As part of a two-weeks hackathon on collective intelligence for democracy, Virgile Deville (Open Source Politics / Democracy Earth) went to Madrid in order to work on Sovereign, Democracy Earth’s software. It was also an opportunity for him to discover Medialab Prado, a true civic collaborative space.
Virgile arrived in Madrid on November 18, 2016. He was quickly able to immerse himself in the atmosphere and had an immediate crush on the Spanish capital. It’s a lively city which remains faithful to its history, both a pleasant and affordable place. The only downside was the bad weather.
Located in the center of the city, near the Atocha station, the civic hall has been established in an old lumber mill. The building is large and spacious: there is a fablab, an exhibition hall, a vast open space and a conference room. The Medialab team is composed of city hall employees — the “ParticipaLab” — as well as residents — sociologists, hackers, digital artists… This diverse staff works at the reception desk but also on personnal projects. A special attention is given to mediation. A part of the staff is here to welcome the public and help them make use of the place. Anyone can propose a project whenever they wish. To summarize, Medialab Prado consists in a warm and open team that is also hard working, professional and experienced. After all, it is ten years old and used to be located in an underground space.
Located in an old lumber mill, the Medialab is vast and esthetically pleasing
Once newcomers were accustomed to the place, the staff of the Medialab set out to form multidisciplinary working groups, with individual skills ranging from code to writing or narration and more artistic profiles.
The topic on which all the groups were to work was the following : “Collective intelligence for democracy”.
Besides Virgile 🇫🇷, the team consisted in Claudia (digital artist 🇵🇹), Angeliki (illustrator 🇬🇷), Mia (author of a thesis on new forms of political parties 🇩🇪), Mair (political science student 🇦🇷), Roxana (design-thinking expert 🇲🇽) and last but not least, Juan-Felipe (scriptwriter 🇨🇴). In addition, two coders joined the team : Gage (🇨🇦) and Osiel (🇲🇽).
Dream Team at work !
A team whose members clearly had disparate backgrounds, but still compatible. Although it was not easy for Virgile to manage such an eclectic lineup, in the early days, participants had a chance to use Sovereign to help in their decision making process. They chose the following delivery process :
- Definition of the issue ;
- Test and feedback on the existing software ;
- Definition of the expected result ;
- Vote et deliberation ;
- Tasks attribution.
As for the global topic, team members quickly expressed their wish to talk about the digital era and the future of democracy by connecting these themes to individual sovereignty in the Spanish context. At the time, the spanish media had just released a 1995 video in which former Spanish president Adolfo Suárez admits that in 1976 he avoided a referendum on whether or not Spain should become a republic or remain a monarchy (link in Spanish below).
Keep in mind that in Spain, where the king still has real powers — like being commander in chief — this remains a sensitive topic. In order to bypass this taboo aspect, the team chose to deal with this question in a less concrete fashion, through fictional narration.
The goal was to underline the following: like the kings and queens of old, our digital governance tools’ administators are the kings of our online democracies.
They can monitor our decision-making processes, our opinions, our data and so on.
This is why a whole segment of the international civic tech community proposes that we use open source platforms instead of proprietary softwares that pose a grave threat to transparency and sovereignty. To fix this, we need to build a decentralized and incorruptible digital governance system. That is where Democracy Earth, the next project from former members of DemocracyOS, comes into play. But that’s another story…
So what is the outcome of the work of such a team, you ask? A tool that conveys a strong message: Sovereignty beyond Nation-States.
After a few days work, the team launched its platform “Kingdom Tale”. This is an online experiment which aims to underline the question of personal sovereignty in the years ahead and, through fictional narration, to discuss Spanish and other modern monarchies while comparing them to the digital aspects of our contemporary political systems.
“Kingdom Tale” a narrative experiment on individual sovereignty
After this short introduction, the reader is propelled in a mini game in which they portray the current emperor of the “Kingdom whose name I don’t want to remember”. At first, everything seems calm and the player might acknowledge a few famous buildings of Madrid. As the emperor approaches, his subjects follow him peacefully… But quickly, they turn hostile and plot to overthrow him as they invade the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol (the spot where the Indignados gathered in May 2011)!
From that moment on, the narrative unfolds and the reader finds out about the world of these citizens and the successor of the emperor, “King I” of the “Kingdom I do not want to remember”. A king who has demonstrated a desire for equity and social justice, but who remains the heir of a fundamentally unjust system whose, despite his goodwill, he can only preserve the integrity.
The final link is a call to action entitled “Become Sovereign” which leads to a Democracy Earth instance that allows users to vote on questions such as Law of Succession or whether or not to grant powers to monarchy representatives.
“Sovereign” by Democracy Earth
Virgile’s experience at Medialab Prado proved to be pleasant and extremely rewarding. This hackathon was an opportunity for him to advance on the Democracy Earth project as well as a chance to bond with the Spanish civic-tech ecosystem, which emanates directly from the Indignados movement and has been able to conduct numerous experiments since the accession to power of civil coalitions in major Spanish cities such as Madrid, Barcelona or La Coruña... It was also an opportunity to meet a community of nearly a hundred democratic innovators from around the world who are all working on incredible and varied projects that do not compromise with the values they defend — Free software (which means cooperation and transparency) and a certain attraction for spaces of participation that involve the responsibility of the institutions and the political decision-makers regarding the citizens.
Among the other projects, Virgile was particularly impressed by:
- Turnometro : An application designed to measure or request speaking time at general meetings. It emanates directly from the experience of Wiki Politica in Mexico. Turnometro also allows to collect opinions and feelings on each of the speakers.
- Red Argos : A collaborative real-time drafting tool based on the jetpad technology (open source alternative to Google docs), aimed at improving participation in the legislative process.
- Consul + Emapic : Fusion of Emapic, which allows to develop geolocated surveys and Consul, the civic participation tool created by the city hall of Madrid that allows to locate the source of the proposals but also to be able to pinpoint, for each proposal, the distribution of votes by district.
- Digidem Guide : A platform that centralizes and redirects towards several consultation tools according to needs (OpenSpending for transparency of both public and private expenditure, Loomio for argumentation and discussion, Pol.is for large-scale consultation etc.).
There are several reasons why Medialab Prado is a true model of democratic innovation:
1. Accessibility: the place is open to any citizen who wants to carry out a project, and a team of mediators is available to accompany it.
2. The collaboration with the city hall: the members of the “ParticipaLab” work at the town hall and conduct the experiments within the Medialab. This kind of partnership between civil society and institutions is exciting because it broadens the scope of the stakeholders in the consultation process and makes citizens’ involvement easier.
3. Opening up internationally: while dealing with local issues, the Medialab team organizes hackathons with participants from around the world and guarantees them support from recognized mentors such as Audrey Tang, digital Minister of Taiwan.
4. The diversity of themes: the Medialab welcomes and promotes both robotic projects as well as artistic, social or musical projects…
This is certainly the model that should inspire us collectively to design the upcoming Parisian Civic Hall.