Asociación Ciudades Kyosei

27. June 2008 – 13:27 by Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei

Logo Ciudades Kyosei

As most of you already know, our national, regional and local governments have so far failed to fully exploit the collaborative potential of the Internet. The most celebrated e-Democracy experiences have been modest experiments with little real effect and almost no continuity or scalability. e-Participation poses serious conflicts of interests to political elites and civil servants, who would like to have more legitimacy because of citizen participation… but nevertheless want to retain their discretionary decisional power. These e-Participation experiences have cost too much and have brought too few change and benefits.

In order to stimulate citizens’ trust in e-Participation, it is necessary to promote experiences coming from Civil Society, which while still granting authorities the privileged role they deserve regarding participation, withdraw from them an “absolute” power and control.

Our spanish-based association, the “Asociación Ciudades Kyosei”, aims to provide a free non-partisan environment to foster municipal civic participation. NGOs, citizens, civil servants, politicians & media will be provided with tools to communicate, discuss, carry out participatory processes, coordinate internal work, etc. This environment, whose name is Kyosei-Polis, will provide e-Participation tools to any organization -first of all: public authorities- willing to involve citizens to work for the “common good”. It will also help concerned citizens to find each other and facilitate their mobilization and action, thus enabling them to exert pressure on local authorities to take participation seriously and to act accordingly. This may be the best strategy to expand e-participation’s reach and depth.

Our environment will be a FOS (Free and Open Source) System, and our aim is to make it sustainable both in developed and developing countries. The research, design and construction of the system is being planned with an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach, incorporating socio-political, technical and participative components. Because this is not just software, but software for (political) development, we have taken a very innovative approach: we are extending the collaborative practices of Open Source to include the design phase. This way, we are creating processes which allow representatives from all systems’s future stake-holders to easily contribute with their knowledge and expertise, to create a system that fully addresses its necessities and concerns.

We are placing an utmost attention on the sustainability of the system (technical, institutional and financial). Sustainability is attained when the different system’s users and stake-holders perceive it as “useful”, which will happen when the benefits they obtain with the system are worth the effort they invest using it. This may sound “obvious”, but no eParticipation system created so far has been able to address it satisfactorily.

Experts coming from various disciplines are contributing to the project on an voluntary basis, under the coordination of the Association and with the support of the University of Alcalá (Spain). We have lately applied for a grant from the spanish Ministry of Industry, to complete our system’s first alpha release and carry out several pilot experiences.

We hope that, by becoming an associated member of PEP-Net, we will be able to learn a lot from the perspectives of its various members, and contribute to the difussion of an open-minded view of e-Participation.

For more information please visit:

  1. 4 Responses to “Asociación Ciudades Kyosei”

  2. By Rolf Lührs on Jun 30, 2008

    “…our national, regional and local governments have so far failed to fully exploit the collaborative potential of the Internet” - agreed. But didn’t (we as) citizens failed as well demanding more eParticipation & using existing opportunities?

  3. By Pedro Prieto-Martin (Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei) on Jul 1, 2008

    I somehow feel it is easier to identify when a democratic “government” is failing to do some of its supposed assignments (“doing their best to improve democratic institutions and practices”) than to identify those failures from the “citizens” (which at present do not really have that kind of tasks “assigned”).

    Your point is, anyway, right: it is clear that most of us are not demanding more eParticipation opportunities from our governments. Most of us are “fully booked” and dedicate our energies to our work, our family and our leisure duties… with the result that very little time is left for us to reflect about what does it mean to be a “citizen” (which probably means not only demanding “more” participation, but demanding “better” participation opportunities).

    On the other hand, I can completely understand why citizens are currently “failing” to use the existing eParticipation opportunities: why should they invest their precious time in experiments that are (in most cases) badly designed, insufficiently publicized poorly managed and executed, dedicated to uninteresting issues, and which –in most cases– will probably have NO real political effect?
    As we have tried to express in the previous entry: people will not participate and will not invest their time and energies in eParticipation, till they can be persuaded that their investment is worthwhile: that it will be truly “useful” (whatever “useful” means for every of them).
    Thus, the real issue is probably not about the “amount” of eParticipation, but its “quality”. It has been often argued that having more participation could even be counter-productive, if those opportunities are not good enough to produce a good experience for all involved parties.

    We think this is our real challenge as “practitioners” and “experts” in the e-Participation field: to figure out ways in which both the offer side (administrations) and the demand side (citizens) can make a better job working together, and thus get slowly convinced of the usefulness that having a “real” eParticipation in place reports for both of them.
    Sometimes… this will mean that we, as practitioners, cannot simply concentrate on delivering what our contractor (usually from the “government”) asks from us. We’ll need to act as real advisors, make a stand and say: “If you just want to walk half of the way… it will not work. Let’s do it right or not do it at all!”.

  4. By Rolf Lührs on Jul 1, 2008

    Dear Pedro,
    sure, you are right in saying that citizens can’t fail to participate since (e)participation is not a task which has been assigned to them/us. There is also the right and freedom not to participate.

    However, I chose this provoking expression on purpose – hoping to get the opportunity to discuss some of the explanations for the “limited” success of eParticipation which I consider not to be true. Here we go:

    1) Only few citizens participate because of “badly designed, insufficiently publicized poorly managed and executed (experiments), dedicated to uninteresting issues”

    Well, I think this not the case any longer for plenty of eParticipation projects. It might look immodest, but I although would like to point to some of the projects the organisation I am working for (TuTech Innovation GmbH) has conducted in recent years. I know that you speak German, so please check out the following projects:

    Urban planning:

    Participatory Budgeting:

    All of these projects have been professionally implemented and intensively moderated,
    had a remarkable media coverage and full support from the political side. (The same holds true for projects of other facilitators like e.g. Zebralog. Or look at Nonetheless the average number of participants was about 700 hundred participants – the PB in Hamburg was most successful with almost 3000 participants. However, the City of Hamburg has 1.7 m inhabitants….

