Digital Self-Determination as a Tool for Migrant Empowerment


Blog by Uma Kalkar, Marine Ragnet, and Stefaan Verhulst: “In 2020, there were an estimated 281 million migrants, accounting for 3.6% of the global population. Migrants move for a variety of reasons: some are forced to flee from unsafe situations caused by conflict or climate change, others voluntarily move in search of new opportunities. People on the move bring along a wealth of new data. This information creates new opportunities for data collection, use, and reuse across the migration process and by a variety of public, private, and humanitarian sectors. Increased access and use of data for migration need to be accompanied by increased agency and the empowerment of the data subjects — a concept called “digital self-determination” (DSD).

The Big Data for Migration Alliance (BD4M) is a multisectoral initiative driven by the IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (IOM-GMDAC), the European Commission’s Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography (KCMD), and The GovLab at New York University. Realizing the need for a paradigm change for data in migration policy, the BD4M and International Network on Digital Self-Determination (IDSD) hosted the first studio as part of its Digital Self-Determination Studio Series

Although DSD is a relatively new concept, its roots stem from philosophy, psychology and human rights jurisprudence. Broadly speaking, DSD affirms that a person’s data is an extension of themselves in cyberspace, and we therefore need to consider how to provide a certain level of autonomy and agency to individuals or communities over their digital self. The first studio sought to deconstruct this concept within the context of migration and migrants. Below we list some of the main takeaways from the studio discussions.

Takeaway #1: DSD is in essence about the power asymmetries between migrants, states, and relevant organizations. Specifically, conversations around DSD centered around “power” and “control” — there is an asymmetry between the migrant and the state or organization they interact with to move within and across borders. These imbalances center around agency (a lack of autonomy over data collection, data consciousness, and data use); choice (in who, how, and where data are used, a lack of transparency over these decisions, and power and control issues faced when seeking to access national or social rights); and participation (who gets to formulate questions and access the data?).

  • Studio participants brought up how structural requirements force migrants to be open about their data; noted the opacity around how data is sourced from migrants; and raised concerns about agency, data literacy, and advocacy across the migrant process.
  • The various hierarchies of power, and how it relates to DSD for migrants, highlighted the discrepancies in power between migrants, the state, private companies, and even NGOs.
  • Information architecture and information asymmetries are some of the central aspects to consider to achieve DSD, suggesting that DSD may relate directly to who is telling the story during a crisis and who has the power to add insights to the narratives being developed. A responsible DSD framework will hinge on the voices of migrants.
  • The right to “data consciousness” was also raised to ensure that vulnerable individuals and groups are aware of when, where, and how data are collected, processed, and stored. Nurturing this awareness helps breed agency around personal data.
Representation of power asymmetries faced by migrants in achieving their DSD.

Takeaway #2: There is a need to understand the dual meaning of DSD.

Takeaway #3: There is a need to engage migrants in needs and expectations.

Takeaway #4: A taxonomy of DSD for the various migration-related steps can support creating effective tools to protect migrants along their journey...

Takeaway #5: DSD can be achieved through policy, technology, and process innovations.

Takeaway #6: DSD opportunities need to be determined across the data life cycle….(More)”.

More than just information: what does the public want to know about climate change?


Paper by Michael Murunga et all: “Public engagement on climate change is a vital concern for both science and society. Despite more people engaging with climate change science today, there remains a high-level contestation in the public sphere regarding scientific credibility and identifying information needs, interests, and concerns of the non-technical public. In this paper, we present our response to these challenges by describing the use of a novel “public-powered” approach to engaging the public through submitting questions of interest about climate change to climate researchers before a planned engagement activity. Employing thematic content analysis on the submitted questions, we describe how those people we engaged with are curious about understanding climate change science, including mitigating related risks and threats by adopting specific actions. We assert that by inviting the public to submit their questions of interest to researchers before an engagement activity, this step can inform why and transform how actors engage in reflexive dialogue…(More)”.

A Movement That’s Quietly Reshaping Democracy For The Better


Essay by Claudia Chwalisz: “Imagine you receive an invitation one day from your mayor, inviting you to serve as a member of your city’s newly established permanent Citizens’ Assembly. You will be one of 100 others like you — people who are not politicians or even necessarily party members. All of you were drawn by lot through a fair and random process called a civic lottery. Together, you are broadly representative of the community — a mix of bakers, doctors, students, accountants, shopkeepers and more. You are young and old and from many backgrounds — everybody living in the city over age 16 is eligible, and anyone can take part regardless of citizenship status. Essentially, this group of 100 people is a microcosm of the wider public. Your mandate lasts for one year, after which a new group of people will be drawn by lot.

