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Where to find and publish citizen engagement success stories?

What are the best online platforms hosting citizen engagement success stories? Let’s compare the four main ones:

  1. CitizENGAGE
  2. Participedia
  3. Innovation in politics
  4. Citizens Lab

 

Quick summary of the main conclusions

If a citizen or an organization wants to share their own success story, CitizENGAGE provides the easiest way to do so. The drawback: only some select cases are shown on the main page, and it is not likely that every submission gets published.

From the perspective of someone doing research in participatory democracy, Participedia – collecting information on 836 different cases – is the best resource for citizen engagement best practices, some of the older entries going back to 2011. Similarly, if the intention of a citizen or an organization goes beyond just sharing the story, Participedia is the best option – one can describe each case very thoroughly.  Nevertheless, the number of cases mages navigating the database difficult.

 

CitizENGAGE

CitizENGAGE is a platform developed by the Open Government Partnership. It hosts best practice stories from OGP member countries, along with news feeds, videos and photo essays.

An average of 60 success stories are divided between the following regions: Africa, Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe. Main topics incorporated in the site are, besides citizen participation, anti-corruption, civic space, education, gender, health, marginalized communities, and natural resources.

Submitting an impact story appears to be fairly simple: via email, Facebook post, or Twitter. There is no information regarding what percentage of those submissions are published in the main site.

Clear selection options provide an easy navigation and exploration of the database. Precise selection criteria allow to search by region or topic. Most of cases only provide a brief contextualization of the situation or problem, and how open government or citizen engagement managed to deliver a solution. Some examples provide links to sites with concrete data about the project (methodology, statistics, number of people involved, duration, among others). This additional information can be offered by OGP, by the ones responsible of leading the project, or by a third party (media).

 

Participedia

Participedia functions as a depository of examples of participatory democracy in different regions of the world. Mainly supported by international universities, it is also backed by research councils and NGOs.

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This site includes 836 cases, dating back to 2011. Given the numerous amount of case examples available in Participedia, it is difficult to identify a single main topic. However, database is divided in two categories:

General Issues (Urban Planning, Community Development, Budgeting, Political Institutions,  Environment, Economic Development, Health, Education and Schools, Human Rights, Identity and Diversity, Poverty Reduction, etc.)

Specific Topics:  (Municipal Participatory Budget and Planning, Civic Education, Sustainable Development, Government Decentralization, Democratic Innovation, and Urban Redevelopment, etc.)

In order to submit a new case (or add or edit them), or to participate in post discussions, one needs to create and account and be a registered member of the site. While it can feel saturated, and scrolling through 836 cases might seem overwhelming, a keyword search allows for specific case identification. Similarly, searches can be defined by content language, country, geographical scope, completeness of the project, type of organization, source of funding, targeted audience, among others.

Participedia has a thorough template for each case submission, which includes: Summary, Problems and purpose, History (context), Originating Entities and Funding, Participant Recruitment and Selection, Methods and Tools Used, Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction, Influence, Outcomes, and Effects, Analysis and Criticism, Secondary Sources, External Links, and Notes. While some examples fill out every category, providing extensive information about the case, it is not compulsory to do so. Some examples only provide minimum information about their projects. An example of a thoroughly detailed case can be found here.

 

Innovation in politics 

Innovation in politics functions as a non-partisan consulting agency for politicians and political institutions. Apart from their services, they also provide a space for submission of projects and compete for the “Innovation in Politics” award (for “groundbreaking and innovative political projects”). The winners are selected by a jury of hundreds of volunteer jurors from Innovation in politics member countries.

While it is not its main objective, Innovation for Politics does have a catalogue of 80 past submissions, divided between 8 categories: Civilization, Democracy, Human rights, Community, Ecology, Prosperity, Jobs, and Quality of life. Topics are varied: digital literacy in schools, usage of a centralized, local currency (the “Bristol pound”), organization of Citizen Cafes (roundtables), refugee integration programs, “Towards zero waste” plans, and video sign-language translation, among others.

The submissions made to this site are not presented as a database, but they are eligible to the “Innovation in Politics.” Submissions are exclusive: the “project owner” must be an individual or political body with a position or political mandate. There is also a template for submissions: it must include a title, a short description, and must fall within one of the following categories:

  • Civilization (arts, education, science and European society)
  • Ecology (agriculture, environmental protection, energy)
  • Democracy (participation, transparency, self-determination)
  • Human rights (women’s affairs, equality, minority rights)
  • Prosperity (business environment, technology, finance)
  • Jobs (labor market)
  • Quality of Life (health care, social security, housing, mobility)
  • Community (empowerment, civic involvement)

Also, information about participation, trust-building, and sustainability must be included. Additional information about the project can be added. This year’s deadline was 15 July.

The site mostly focuses on presenting the organization and describing the services they provide. The database is not accessible as a whole, and only after finding past project submissions, they can be identified by categories.