    2) In most cases the eParticipation experiments will probably have NO real political effect

    That citizens participation first of all depends on the chances that their engagement will have real effects can also be considered a myth. Several of the above mentioned projects were likely to have a tangible impact. E.g. in case of the PB in Hamburg, the project has been formally approved by the city’s parliament, the results have been discussed in the plenary of the Hamburgische Bürgerschaft and some of the results have been formally implemented. We discovered at the same time that lots of the participants did not came back to our website to download the final report although they have been informed via email. Compare this to the millions of participants taking part in ePetitions although most of them knew that the effect will be low…
    Apart from that not all citizens are happy to see the results of informal participation implemented since the democratic legitimation is perceived as being weak.

    To conclude: I think the first reasons you mentioned (“Most of us are “fully booked” and dedicate our energies to our work, our family and our leisure duties”) have a really serious impact on the numbers of participants. Another problem comes along with complex topics under discussion – most of the citizens do not have the ressources or are willing to become deeply involved in the process of solving complex political problems.

    At the same time direct political participation has always been a business of the few…We might have to adapt our expectations regarding the quantitative success indicators of eParticipation. But: lots of people who are not actively participating might benefit indirectly of eParticipation experiments by just following the discussion via Internet or other media or by the increased availability of information and better political decisions.

    Finally: Like elsewhere we have to consider the “long tail”: regarding particular eParticipation projects the number of participants might remain low. But if eParticipation become a ubiquitous instrument to involve citizens in the decision making process it could boost the overall participation rates considerably.

  5. By Pedro Prieto-Martin (Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei) on Jul 2, 2008

    Dear Rolf,
    I’m aware of the serious and precious work that is being developed in Germany (part of it with the help of TuTech Innovation GmbH and Zebralog). I’m really thankful to you all, because I think these are steps on the right direction, that allow us to understand better the issues around (e)Participation. Unfortunately, cases like these are more the exception than the norm. As I repeated in my last entry, “most cases” of eParticipation experiences still lack those fundamental dimensions: publicity, moderation, management and impact.

    But let me disagree with you when you say that “some of the explanations of the “limited” success of eParticipation which [are] not […] true”. Your successful experiences do not prove that those explanations are wrong. Probably, the evaluations you’ve carried out on those experiences have shown that those dimensions are relevant, and influence a lot the motivation and satisfaction of the participants.
    Thereby, what your mature and well-handled experiences really prove is that, while these dimensions can be considered important factors to understand why citizens participate or not –a “necessary condition”, on logical terms– they are not the only important factors –and thus don’t constitute a “sufficient condition”: even if you have them in place… your citizens will not arrive in large numbers, because some other fundamental factor is still missing.

    We need to continue investigating and testing which ones are the characteristics (e)Participation needs to aggregate in order to be successful and sustainable. There are several good candidates we’ve identified as part of our research, and I’ll be very happy to discuss them with you in our next meeting. The “clues” are flying all over the virtual air: I think we can learn a lot of DOs and DON’Ts from eBay, from Amazon, from Facebook, from even Skype, from successful eGovernment services, from the blogsphere… and many other apparently unrelated forefront appliances. Additionally, we can also learn a lot from the “Participation” field (with no “e”) and their hundreds of experiences and approaches.
    Are we doing it? I fear than… not as well as we should. The reality is that, even if we are currently in a position where we can already suspect of 7 or 8 factors as very important for (e)Participation… most of the experiences don’t even cover 3 or 4 of them.
    So… let’s keep learning. I think that, finally, the (e)Participation field is entering the right direction. Some say it’s still on its infancy, but I’m afraid even that is too much: (e)Participation is about to “be born”. Let’s take care of it.

    Finally, with respects to your consideration about the “long tail”… I agree with you. I think it’s important not to forget that, participation, by definition, is not about “multitudes” but about small amounts of active citizens.

    “Representative democracy’s legitimacy stems from the minimal but equal participation of all through the vote, whereas the legitimacy of participatory democracy lies in the high degree of activity of what is likely to be a minority through institutions that are transparent, open to all and based on mutually agreed rules.” (WAINWRIGHT, H. “Reclaiming “The Public” through the People”)

    It is simply unrealistic to expect that, on any single issue (be it a Living Bridge or even a Participatory Budgeting exercise) a big share of the affected population will participate intensively. At best, a lot of very small groups participating intensively in different issues… will be able to cause a “high participation rate” overall.
    Thus, it is important that our eParticipation systems, procedures and institutions are prepared to accommodate, as you suggest, different levels of involvement: for every relevant issue, there will be a small amount of citizens that consider it as very important, and will be willing to invest a lot of his or her time on it; other citizens may want to participate but lack the time to contribute much, and thus just follow the deliberation, evaluate and praise other user’s interventions and comments, and participate in pollings that verify the overall agreements; there will be other citizens that just want to see the final results of a participatory process, and adhere to it (or oppose it) through a “petition” exercise; and for some citizens… it will probably be enough to get the “executive summary” of the process, with information about the activity levels, representativity of the participants, deliberative procedures and institutional neutrality that the whole exercise had, to get enough confidence on the results achieved.

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