.
  3. Scalability: Big impacts more likely to be achieved through multiplying small local initiatives and engaging enough people to be involved in them. But for this to happen it is likely political institutions like the state will need to provide the resources or assistance with the information load of coordination. And they will have to bear the cost of reducing complexity, flexibility and speed of reaction and adoption. Motivation: Edgeryders like most people are most engaged in what is immediately relevant to them and their communities. There is skepticism that the scale necessary to solve issues tied to e.g regional waste management, global climate change or melting of polar ice is a viable path. In some cases it’s because the option of working with the state perceived as being closed (government not interested, open or accessible). In others it’s because there is suspicion that the larger networks and supply chains necessary for action on a massive scale are not resilient. That they will break down in case of strain to the system and local communities will end up having to manage on their own resilience anyway.

While institutions are slow and not prone to experimentation and taking risks, when they turn to action they have an impact that small grassroots initiatives have a hard time aggregating. Here institutions  could carve out a new role in providing support- by allowing young people to lead and supporting them by trying to 1) create policy that fits these new values, ways of working and lifestyles and 2) devise suitable support structures to make initiatives more resilient by improving their continuity, sustainability and scalability. Here the Edgeryders project can serve as an example to the policy-making community as an experiment in policy-making based on a new kind of political participation:

  • individuals citizens are treated as experts in their own lives and involved in the policy process as experts.
  • participation is self selected and no special invitation or permission is required to participate
  • defines itself against passive representation of youth as category for whom policymakers should come up with policies for- platform lets young individuals speak for themselves about topics they care about.
  • takes active stance against a disempowering image of generation left out of society, excluded from participation, influence and possibilities of self-realisation- listens to stories from young people themselves about how they are building a common future and trying to influence world around them.


So what next?

It is in the context of social innovation and direct improvement that I personally think we can really push and make an impact as a community. It is where I am putting alot of my energy and pretty much all my spare time at the moment. A while back I did a TEDx talk in which I tried to make a case for taking this last form of participation especially seriously. And drew together ideas that have been shared by community members in different conversations into a coherent narrative. Especially Demsoc's "letter to funders", the Unmonastery conversation, Discussions about Commons and value of cultural production and the discussions around whether we should set up an official Edgeryders organisation.

Coupled with  argument that Alberto and I are putting forward at Social Media Week in Berlin on September 24 I think we are starting to build a compelling case which I would like to invite more Edgeryders into fleshing out into more detail. And exploring how to build into a second iteration of Edgeryders. In this first Iteration we have focused on trying to find the challenges many of us have in common, and would need to collaborate around addressing. The next step for me would be more focused on collective action around realising projects that come out of our collectivity.  This seems to be in line with what other Edgeryders are thinking. Many voiced this desire after #lote and #edgecamp and I think we’re coming close to a point where we might be able to move forward and think about the next steps…

Agenda discovery

Wow, a very rich post here. I particularly like you and Magnus’s point about setting the agenda: it is clearly right that it is next to impossible establish a priori which issues are “youth issues” and which are not. A large part of the beauty of Edgeryders and exercises like it  are that they seem able to discover the agenda, to answer the questions that nobody had thought to ask. I am so not surprised that failure to do so results in policy makers ending up wrongfooted.


I agree, Alberto. This is the reason I didn’t find it to be my task to recommend a certain policy-direction. This is exactly what is constantly going on in the work of e/Edgeryders.

My concern was that this would make the “policy recommendations” in the paper a bit vague, especially from the perspective of a policy maker looking for practical guidelines in the handbook or the paper. If anyone has comments on that I would like to discuss that a bit.

Good work, and little comment

Indeed, Magnus does a great job, summarizing and making sense of all Edgeryders discussions, work and experiences around participation. It was not an easy task, and he managed to create a meaningful paper. So… first of all, I want to thank him for his good job.