Some cases include an introduction, a short video with an introduction, official web site link, pictures, and a downloadable PDF information leaflet in the project’s language. While some cases only provide a summary, it is worth noticing that Innovation in Politics stipulates that votes for choosing winning projects will be made based on available information.

 

Citizens Lab

This organization is a European network that links multidisciplinary professionals and activists that created workshops and projects that emphasize citizen engagement and “new approaches on decision-making.” Those workshops, or labs, are “experimental spaces” where prototype approaches are tested on a local level, and if successful, will be extended via Citizens Lab’s network.[1]

Citizens Lab has 23 success stories and initiatives, along with detailed results of member’s network meetings. Principal topics are Urban transformation, Network creation, Community engagement, Democracy, Education, Inclusion, Culture and Arts. Some concrete examples include: transformation of derelict areas into shared public spaces, conferences and meetups to promote similarities between the UK and Hungary (aimed at reducing prejudice), translocal promotion of participatory budgeting, and effective dialogue workshops that seek to “harness collective wisdom and self-organizing capacity of groups.”[2]

Citizens Lab allocates a section of the site to share success stories. But the link appears to be broken (September 2018). No further information is provided about sharing stories via email or social media. Visually, this website is very well done. Navigation-wise, the actual cases are easy to find, and can be filtered by the main topics described above.

Each case description contains a very detailed, experience-based narrative. Some of the methodologies are mentioned but casually, as part of the whole description. There is not a unified template for initiative description. While the free-form description is refreshing, it also complicates finding precise information (method, funding, intended audience, objectives, outcomes, etc.), about the case being shared.

 

[1] Retrieved from: https://www.citizenslab.eu/labs/

[2] Retrieved from: http://www.artofhosting.org/what-is-aoh/

 

Written by Luis Roberto Vera,

intern at the Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS

Toguna – idea crowdsourcing app

A short review of an app that was used to brainstorm ideas during OGP Summit in Paris

Links: Toguna for Android;  Toguna for Iphone

Benefits:

  1. If your audience has smartphones and access to quality wifi, then installing + learning to use Toguna would take around 1 minute. Toguna is easy to install and its usability is quite intuitive.
  2. Toguna it useful if you need to receive some general feedback from your audience over  certain idea/issue/problem – it is very easy for everyone to share their feedback and vote (like/dislike) on the ideas of others. You would also get a general sense on what might be potential solutions to some problem.
  3. It’s a good way to engage your audience if your event does not allow for much time for audience to ask questions/participate in discussion

Limits:

  1. As an idea crowdsourcing too it is simplistic – the design of the app provileges shorter ideas over those that require more text;
  2. Even though theoretically people can comment on each idea, in reality this option is not being used (again: because of design of the app which privileges sharing ever-new ideas and voting of ideas on others);
  3. In none of the three Toguna discussions( that took place during OGP Summit) the idea that was voted to be the most popular had been particularly innovative or enlightening.

Overall, Toguna a decent app but it encounters the same issues as other crowd brainstorming platforms that I’m aware of: 1) form dominates over considerations of quality content (simplicity for the sake of simplicity); 2) assumption that crowd-voting (rather than epertise) is a good way of discerning between good and bad ideas.

Social media are changing the world

Social networks are changing democracy! In 2016 we have witnessed how the “unthinkable” became reality – how UK decided to part ways with European Union and how against almost all predictions Donald Trump, a property tycoon and reality television star, was elected US commander-in-chief. In 2016 the “war for votes” was raging on not only in the conventional battle ground, but also in the digital environment – especially in social networks and social media. Although many digital tools have significantly contributed to strengthening democratic values by empowering individuals and likeminded groups, some aspects of these technologies may be bringing more harm than good. We are only starting to understand the effect that social networks and other new forms of media can have on democracy and politics, but even now it is clear that we don’t have time to waste.

It has been a common knowledge already for a while that social networks can have a significant impact – they can give voice and power for people who have neither. For example, according to Deen Freelon of the American University in Washington, DC, social networks played a crucial role in getting the Black Lives Matter – a movement fighting police violence against African-Americans, off the ground.[1] Maybe even more important was the role social media and networks played in shaping political debates in Arab Spring.[2] It wouldn’t be that difficult to find countless other positive examples of how social media and social networks have empowered change and social progress, for example, social media facilitated political mobilization in civil unrest in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, the Maidan protests in Ukraine and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, all in 2013 or 2014.[3] But looking only at the positive examples can leave an overly positive and quite possibly misleading impression about the impact of social networks. Unfortunately, there are some reasons to be if not skeptical, then at least to realistically assess the impact social media has on democracy.

