The Deliberative Turn in Democratic Theory

Book by Antonino Palumbo: “Thirty years of developments in deliberative democracy (DD) have consolidated this subfield of democratic theory. The acquired disciplinary prestige has made theorist and practitioners very confident about the ability of DD to address the legitimacy crisis experienced by liberal democracies at present at both theoretical and practical levels. The book advance a critical analysis of these developments that casts doubts on those certainties — current theoretical debates are reproposing old methodological divisions, and are afraid to move beyond the minimalist model of democracy advocated by liberal thinkers; democratic experimentation at the micro-level seems to have no impact at the macro-level, and remain sets of isolated experiences. The book indicates that those defects are mainly due to the liberal minimalist frame of reference within which reflection in democratic theory and practice takes place. Consequently, it suggests to move beyond liberal understandings of democracy as a game in need of external rules, and adopt instead a vision of democracy as a self-correcting metagame…(More)”.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate Collective Intelligence

Paper by Róbert Bjarnason, Dane Gambrell and Joshua Lanthier-Welch: “In an era characterized by rapid societal changes and complex challenges, institutions’ traditional methods of problem-solving in the public sector are increasingly proving inadequate. In this study, we present an innovative and effective model for how institutions can use artificial intelligence to enable groups of people to generate effective solutions to urgent problems more efficiently. We describe a proven collective intelligence method, called Smarter Crowdsourcing, which is designed to channel the collective intelligence of those with expertise about a problem into actionable solutions through crowdsourcing. Then we introduce Policy Synth, an innovative toolkit which leverages AI to make the Smarter Crowdsourcing problem-solving approach both more scalable, more effective and more efficient. Policy Synth is crafted using a human-centric approach, recognizing that AI is a tool to enhance human intelligence and creativity, not replace it. Based on a real-world case study comparing the results of expert crowdsourcing alone with expert sourcing supported by Policy Synth AI agents, we conclude that Smarter Crowdsourcing with Policy Synth presents an effective model for integrating the collective wisdom of human experts and the computational power of AI to enhance and scale up public problem-solving processes.

The potential for artificial intelligence to enhance the performance of groups of people has been a topic of great interest among scholars of collective intelligence. Though many AI toolkits exist, they too often are not fitted to the needs of institutions and policymakers. While many existing approaches view AI as a tool to make crowdsourcing and deliberative processes better and more efficient, Policy Synth goes a step further, recognizing that AI can also be used to synthesize the findings from engagements together with research to develop evidence-based solutions and policies. This study contributes significantly to the fields of collective intelligence, public problem-solving, and AI. The study offers practical tools and insights for institutions looking to engage communities effectively in addressing urgent societal challenges…(More)”

The revolution shall not be automated: On the political possibilities of activism through data & AI

Article by Isadora Cruxên: “Every other day now, there are headlines about some kind of artificial intelligence (AI) revolution that is taking place. If you read the news or check social media regularly, you have probably come across these too: flashy pieces either trumpeting or warning against AI’s transformative potential. Some headlines promise that AI will fundamentally change how we work and learn or help us tackle critical challenges such as biodiversity conservation and climate change. Others question its intelligence, point to its embedded biases, and draw attention to its extractive labour record and high environmental costs.

Scrolling through these headlines, it is easy to feel like the ‘AI revolution’ is happening to us — or perhaps blowing past us at speed — while we are enticed to take the backseat and let AI-powered chat-boxes like ChatGPT do the work. But the reality is that we need to take the driver’s seat.

If we want to leverage this technology to advance social justice and confront the intersecting socio-ecological challenges before us, we need to stop simply wondering what the AI revolution will do to us and start thinking collectively about how we can produce data and AI models differently. As Mimi Ọnụọha and Mother Cyborg put it in A People’s Guide to AI, “the path to a fair future starts with the humans behind the machines, not the machines themselves.”

Sure, this might seem easier said than done. Most AI research and development is being driven by big tech corporations and start-ups. As Lauren Klein and Catherine D’Ignazio discuss in “Data Feminism for AI” (see “Further reading” at the end for all works cited), the results are models, tools, and platforms that are opaque to users, and that cater to the tech ambitions and profit motives of private actors, with broader societal needs and concerns becoming afterthoughts. There is excellent critical work that explores the extractive practices and unequal power relations that underpin AI production, including its relationship to processes of dataficationcolonial data epistemologies, and surveillance capitalism (to link but a few). Interrogating, illuminating, and challenging these dynamics is paramount if we are to take the driver’s seat and find alternative paths…(More)”.