I have a little comment regarding something he mentions about Kyopol. In the paper he writes:

    << They call what they do “from-the-middle-and-out”. >>

There is a little confusion here, and I think he mixed two things that were discussed in this mission:


First, the term “from-the-middle-and-around”, used here:

   <<Actually, at Ckyosei we advocate to mix three different conceptions for civic engagement: top-down, bottom-up, and one we invented (partly, as a joke), called: “from-the-middle-and-around”. :slight_smile:

Both the “top-down” and the “bottom-up” perspectives are too simple conceptualizations… that are not able to comprehend the nuances of such a complex phenomenom as civic engagement.

So… we think that we need to move further from the dualism expressed in the “top-down”/“bottom-up” opposition, and go in the direction of a “kaleidoscopic governance”, with multiple actors and stakeholders involved.>>

Short afterward, after Anthony (Demsoc) commented: "I think this is completely and I love the concept of ‘middle-out’ ", I spoke about “inside-out vs. outside-in” participation:

   << I think the notion of “top-down” vs. “bottom-up” could be complemented with the notions of “inside out” vs. “outside in”, which somehow suggest the intrinsic logic that characterize a participatory process or initiative. The first case: “inside-out” would refer to the usual PR (Public Relationships) Participatory exercises, where those who have power, the ones “inside”, are “going out” for a while to interact a little with the rest, hear a bit, say a lot, pretend to care, get legitimation, influence… but then come back in, where the logic of power and decision making hasn’t changed. And then… the decissions are taken, in most cases, the ones that were already planned.

“Outside-in” refers to the case where you make the frontiers “porous”, to allow those outside to get access to the political structures. We are thus speaking of real processes of “political development” -understood as “an interactive, public decision-making and learning process, within and between government and civil society, based on power creation and dispersion” [1], a process that usually only happens when an important share of the elites realises that it is in their own interest to progressively incorporate into decision-making some previously excluded groups, as a way to create the new forms of ‘shared power’ deemed necessary to cope with societal challenges. >>

As you see… this was a rich, catalytic conversation, that made us ‘invent’ new concepts and terms. :slight_smile: Maybe Magnus would like to review/rephrase the problematic sentence. :slight_smile:

And… those were my “two cents”! Thanks again!


Last but not least…

For sure: I also want to thank Nadia for her reflections.

And I hope that soon, from the Kyopol project, we will be making a contribution to address some of the issues Nadia mentions (agenda-setting, prototyping culture, institutional innovation, etc).

kind regards,


Getting from recommendations to Policy Measures

Hi Pedro, thank you for the careful reading of both my post and Magnus’s paper. I’m in the process of writing an invitation to Edgeryders to take the recommendations further. I’d like to do an event in November in Brussels where we take a small number of the “big” ideas for things that institutional actors should support, and flesh them out into actionables that are really feasible. The way to do this would be to get together people who have experience from doing relevant initiatives, people with technical know how about the detailed design of e.g. funding prorams or drafting and implementing novel policies, and sit in a room fleshing out the general recommendations until we have something very concrete. The reason being that I think it is more likely to actually lead to change, this exercise of ours, if it is difficult to dismiss as unfeasible. What do you think?

Policy in motion…

Hi Nadia,

I am not sure whether it is possible, for this area, to generate proposals that are at the same time insightful/general  and actionable/concrete. And even if we would… I’m not sure any institution would really be willing to put them into practice quickly.

Somehow… I am getting the impression that institutions are slowly getting aware that new ways of doing are needed. See for example the recent speech from Neelie Kroes on “Research and Innovation in ICT: Time for radical change?”:  http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=SPEECH/12/636&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

I’m not sure how much of this retoric will become actions, and radical change, or how quickly it could happen.

For all these reasons… I personally prefer now to concentrate energies in “creating the change”, instead of providing “recomendations”. Start something that generates real impact with whatever resources I have available. I have the impression that, on the medium term, this is what will make institutions change. Not just “very concrete recommendations”, but “real showcases”. And if these “impact cases” happen to be created with hardly any institutional support… they should embarrass institutions even more, and motivate them to really move from discourses to real change.

Good point!