Echo chambers and fake news

One of the problematic aspects of social media and social networks in relation to healthy democracy might be the echo chambers they are creating. And it is not a problem affecting only social media and social networks, but a problem affecting internet in general. As elegantly formulated by Mostafa M. El-Bermawy from WIRED: “the internet that was used during Arab spring in 2011 is different from the internet that led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump”.[4]  An echo chamber describes a situation when ideas, information and/or beliefs are amplified by repetition inside an enclosed system. For some of us that perfectly sums up our digital existence in social networks – the algorithm shows us only the content we are likely to like, in other words, the content similar to the one we have consumed before. This in turn leads to another connected problem – the confirmation bias – the psychological tendency for people to embrace new information as affirming their pre-existing beliefs and to ignore evidence that doesn’t.[5]

These problems are exacerbated by the ease of which fake media content can be created and distributed in digital environment. According to the BuzzFeed News, in the final three months of US presidential campaign, the top performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement then the top news stories from major news outlets.[6] The 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook, while the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites lagged behind with only 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments.[7] The most popular of the false news stories were a story claiming Clinton sold weapons to ISIS and a hoax claiming the pope endorsed Trump.[8] But the fake news were not popular only among the Trump supporters, e.g., the viral Trump quote calling Republicans ‘the dumbest group of voters’ was definitely fake as well[9] and Ireland was not and still isn’t planning to accept ‘Trump immigrants’.[10]

Tech or media company

Democrats did not hesitate with blaming Facebook and their fake news problem for their defeat in presidential election.[11] Initially Zuckerberg was quick in dismissing any effect fake news could have on election results, stating that overwhelming majority (~99 %) of content is authentic and the fake content was not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics.[12] After couple of days Facebook did finally recognize the importance of fighting misinformation in their social network and informed about ongoing measures employed to mitigate the problem.[13] Despite these efforts several sources have accused Facebook of doing far too little when it comes to combatting the spread of fake news stories, considering that a majority of US adults – 62 %  – get news on social media.[14] But what Facebook should be doing is partially conditional upon their status. A pressing question is whether Facebook and other social networks should be regarded only as tech companies or as something much more than just that.

In the last few months Facebook has been called in many different names — “a website,” “an internet company,” “a major player in the media universe,” “a strange new class of media outlet,” a “tech behemoth,” and even a “cesspool of nonsense”. Facebook itself has not been too eager in accepting their role as a media outlet and thus taking at least some responsibility that comes with it and persistently continues labelling themselves as only a tech company escaping any additional burden.[15] This reluctance is quite understandable as the status of a media company and a place in the Fourth Estate comes with certain responsibilities when it comes to the content it disseminates. In a democratic society media as a cornerstone of the Fourth Estate is expected to act like watchdog, civic forum, and agenda-setter, holding elected officials to account and bound by longstanding liability laws.[16] Fear of legal hurdles apparently is not the only reason for the reluctance to recognize oneself as a media company, it is also a matter of brand management, talent and revenue.[17]

Moving forward

If everything is so bad with social media and social networks – they are riddled with fake news articles, we are all living in artificial echo chambers and no one has any power or willingness to do something about it – what is the way forward? Firstly, neither the echo chamber problem, fake news, nor the lack of regulatory oversight is a reason enough to dismiss social networks and social media as unfit for healthy democracy. It probably is not a very good idea to label all social networks as media companies and apply the same rules as for traditional journalism, but at the same time Facebook should accept the fact that it is already making billions of editorial decisions every day and should work on how to improve them.[18] Facebook and other social media as a new source of journalism[19], should consider improving the algorithms they use to choose the content users see by reducing the importance of the “engagement” criteria.  Secondly, users of social media and social networks should be more aware of the echo chambers they are living in and approach the available content with slightly more skepticism at the same time urging the networks to embrace their role in the Fourth Estate. Finally, social networks, social media and other influential tech companies should recognize these problems as something serious and deal with them accordingly before many of us have lost any faith in their ability to do so.

[Dainis Pudelis]

[1] Deen Freelon, Beyond the hashtags: #Ferguson, #Blacklivesmatter, and the online struggle for offline justice, Available at: http://cmsimpact.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/beyond_the_hashtags_2016.pdf, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[2] Howard, Philip N. and Duffy, Aiden and Freelon, Deen and Hussain, Muzammil M. and Mari, Will and Maziad, Marwa, Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring? (2011). Available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2595096, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[3] The Economist, The signal and the noise, Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21695198-ever-easier-communications-and-ever-growing-data-mountains-are-transforming-politics, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[4] Mostafa M. El-Bermawy , Your Filter Bubble is Destroying Democracy, Available at: https://www.wired.com/2016/11/filter-bubble-destroying-democracy/, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[5] Scott Bixby, theguardian, ‘The end of Trump’: how Facebook deepens millennials’ confirmation bias, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/01/millennials-facebook-politics-bias-social-media, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[6] Craig Silverman, The BuzzFeed News, This Analysis Shows How Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook, Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election-news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook?utm_term=.luWPbgqrYQ#.pcGYOqeEBx, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Tatianna Amatruda, CNN, That Trump quote calling Republicans ‘the dumbest group of voters’? Fake!, Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/10/politics/trump-quote-facebook-trnd/, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[10] Dan MacGuill, thejournal.ie, FactCheck: No, Ireland is NOT “officially accepting Trump refugees”, Available at: http://www.thejournal.ie/ireland-officially-accepting-trump-refugees-inishturk-facts-3074777-Nov2016/, Accessed:  23.11.2016; Craig Silverman, The BuzzFeed News, This Analysis Shows How Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook, Available at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election-news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook?utm_term=.luWPbgqrYQ#.pcGYOqeEBx, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[11] Nancy Scola, Politico, Clinton digital chief: Democrats to target Facebook’s fake news, Available:  http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/clinton-facebook-fake-news-231365, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[12] Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Available at: https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10103253901916271, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[13] Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Available at: https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10103269806149061, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[14] Jeffrey Gottfried and Elisa Shearer, Pew Research Centre, News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016, Available at: http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[15] Catherine Buni, The Verge, Facebook won’t call itself a media company. Is it time to reimagine journalism for the digital age?, Available at: http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/16/13655102/facebook-journalism-ethics-media-company-algorithm-tax, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] Timothy B. Lee, VOX, Mark Zuckerberg is in denial about how Facebook is harming our politics, Available at: http://www.vox.com/new-money/2016/11/6/13509854/facebook-politics-news-bad, Accessed:  23.11.2016