Blueprints for Learning

Report by the Data Foundation: “The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) required the creation of learning agendas for the largest federal agencies. These agendas outline how agencies will identify and answer priority questions through data and evidence-building activities. The Data Foundation undertook an analysis of the agendas to understand how they were developed and plans for implementation as part of the 5-Year milestone of the Evidence Act.

The analysis reveals both progress and areas for improvement in the development and use of learning agendas. All but one large agency produced a publicly-available learning agenda, demonstrating a significant initial effort. However, several challenges were identified:

  • Limited detail on execution and use: Many learning agendas lacked specifics on how the identified priority questions would be addressed or how the evidence generated would be used.
  • Variation in quality: Agencies diverged in the comprehensiveness and clarity of their agendas, with some providing more detailed plans than others.
  • Resource constraints: The analysis suggests that a lack of dedicated resources may be hindering some agencies’ capacity to fully implement their learning agendas…(More)”.

Why the future of democracy could depend on your group chats

Article by Nathan Schneider: “I became newly worried about the state of democracy when, a few years ago, my mother was elected president of her neighborhood garden club.

Her election wasn’t my worry – far from it. At the time, I was trying to resolve a conflict on a large email group I had created. Someone, inevitably, was being a jerk on the internet. I had the power to remove them, but did I have the right? I realized that the garden club had in its bylaws something I had never seen in nearly all the online communities I had been part of: basic procedures to hold people with power accountable to everyone else.

The internet has yet to catch up to my mother’s garden club.

When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in the early 1830s, he made an observation that social scientists have seen over and over since: Democracy at the state and national levels depends on everyday organizations like that garden club. He called them “schools” for practicing the “general theory of association.” As members of small democracies, people were learning to be citizens of a democratic country.

How many people experience those kinds of schools today?

People interact online more than offline nowadays. Rather than practicing democracy, people most likely find themselves getting suspended from a Facebook group they rely on with no reason given or option to appeal. Or a group of friends join a chat together, but only one of them has the ability to change its settings. Or people see posts from Elon Musk inserted into their mentions on X, which he owns. All of these situations are examples of what I call “implicit feudalism.”…(More)”.

Inclusive by default: strategies for more inclusive participation

Article by Luiza Jardim and Maria Lucien: “…The systemic challenges that marginalised groups face are pressing and require action. The global average age of parliamentarians is 53, highlighting a gap in youth representation. Young people already face challenges like poverty, lack of education, unemployment and multiple forms of discrimination. Additionally, some participatory formats are often unappealing to young people and pose a challenge for engaging them. Gender equity research highlights the underrepresentation of women at all levels of decision-making and governance. Despite recent improvements, gender parity in governance worldwide is still decades or even centuries away. Meanwhile, ongoing global conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan, Gaza and elsewhere, as well as the impacts of a changing climate, have driven the recent increase in the number of forcibly displaced people to more than 100 million. The engagement of these individuals in decision-making can vary greatly depending on their specific circumstances and the nature of their displacement.

Participatory and deliberative democracy can have transformative impacts on historically marginalised communities but only if they are intentionally included in program design and implementation. To start with, it’s possible to reduce the barriers to participation, such as the cost and time of transport to the participation venue, or burdens imposed by social and cultural roles in society, like childcare. During the process, mindful and attentive facilitation can help balance power dynamics and encourage participation from traditionally excluded people. This is further strengthened if the facilitation team includes and trains members of priority communities in facilitation and session planning…(More)”.

Liberated Public Services: A new vision for citizens, professionals and policy makers

Report by Demos: “The crisis in public services is visible to everyone in Britain today. Waiting lists, crumbling buildings, exhausted professionals. This is affecting our wellbeing, our health and our economy. It’s increasingly clear that Britain cannot get back on the right track without a public services renewal. The aim of Demos’ Future Public Services Taskforce is to help deliver that renewal.

In this paper, the second paper of the Taskforce, we introduce a new vision for public services, which we call liberated public services. This includes public services being liberated from New Public Management across four domains:

  • Citizens are liberated to bring their whole selves to services and seen as a resource to be worked with,
    not a problem to be fixed.
  • Professionals are liberated from tight specifications defined from the centre.
  • Communities are liberated to partner with public services, whether formally or informally.
  • Policy makers in central government – ministers, advisors and civil servants – are liberated from day-today micromanagement of services and providers to a broader, strategic role supporting learning and best

Liberating public services will require the central state to think less about imposing a view from Whitehall and instead ask itself: how can it provide the conditions for public service renewal across the country?..(More)”.