Thanks for the comment, Pedro. This is the kind of comments I hoped to get and I can incorporate this to give a more detailed (and less confused) account of Kyopol. I will reply here in the comments with a rewrite so you can check it out.

(had to start a new account btw…)

Ok, Pedro. Re-wrote it like this. The things in “>” is block quotes. (I’m using a version of markdown called pandoc to write the paper. Check it out: http://johnmacfarlane.net/pandoc/README.html)

They call what they do "from-the-middle-and-around”m where citizens and institutions participate on equal terms.

> Experts have long indicated that e-Participation systems promoted “top-down”, from governments, are inefficient, technologically backward and unable to fulfill the real needs of its users. This is why the EU has not obtained much results, despite having invested more than 100 million euros in the last 10 years.


> […]


> Both the “top-down” and the “bottom-up” perspectives are too simple conceptualizations… that are not able to comprehend the nuances of such a complex phenomenom as civic engagement.


> […]


> So… we think that we need to move further from the dualism expressed in the “top-down”/“bottom-up” opposition, and go in the direction of a “kaleidoscopic governance”, with multiple actors and stakeholders involved.

> [@kyopol]


Hi Magnus, I was several days “disconnected” and couldn’t see it till today.

Thanks for your review. I think it is now much more clear.

No more policies, more humanity

I’ve read both papers a week ago and found them really interesting, but since then, something tickled me that I had some difficulties to express. I’m still not sure how to summarise accurately my thoughts but I’ll try to do my best.

The global financial system is agonising. This mass slavery monster is going to an end and i don’t think that those who were part of it, and especially politicians who were supposed to protect us from such threats, will do anything else than doing something like the fake french revolution in 1789. They will build some other institutions, make some policies but they will not touch their own thrones. I mean they will make sure they can continue to have some control, some power.

The only thing i’d like to see Europe institutions do is to push forward a worldwide open debate about the real issues, the real problems which are at the core of our society. Something like : “hey, we screwed up somewhere, we don’t know exactly how or why, can you help us building something where these horrors would be structuraly impossible ?”

It’s something we’ve humbly tried to do with démopolitique : debate about the core of the society like capitalism which fuels our economy, our lives. I mean… Profit is something like the condition sine qua none to any business. If you just wanna help others, go volunteer and live in poverty, or get in a structure with less and less money each day and mountains of paper to fill in hope to get some cash.

In a discussion, we came to conclusions and small proposals meant to deal with roots of the problem at political levels. Proposals that have long been reclaimed by many citizens that only a few politicians voiced, because they are directly concerned by these.

Europe is the birthplace of democracy. It’s been an ideal for a while but I think it has failed its duty because of power. Our governments have not been strong or efficient enough to protect us from the greed of a few. We need to make sure this never happen again, and no law, policy or structure would be anything else than another bandage to temporarly stop the bleed.

We need to grow up as a society.

We can do better. We must do better.

Citizens around the world are already building the future, preparing for the worst and dreaming for the best to all of us.

Our global system is made of beliefs, it’s a man-made structure.

There’s nothing but ignorance that separate us from a society where money would be replaced by the intimate knowledge that we are One and that love is the most valuable thing.

Nigral: Thanks for the comment. I very much agree with the sentiment in theis paragraph:

> Europe is the birthplace of democracy. It’s been an ideal for a while but I think it has failed its duty because of power. Our governments have not been strong or efficient enough to protect us from the greed of a few. We need to make sure this never happen again, and no law, policy or structure would be anything else than another bandage to temporarly stop the bleed.

One this striking with the Edgeryders community is that it is not afraid to go all the way and recognize that the marrige between our European societies and democracy is not some God-given fact but something that runs a real risk of becoming just a historical parenthesis. The core questions about democracy and humanity, as you say, cannot just be taken as a stable backdrop for the daily law-making and policy-making process but must be tackled seriously as something whose vitality tomorrow can only be guaranteed by our efforts today.

[VIDEO] OWS - Places and Spaces of Political Action

https://player.vimeo.com/video/49573292 Occupying Wall Street, Places and Spaces of Political Action from Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder on Vimeo.