[19] Danny Crichton, Journalism in the Digital Age, Available at: http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/2010-11/Journalism/index8192.html?page_id=30, Accessed:  23.11.2016

Unorthodox ideas on openness, trust, governmental accountability and citizen engagement

Transparency Word Magnifying Glass Sincerity Openness Clarity

Some of the most unorthodox, soul searching ideas heard during the second day of the OGP summit in Paris:

1) Some approaches to public sector accountability might be incompatible with trust in government. For this reason, Sweden is currently trying to move away from its previous governmental philosophy that was based on the principles of the New Public Management (treating State as a result-oriented company that needs to please its clients) in order to experiment with approaches that are less based on the need to control (or to hold someone accountable) and to encourage more trust both within public service and between citizens and the public service.

2) We are used to treating openness as if it were a value in itself, but … is it? Is there anything of value that would be lost if openness were to be perceived only as a means to some more tangible social goal (such as quality education, quality healthcare, quality government, etc?)

3) Concept of open-washing or openness as a double-edged sword. Openness and transparency might be and sometimes are used as tools on behalf of some state entity for dubious purposes – for example, in order to justify some bad policy decisions (say, at least they were taken in an open process!) or to denigrate political competition. Should one encourage openness in such cases as well (in order to strengthen the later plea for consistency – to ‘practice what one preaches’)? This refers back to the previous point: should openness be promoted for the sake of openness or only as a means to some social good?

4) Is there a way to prevent transparency being used as a political tool in hands of populists who gladly use public information for anti-establishment rhetoric but do not apply the same transparency standards to their own actions (remember Trump’s tax returns and dismal performance on Fact Check)?

5) Is there any good evidence that openness does more good than harm? Trust in EU has not visibly improved since the Union became more open a few years ago. Improved openness was not an argument in recent US election as well. It’s also unclear how much of an impact various openness promoting instruments (for example, lobbying regulations) have and how trustworthy are claims of various open-government champions in specific communities on having achieved a huge impact: has there been some neutral evaluations on whether specific claims have/have not been exaggerated in order to ‘sell’ their achievements?

6) Is the term ‘open government’ too abstract, distant and vague to mobilise people (especially in some cultures, such as in Francophone world)? Is there a need for a language change? What about ‘responsive government’?

Those are all open questions without clear answers. And yet I’d probably be less inclined (than before comming to this event) to believe that openness without quality public engagement and citizen education is necessarily a good in intself.

[Iveta]

Three cleavages at the heart of OGP

[Part of a series of blogposts from Open Government Partnership Summit in Paris]

Liberal Versus Conservative Two Way Signs 2 Party System

A green two-way street sign pointing to Liberal and Conservative, representing the two dominant political parties and ideologies in national and global politics

Yesterday I’ve noticed that there are three important issues where OGP activists/organizers tend to have differing ‘ideologies’:

Cleavage No 1. Is it benefitial to have as many as possible countries joining OGP even if it might be clear that some of them would not meet the basic standards of openness, citizen engagement, governmental accountability? On one hand, access to OGP process and best practice sharing could motivate transformations; on other hand – this might result in loss of credibility for OGP as a process.  Defining question: is Hungary withdrawing from OGP (link) a good or a bad sign for OGP? What about Morocco making an attempt to join?

Cleavage No 2 (probably inspired by post-Brexit referendum, post-US election worries). Should OGP strive to include as many civil society groups as possible or should it, instead, focus on strengthening and deepening engagement on part of those civil society groups that are directly interested in governance and citizen engagement issues so that they are able to sustain their engagement with the government beyond development of the national action plan? Even if one might wish to do both simultaneously, it is rarely feasible. Defining question:  if given a choice, should OGP activists attempt to extend their network to organisations that have not been interested in OGP agenda or should they try to deepen their existing engagement? In other words, should one go broader or should one go deeper?

