These learning materials are being used for one of the units from the Diploma in Strategic Management of IT for the Public Sector and Third Sector CIO, organized by the School of the Americas from the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education. Our unit’s subject was “Open Government, Digital Citizenship and Transparency” with a focus on citizen participation and the impact of Information Technologies on it.
On the 21 and 22 February took place in Seville, at the Pablo de Olavide University, the #OKioconf14 – III Conference on Open Government and Open Data which were organized by Open Kratio.
On Friday there were presentations and panel discussions with outstanding speakers, as the Open Government experts David Osimo, César Nicandro Cruz, Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí, Vicky Anderica, Antonio Díaz Méndez, Diego Álvarez… and also with innovative politicians, as Elena Biurrun or José Antonio Rodríguez, mayors of Torrelodones and Jun.
I participated on Saturday, in the session on Open Government, representing the Symbiotic City Association and the citizens’ initiative Agenda del Henares. You can see my speech in the video above (it’s in Spanish, sorry. The part about the Agenda del Henares got English subtitles here). You can also access the Prezi presentation at the end of this post.
The title of my talk, “Open Government on its feet”, paraphrased Galeano and aimed to contrast with the “Open Government upside down” that, unfortunately, is currently prevailing. The presentation was divided into three parts and its fundamental ideas were:
I. Open Government
- Presentation of the concepts of Open Data, Transparency and Accountability as essential components of… Open Government ? No!, of Real Democracy.
- If we do not consider Open Government to be part of a quest to achieve Real Democracy we miss its most important dimensions.
- In Spain, for example, if we focus our energies on discussing about Open Data Repositories, we lose sight of the essential fact: that our democratic institutions are clearly dysfunctional; that instead of a “real-demo-cracy” what we have are ”reali kratia” or “real powers”, extractive elites who maintain their privileges at the expense of the general interest; that the we are led by a mendacious, corrupt and hypocritical political class which does not really want to develop the potential of Open Government.
- Some of the commonly accepted views on Open Data and Open Government were questioned:
- The emphasis on the use “public data” as the main source of social change; I suggested that the most important data is not the one in government’s databases but data generated by citizens themselves.
- Civic apps and services should be developed with the “common-citizen” in mind. Most of them, however, are normally created for “odd” people or, even worse, for a kind of people that does not really exist.
- The commonly hold “logic of change”, that assumes civic change is the result of the following causation chain: “(change of) knowledge –> (change of) Attitudes –> (change of) Practices”. Fact is that we human being normally operate the opposite way: “It’s easier to ACT our way into a new way of THINKING, than to THINK our way into a new way of ACTING”.
- It is collaborative civic calendar which uses the software Demosphere.
- Its four main use cases:
- Get informed about what civic events will happen in my city in the following days.
- Receive automatic alerts by e-mail.
- Propose events to be published in the Agenda.
- As a citizen group, become a member of the Agenda and use it with autonomy to inform about relevant events.
- Evolution of the project since it was started.
- Possibility to replicate the Agenda in other parts of Spain.
- CitYsens aims to be much more than an collaborative events’ calender: it will act as a kind of “civic nervous tissue” for the city, which connects citizens, citizen groups and political and administrative institutions with each other.
- CitYsens will include, among other things, information about organizations, citizen initiatives and campaigns, participatory processes and methodological orientation. It will also work as a “memory” of everything that happened in the city.
- To achieve this, it needs to integrate gamification and viral elements, and be constructed by means of a co-creation process where representatives of all its different user groups are fully involved.
- What we have achieved so far: we just completed a crowdfunding en goteo and… started the collaborative design.
After a few days discussing about a possible definition for “Open Government” (OG) we have clearly seen how, on the one hand, we all share a wide common understanding of what we mean when we talk about OG. However, we have also seen there are little details and nuances that cause polemic and make it difficult to define, operationalize and, therefore, to bring OG into practice.