Scraping the demos. Digitalization, web scraping and the democratic project

Paper by Lena Ulbricht: “Scientific, political and bureaucratic elites use epistemic practices like “big data analysis” and “web scraping” to create representations of the citizenry and to legitimize policymaking. I develop the concept of “demos scraping” for these practices of gaining information about citizens (the “demos”) through automated analysis of digital trace data which are re-purposed for political means. This article critically engages with the discourse advocating demos scraping and provides a conceptual analysis of its democratic implications. It engages with the promise of demos scraping advocates to reduce the gap between political elites and citizens and highlights how demos scraping is presented as a superior form of accessing the “will of the people” and to increase democratic legitimacy. This leads me to critically discuss the implications of demos scraping for political representation and participation. In its current form, demos scraping is technocratic and de-politicizing; and the larger political and economic context in which it takes place makes it unlikely that it will reduce the gap between elites and citizens. From the analytic perspective of a post-democratic turn, demos scraping is an attempt of late modern and digitalized societies to address the democratic paradox of increasing citizen expectations coupled with a deep legitimation crisis…(More)”.

Little Communes Everywhere

Review by Jay Caspian Kang: “…I was thinking about all this while I read “The Commune Form: The Transformation of Everyday Life,” a forthcoming book by the comparative-literature professor Kristin Ross. Ross—who has previously written about the Paris Commune of 1871 and France’s student uprising of May, 1968—focusses particularly on the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, a thousand-acre commune created by French farmers and their allies in the late two-thousands, in an effort to block the construction of a new airport, which would have kicked many people off their own land. (The French government had designated the land a zone d’aménagement différé, or a “deferred development area”; the farmers kept the acronym but used it to mean zone à défendre, or “zone to defend.”) For a commune to work, Ross argues, one must have both a physical space to defend against an antagonist and an articulated vision for an alternative organization of human relationships and economy. The “commune form,” as she defines it, is a “political movement that is also the collective elaboration of a desired way of life—the means becoming the end.” Theory, in other words, needs to be put into practice, in an intimate and earnest setting, so that people can test out their ideas about living within the context of an actual place among actual people.

Ross identifies one of the motivating forces behind the creation of the ZAD as alienation, which was “less the loss of some human essence than it was the loss of possibilities: the sense of blockages and impasses brought on by the destruction and fragmentation of the social tissue by capitalism.” Drawing upon the work of the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, Ross refers to “the colonization of everyday life,” each part of our day becoming dominated by economic reasoning. This, she writes, dispossesses us of “our dignity, our social life, our time, the sense of mastery over our lives, the beauty and health of our lived environment, and of the very possibility of working together to invent our future collectively.” Under such conditions, the commune becomes the only alternative…

Physical spaces, whether pools or parks, can be reclaimed through collective action, in much the way that admissions policies at exclusive magnet schools can be protected by a small group of dedicated parents. Small, everyday victories are the only real cure for alienation. What else would work?…(More)”

Making Sense of Wicked Problems

Review by Andrew J. Hoffman: “While reading Oxford University professor Thomas Hale’s Long Problems: Climate Change and the Challenge of Governing Across Time, I kept thinking of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould’s observation that “we have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life’s continuity on Earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited to such responsibility, but here we are.”

Countless scientists have referred to climate change as part of a class of issues called “wicked problems,” a term used to describe issues that do not neatly fit the conventional models of analysis. While we may not be suited to solve the wicked problem of climate change and may despair that we will never be, Hale offers an analysis of how we might better understand and therefore address it.

Hale predicates Long Problems on the general observation that some political issues span not only national borders but also time horizons. His central claim is that climate change is a “long problem,” a challenge that “spans more than one human lifetime.” He acknowledges that while “length is not the only meaningful way to understand climate change, … a focus on this one characteristic can fundamentally reshape our understanding of politics” by challenging us to establish policies on longer time horizons and to account for the future in ways we have not previously done. Reenvisioning policy is important because long problems are becoming more prevalent, he argues, for three reasons: our growing technological ability to bump against limits within the environment, our growing understanding of those distant effects, and our increasing willingness to address the needs of the future in the present.

Long problems, Hale asserts, challenge us to “govern across time,” rather than in the short terms of election cycles and quarterly returns. He warns that such challenges become more difficult to address the longer we ignore long-term governance. Indeed, as long problems become more urgent, we become more immediate and short term in our political orientation. Put differently, when we are drowning, we are less concerned with fixing the cause of the flood than we are with surviving. Hale calls this a paradox that “is another of the various cruel ironies of climate change [because] it threatens precisely the political support for longer term governance functions that can best address it.”…(More)”.