Cleavage No 3 (related to No 2). How far OGP should stretch its original mission in order to accomodate the demands of those civic activists and governmental representatives who advocate for having a clear and tangible impact on people’s lives (which is not always easily visible in cases of  increased transparency)? Defining question – would you feel some discomfort if a governmental representative would name an improved digital service (for example, a new heathcare or education electronic system) as a national OGP achievement? On one hand, digital services have little to do with opennness, but, on the other hand, that’s where majority of people are likely to see clear impact on their lives.

[Iveta]

OGP and subnational level

This morning I participated in a really good chat on extending OGP to sub-national level. Regional/municipal level governments do some interesting stuff on open government and citizen engagement, yet their work is not so well known due to traditional focus on national level institutions.  I’ve received some excellent tips on where to search for some international benchmarks standarts of urban good governance that will benefit my research (the key tip was helping me to locate research conducted by LSE Urban governance program). 

One problem that would be quite challenging to solve in order to come up with some universal standarts: unlike national level parliaments or governments in democracies, subnational level is extremelly diverse – ranging from huge regions that each has tens of millions of inhabitants and ending with local communes of less than 1000 people. Even more importantly, sub-national units’  competencies and institutional set-ups vary just as much. 

Yes, there might be a way around this by benchmarking open data, citizen engagement, new technology achievements (that would be assumed beneficial irrespective of differences in institutional set-ups), but would that not prohibit all meaningful attempts of best-practice sharing which, after all, rely very much on nuances and in-depth understanding of local specificities? Could there be a better alternative in not separating national/subnational level at all, but instead trying to especially promote those OGP commitmments whose implementation require collaboration between different levels of governance?

[iveta]

OGP Summit – blogging from Paris

Today the opening session of Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit will be livstreamed online.  According to information shared on the event’ s website ‘The OGP summit will involve 3000 representatives from 70 countries: Heads of State and governments, ministers, public servants, members of parliament, local authorities, civil society representatives, start-ups and digital innovators, civic techs, developers, researchers, journalists will gather in Paris to share their experiences and push forward the open government agenda in light of the global challenges.’

We’ll publish the most interestig findings during the three days of the Summit on this website, but I’d like to share some very short preliminary observations on he main benefits and challenges of the OGP process.

Benefits:

  1. the share scale of the initiative – it has been introduced in 70 countries; which allows for unprecedented best practice sharing regarding best methods to open  up government, combat corruption or engage people in decision-making.
  2. it serves as a good opportunity for civil society activists to cooperate and form networks both among themselves and with the government to press for change.

Challenges:

  1. Uncertainty about the relevance of OGP as a process -are there any good initiative that wouldn’t have been implemented had the OGP process not existed? Most countries tend to commit to activities that they would have engaged in anyway, whether OGP process existed or not.
  2. Low level of ambition in commitmments from governments in context of OGP and lack of capacity for civic society organiations to offer a long-term (not ad hoc) collaboration and/or monitoring of OGP commitmment implementation. OGP in some countries is just one transparency-promoting process among many; and may at times even divert attention from exploring other options/processes to push for more rapid change.

[Iveta]

 

Cooperatives in the 21st century

 

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Image: sludgegulper

Kofi Annan has said: “Founded on the principles of private initiative, entrepreneurship and self-employment, underpinned by the values of democracy, equality and solidarity, the co-operative movement can help pave the way to a more just and inclusive economic order.” This quote outlines the opportunities for the co-operative movement as a source of empowerment for people as well as its underlying principles. The history of the cooperative dates back to 19th century Europe, mainly Britain and France. It is not new, and it has a rich history as well as a variety of examples, with differing levels of participation. Cooperatives are attractive, because they are appealing – they bring the idea of participatory democracy to the workplace. They are a strong example of how a mainly economic enterprise can be tightly linked to a democratic practice. This article addresses the role and opportunities for the cooperative in the 21st century.

An interesting research in this area was published in 2010 by The Community Inventors Lab, which is a part of MIT’s Department for Urban Studies and Planning, the name of it “Sustainable Economic Democracy: Worker Cooperatives for the 21st Century”. The paper examines two examples of cooperative practices – Mondragon in Spain and Evergreen in the US. The central idea of the paper is the importance of economic democracy, meaning that “local economic institutions are democratically controlled”.[1] Economic institutions include such sectors as businesses, finance, research and development, as well as education.

The road to economic democracy can be achieved through cooperative ownership of the local economy by those who participate, which in turn helps to root the wealth in local communities and prevents resources from going somewhere else.[2]

There are different types of cooperatives and this article focuses on the idea of the worker cooperative. Workers’ cooperatives still operate for business interests and capital investment is still relevant, however workers’ are involved to a much higher degree and the focus is on cooperation among them. Even though the profit making motive does not leave the enterprise, the involvement of the workers allows for a balance, workers’ interests get taken into consideration. However the report does point out that the successes of cooperatives have been varied, but that does not mean we should not at least discuss their potential.[3] Also it is pointed out that worker cooperatives can operate in a larger network, rather than as separate entities that most probably will suffer in the competitive global market.