As I read through your contributions, a trascendental doubt formed in my head, which is worrying me much. Namely, the suspicion that when we talk and theorize about Open Government we could be passionately calling “love”… something that clearly is something else; something that we all know well but which is rather rude to mention directly.
And no, I do not mean “sex”, but something even better: “democracy”
And indeed: most of the dimensions that have been suggested for OG, like radical transparency, accountability and control mechanisms, administrative efficiency and effectiveness (including inter-administrative collaboration), citizen-government collaboration, and a constant drive for self-improvement… all them seem to me to be all basic, essential requirements of what we call Democracy.
Any government system which does not include all of them… could hardly be described as democratic in the XXI century. And this could very well be the fact that no one wants to acknowledge: that most of our “Real Existing Democracies” have very little democracy in them. If we want to achieve all those improvements, why would we resort to the “Open Government” speech instead of directly demanding a better, real democracy?
We might think, on the one hand, that the OG discourse enables and accelerates change in the desired direction. According to this view, the “hype” that has been generated around OG and the commitments countries do when joining the Open Government Partnership… allow us to move forward and overcome the many existing resistances. And, to some extent, I am sure this view is right.
But we could also think of OG as a “placebo policy”: thus, after the ‘New Public Management’ went out of fashion… this new “bait” would have been invented to keep us all distracted, once again proclaiming a revolutionary transformation which, in practice, only alters the surface of the power structures, while retaining its essential elements.
In the case where I demand “REAL DEMOCRACY, damn it!!”, no half-measures are accepted: extreme transparency is required, as soon as possible, because it is my right to have it and not as a favor the government grants me in the grade and occasion that suits them at best. And for sure, at the same time I request transparency I also want everything else: accountability, effectiveness, and mechanisms for control and collaboration. It’s all or everything, which I will demand with my votes but also in the streets, in the courts and wherever is needed.
The Open Government approach makes it easier for governments to pursue just cosmetic changes, like: “Have you seen the datasets portal we created with the support of a super-consultant. We are getting higher in the transparency rankings. If we keep this pace in ten years we could start thinking about tackling the next level, that of participation”. The recent interview to César Cruz [es] shows that, unfortunately, this is the attitude that has prevailed in Spain .
So… let’s remain alert to avoid falling into the “dark side” of Open Government . We should not be part of the “gattopardist” armies, which in fact defend what they think they are fighting against. We should really aims for profound changes in the democratic political culture.
As Clinton would say, “Open Government? It’s real democracy , stupid!”
Last November Kyopol Assoc. participated at the World Forum for Democracy organized by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In its Lab on Digital Local Democracy we presented our project to create CitYsens, a local civic networking system that promotes effective and empowering citizen participation.
Here is a video that summarizes our participation in the Forum (includes English subtitles for the Spanish parts) .
(On our YouTube channel you can see, by the way, a video series including our first presentation and our final statement, as well as the first and second Q&A rounds. It is also possible to see the video of the full workshop -134 mins)
Our stay in Strasbourg has been a bittersweet experience, in fact.
The Forum was a great event which cost about one million euros and was attended by over a thousand participants from over 100 countries . Many initiatives and projects that use information technology to improve democracy were presented in its workshops. We were also able to present CitYsens, request support for our crowdsourcing campaign and interact with many individuals and initiatives working in the field of e-democracy. This all was good .
However, the forum also showed the theatrical and rhetorical zeal that most institutions have toward democracy.
Thus, the forum provided numerous examples of the shortcomings of current democracy: an obsession with senseless voting exercises, manipulated elective processes, focus on media personalities and, as a a final touch: the video of the session on transparency was censored in a truly “dictatorial” style because one of the presenters mentioned names and examples… that the organizers of the forum apparently did not like.
Unfortunately there was, as you see, a lot of hypocrisy and theater.
By the way: although the forum gathered a lot of people with a very high purchasing power and also, supposedly, a very high democratic sensibility… our “desperate” call for support for our crowd-funding campaign to build CitYsens certainly fell on deaf ears. Truth is we did not expect much, but got even less.