The two examples examined in the research provide valuable lessons for the future of the role of cooperatives in a 21st century democracy. For example, Mondragon in Spain developed into a cooperative group, where different cooperatives were working closely together, it allowed for a sharing of a governance structure, pooling of profits and losses and allowed for the movement of worker-owners among different member firms of the group.[4]  The approach of Mondragon includes 4 elements to creating a cooperative group.

The elements are primary cooperatives, secondary cooperatives, spin off cooperatives and lastly the cooperative group. The primary cooperatives are created in the most important sectors, such as industry and retail. The secondary cooperatives along with the spin off ones are created to support the primary ones and expand the network. Lastly the creation of a cooperative group allows for risk and resource pooling, as well as increased mobility. In addition, it is important not to forget that these cooperatives were established in different sectors, such as industry, retail, finance and education.

This strategy of diversification allowed for Mondragon to remain competitive. The ability to move between different cooperatives allowed for flexibility and in a growingly competitive market, this is of importance – the ability to adjust and learn quickly. The amount of different cooperatives allowed for one to produce what the other ones could not and exchanging amongst themselves and thus eliminating the need for importing things. Of course, there are those, who argue that each case is unique and successes cannot be replicated one to one, but certain lessons do appear. For example, the necessity for an interconnected network and a diversified approach. One must also remember that the model of Mondragon was developed over decades and this kind of a strategy requires long term planning.

The Evergreen enterprise took the example of Mondragon, but adjusted it to their own specific circumstances, focusing on one central local institution and branched out from there. Different cooperatives are responsible for different aspects, the same as in Mondragon – one for finance, one for leading, another for funding and lastly one that is responsible for governing.  So it adjusts the model of cooperative networks for its own internal needs.

The report points out the main things that are useful for the future of cooperatives in the 21st century[5]:

  • A defined geographic area
  • A local network known as the ecosystem
  • Internally driven economic development, where imports are replaced by the cooperative network’s participants supporting each other

Lastly the research outlines the values that should guide this kind of an approach – a strong, but democratic leadership, values of local ownership and solidarity, education as a tool for expanding networks and lastly cooperatives as organizing entities that help to organize people according to common interest, transcending, for example, racial or ethnic divides.

There are millions of people working in cooperatives in the 21st century, however, it is sometimes forgotten that they in effect are democratic entities. Maybe something can indeed be learned from these two examples. Because democracy is about people getting involved and where is it more appropriate than in the workplace, where many of us spend our daily hours? It is about having a stake and thus an interest into what happens to you in the workplace, as well as to your colleagues.

[1] Nicholas Iuviene, Amy Stitely, Lorlene Hoyt, „Sustainable Economic Democracy :  Worker Cooperatives for the 21st Century,”The Community Inventors Lab, October 2010, p 5.

[2] Ibid, p 5.

[3] Ibid, p 7.

[4] Ibid, p 8.

[5] Nicholas Iuviene, Amy Stitely, Lorlene Hoyt, „Sustainable Economic Democracy :  Worker Cooperatives for the 21st Century,”The Community Inventors Lab, October 2010, p 26.

[Alina]


The publication was performed in the framework of the project “PROVIDUS – a partner of state in policy planning and policy making process“.

Project is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in framework of NGO Activity Support Measure.

NGO Activity Support Measure is financed with financial support from EEA Financial Mechanism and Republic of Latvia.

www.sif.lv

www.eeagrants.lv

www.eeagrants.org

SIF_EEZ_graf_el_LOGO

 

THUNDERCLAP – Is “the louder, the better” when it comes to social activism?

What is Thunderclap? Thunderclap is the world’s first ever crowd-speaking platform. It significantly increases the social reach of campaigns by posting the same message from many social media accounts at the same time. In terms of  numbers, Thunderclap has launched over 3 million campaigns since 2012, reaching more than 3.5 billion people in 238 countries. Mainstream campaigns are mostly about civic activism and charity.

But what is so special about it? What is great about the internet nowadays is that anyone has a voice. However, it has become hard for people to be heard over all that digital noise when they need to speak out for a cause they really care about. Thunderclap solves this problem by essentially working like a megaphone- it joins voices and shouts out your message. Thunderclap’s founder, developer David Cascino, took inspiration from the “human megaphone” technique used by Occupy Wall Street protesters:

“It was like getting punched in the face. I realised there was no way to do this exact thing online. There was no way that people could band together to amplify a message. I saw an opportunity that I had to fill.”

Initially a project within the global advertisement giant Droga5, Thunderclap eventually evolved into a separate company; today it counts with a tiny but  “thunderous crew” based in NY.

To create a Thunderclap you just need to visit the website, connect with your social media account and invite followers to support your cause. If you reach the pre-set number of followers within the deadline, the message is sent from all the accounts simultaneously.

Basically, anyone can create a Thunderclap, it is free and easy to use. Behind some of the most successful campaigns are brands and creative business, institutions and governments, like the White House, the UN and the UK Labour party, but also ordinary people with great ideas, like Dutch designer Dave Hakkens. The largest campaign in Thunderclaps’s history, #Phoneblocks calls for awareness over e-waste by launching the idea of a phone designed to last for a lifetime- the separable blocks which make the phone can be easily substituted when they stop working. However, the site also offers different customised paid plans to maximise the campaign’s reach and some worry that Thunderclap might be heading in the wrong direction and become just another advertisement tool. Notable brands like Discovery Channel, BBC, Durex and Levi’s have used the platform to advocate for relevant causes, like HIV, the extinction of sharks and the right to education. On the other hand, Thunderclap has also lent his voice to less charitable causes. For example, it helped generating enthusiasm before the revelation of 2012 People (magazine) sexiest man alive. Still, Thunderclap’s team insist that the most successful campaigns are the ones related to social activism because they connect people to a cause emotionally and, for now, numbers tell the same story.

There are some practical downsides as well. In order to support a Thunderclap people need to connect to the platform via other social media, like Facebook or Twitter, and especially be willing to give consent to Thunderclap to post on their behalf. Besides, timing is crucial. The “all-in” philosophy of Thunderclap means that if your Thunderclap fails to reach the target of supporters, it is as if it never existed. None of the donations are received by the organisers. Plus, if your message does make it to the walls of millions, you still have to take into account that only reach those who are connected at that moment.

But what we really should be asking ourselves is this – is louder really better when it comes to social activism? It can be a double-edged sword. Most certainly there is the danger that engagement to campaigns is only temporary and superficial. Let’s not forget that Thunderclap reaches friends of friends on social media. Some may share just because it is cool and then forget about it. Once the Thunderclap is sent out, the campaign is considered “completed” and people move on supporting other things while much more needs to be done to operate change for real. Another way to find an answer to this, is try assessing the impact these campaigns have had. Not an easy task for, unlike for example change.org, Thunderclap is designed to spread a message, rather than achieve it. Thus far, Thunderclap’s case studies only measure campaign’s effectiveness. Besides, it is too early to tell whether the campaigns have the potential to determine change. The phenomenon is recent and many factors come into play. Yet, one way to quantify the impact more concretely is to have a look at the role of social media in allocating donations for non-profit organisations. Donations to non-profits have achieved change in some instances. A survey performed by the 2014 Case Foundation found that even though emails and websites still rule as tools of engagement compared to social media, the gap is closing. Social media is growing 3 times faster than email.

All things considered, the social media storm can create an invaluable window of opportunity. It is thanks to Thunderclap as well if Motorola, Sennheiser and others are working on prototypes of the #Phoneblocks right this moment. Let’s think twice before disdaining social media activism so easily precisely because it is social media, hence, no place for “serious discussions”. It would be great if more people used it this way! By capitalising on today´s dependence on social media, Thunderclap is a creative way to involve people- especially the youth- into civic activism and social responsibility. Thunderclap is not perfect, but it can be a significant push in the right direction. Ultimately, we cannot always expect a software to do it all.

[Alice]

The publication was performed in the framework of the project “PROVIDUS – a partner of state in policy planning and policy making process“.

Project is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in framework of NGO Activity Support Measure.

NGO Activity Support Measure is financed with financial support from EEA Financial Mechanism and Republic of Latvia.

www.sif.lv

www.eeagrants.lv

www.eeagrants.org

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Bite The Ballot

For most young people politics has never been a hot topic. A 15-year old Briton named Jeremiah Emmanuel said that before he took an interest in government to him it was just “a room with green seats and a load of men shouting at each other,” and sadly these kinds of statements can be heard from young people everywhere. It should be no surprise than that the youths involvement in politics is meager at best. Take Britain for example, in the 2010 general election, only 44% of people aged 18-25 voted, compared with 65% of people of all ages. And while young people might not know it, the consequences of their detachment can have a considerable impact on their everyday life. The most vivid example is the coalition governments decision after the 2010 election to increase tuition fees, which was seen by many young voters as a betrayal by the Liberal Democrats who just months before had signed a pledge vowing to vote against any such increase. It is events like these that lead to young Brits becoming frustrated with politicians and discouraged to participate in their countries decision-making process. That is why democratic youth organizations that mobilize the young voter are becoming evermore important and one of these organizations is called “Bite the Ballot”. Based in the UK, “Bite the Ballot“ is a non-partisan movement which empowers young people by educating them on government and encouraging them to cast their vote. Formed in April 2010 by a business studies teacher David Hughesman and Michael Sani,, “Bite the Ballot” does not lecture young, potential voters with the old argument “if you don’t vote, don’t complain” but rather shows them that they have the power to actually change things. The youth organization is able to appeal to young citizens by employing modern technology and demonstrating their own credibility and understanding of the subject.

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By explaining the primary functions of lawmakers in an engaging way, “Bite the Ballot” changes the way that young people look upon politics and politicians thus encouraging them to vote. This is most evident when playing the online game called “#TheBasics”, where young people are put into the shoes of the lawmaker and tasked with setting Britain’s budget. At first the player has to allocate £100 across key areas and then, due to a crisis, revise his spending and cut £25. In addition to this, the player is shown the consequences of reduced funding in a certain area and how people from different age groups will respond to his decisions. For example, if you were to decrease education spending, you would see a decline in the approval rating among young citizens as well as the amount of teachers that will be laid-off because of the cuts. The lesson – politicians cannot please everyone, all the time.  “Bite the Ballot” wants the player to understand this because it goes to show that sacrifices have to be made for the greater good and lawmakers are the ones making these tough decisions. It teaches the player that when it comes to politics, expectations have to be managed, otherwise politicians will always let you down and as a result you will distance yourself from any kind of involvement. In Britain this is a core problem because political parties are the top most hated brands, especially amongst young people. For instance UKIP, a political party, was cited by 58% of 18-to24-year-olds as the brand they most hated, closely followed by the other major political parties.

However, “#TheBasics” does more than inspire empathy. The main message comes at the end of the game when a bar chart appears and shows the maximum number of young voters in the UK (10.9 million), the number of young voters that actually bothered to vote in the last election (3 million) and the number of young voters who would support the players spending decisions. The trick is that even if the player made a perfect budget that was supported by all 10.9 million young voters, only 3 million would cast their ballots and try to put him back in office.  Now, the player asks himself: “why did I even try?” and for young citizens, this realization is crucial. It explains why in the eyes of politicians they are more or less expendable, and makes them understand that this can only be changed by showing up on election day. It also appeals to an especially important aspect of a young persons life – independence. Rather than using the old argument “if you don’t vote, don’t complain”, “#TheBasics” shows that if you don’t vote, you don’t matter. This gives the player an actual incentive to go and vote, because it will show that he is capable of deciding what is best for him and his community. However, if he stays home on election day, he is allowing others to determine what his life should be like, and there is nothing that a young person hates more than being told what is best for him.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 12.54.01

But “Bite the Ballot” does more than encourage young voters to vote. It also provides credible and easily accessible information about political parties and their agenda, in a way that is captivating to the young audience. The perfect example is the recently released digital tool “Verto”. “Verto” is the worlds first voter advice application for young people created by “Bite the Ballot” and “Demos”, a cross-party think tank. It matches a person’s beliefs with the policies of different political parties, by analyzing their responses to statements about multiple issue areas such as jobs, healthcare and the economy. For young, inexperienced voters this is helpful because from their perspective the landscape of modern day politics is extremely complicated. A lack of political schooling, confusing, oftentimes impartial media coverage and convoluted speeches given by politicians are the main barriers that prevent young citizens from fully understanding each party’s agenda. As a result they are less likely to vote, and more likely to make an ill-informed decision when voting. That is why “Bite the Ballot” focused on two things when making “Verto” – simplicity and credibility. By working with focus groups all through development, “Bite the Ballot” has ensured that the app is simple, fast and intuitive which is incredibly important if your target audience are young modern-day citizens whose attention is hard to grasp. Therefore, when using “Verto” it does not feel that you are using a complex political tool, but rather a lifestyle app which tells you which restaurant is most likely to satisfy your wants and needs. To ensure that the information about each user’s beliefs is accurately analyzed and matched against a political parties agenda, the youth organization researched statements, speeches, policy documents and even hosted a 10 person academic panel in association with the political studies association. After that they presented their arguments to policy managers from all 7 parties to ensure that their agendas are accurately presented. It’s this kind of social responsibility and innovative thinking that convinces young people that participation in their countries decision making is easier than they thought.

“Verto” and “#TheBasics” might seem like small projects, aimed at mobilizing young voters, but they are a part of something much bigger – a change in how citizens involve themselves in democracy. Politics is the last frontier in civil life which has not experienced a surge in technological innovation and now that is changing. With only an internet connection, people can access digitalized tools such as “Verto” and “#TheBasics” and learn about the intricacies of government. As these applications develop, the social mobility of citizens will increase exponentially and the disconnect between the voter and the politician will decrease. Young people will be at the forefront of this and they will be the ones to change the way future generations look upon politics. That is why organizations such as “Bite the Ballot” are so important. They shift the narrative and teach young people that participation and social responsibility are the cornerstones of any democracy.

 [Miķelis]

The publication was performed in the framework of the project “PROVIDUS – a partner of state in policy planning and policy making process“.

Project is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in framework of NGO Activity Support Measure.

NGO Activity Support Measure is financed with financial support from EEA Financial Mechanism and Republic of Latvia.

www.sif.lv

www.eeagrants.lv

www.eeagrants.org

SIF_EEZ_graf_el_LOGO