This is not just a thought experiment. Since the 1980s, a wave of such citizens’ assemblies has been building, and it has been gaining momentum since 2010. Over the past four decades, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have received invitations from heads of state, ministers, mayors and other public authorities to serve as members of over 500 citizens’ assemblies and other deliberative processes to inform policy making. Important decisions have been shaped by everyday people about 10-year, $5 billion strategic plans, 30-year infrastructure investment strategies, tackling online hate speech and harassment, taking preventative action against increased flood risks, improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and many other issues.

As governance systems are failing to address some of society’s most pressing issues and trust between citizens and government is faltering, these new institutions embody the potential of democratic renewal. They create the democratic spaces for everyday people to grapple with the complexity of policy issues, listen to one another and find common ground. In doing so, they create the conditions to overcome polarization and strengthen societal cohesion. They bring out the collective intelligence of society — the principle that many diverse people will come to better decisions than more homogeneous groups…(More)”.

Under Construction: Citizen Participation in the European Union


Paper by Dominik Hierlemann: “Four out of five European citizens want to have a bigger say in EU policymaking. Already now, they can participate in the European Union through elections, citizens’ initiatives, consultations, petitions, dialogues, and the Ombudsman. But how well do these participation instruments work? Do citizens know about them? What is their impact on EU policymaking? This study examines seven EU participation instruments in depth. It finds that the EU offers a patchwork of participation instruments that work well in some respects but remain largely unknown and create little impact. To strengthen the voice of European citizens, the EU should move from its participation patchwork to a coherent participation infrastructure. Voting every five years is not enough. A democratically accountable and legitimate EU depends on the ongoing and effective participation of citizens…(More)”.

Understanding Public Participation as a Mechanism Affecting Government Fiscal Outcomes: Theory and Evidence from Participatory Budgeting


Paper by Jinsol Park, J S Butler, and Nicolai Petrovsky: “This study aims to advance our knowledge about the role of public participation in formulating budgetary decisions of local governments. By focusing on participatory budgeting as a prominent form of public participation in the budgetary process, we posit that participatory budgeting serves two important roles in aligning the fiscal outcomes of local governments with citizen preferences: (1) increased transparency of the local budget and (2) improved budget literacy of citizens. This study investigates a link between participatory budgeting and the fiscal outcomes of local governments by utilizing data drawn from Korean local governments for seven fiscal years. Employing instrumental variable regression to address endogeneity, there is strong evidence that public participation and deliberation during the participatory budgeting process have a positive association with the fiscal balance. There is also weak evidence that the authority delegated to participatory budgeting participants affects the fiscal balance. The findings of this study imply that it is the quality of public participation that matters in holding the government accountable for its fiscal decisions…(More)”.

How to Make Better Decisions Online



Article by Josh Lerner and Rose Longhurst: “…First, the good news. Digital participation platforms can enable people to learn, debate, and decide together in more inclusive ways. They generally have several core functions that work well: collecting, reviewing, and revising ideas and proposals; voting on proposals; and reporting outcomes. Along the way, people can receive updates, give feedback, share information beyond the platforms, and integrate offline and online discussions. Advanced platform features are increasingly using artificial intelligence, algorithms, and randomization to connect people and ideas in new ways.

These platforms can make it easier to reach more informed decisions that have broader support. They make engagement easier by automating and distributing work— by collecting ideas, for example, and compiling votes. They make decision-making more transparent by documenting and sharing key information and discussions online, in usable formats. And they make participation more accessible by creating easier opportunities for people to engage at times and in places and languages that work for them.

At FundAction, a European community of activists has used one such platform to make decisions about funding priorities and grants. FundAction is a participatory fund that aims “to shift power to make decisions about funding from foundations to those closer to the issue, strengthen collaboration and mutual support among European activists, and build the capacity of activists and the social movements they work with.” The community is spread across many countries in different time zones, so people need to engage asynchronously at times most convenient for them.

The platform that FundAction uses has made it easier for activists to share their work with people outside their thematic or geographic community, which has helped build solidarity and buttressed political education. For example, disability justice activists shared links to their proposed social model of disability on the platform, making it easier for peers and reviewers to learn about the concept and ask questions. The questions and responses are shared transparently with all, saving the activists time as they do not have to repeatedly address the same points. This open format also serves as a reminder that all of us have questions, as well as solutions, to contribute.

People Powered has used a platform to allocate funds at a global level—and also to decide new organizational policies. People Powered is a global hub for participatory democracy that aims “to expand people’s power to make government decisions.” Its community of members from over 35 countries provides direct support for programs such as participatory budgeting and citizens’ assemblies. Members have used the platform to propose and debate funding allocations and policies and then vote to allocate funds to new projects (e.g., mentorship, trainings and a digital participation platform guide and ratings) and approve new policies (e.g., for membership, board elections, inclusion, and accessibility)….(More)”.

Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge


Book by John Matsusaka: “Propelled by the belief that government has slipped out of the hands of ordinary citizens, a surging wave of populism is destabilizing democracies around the world. As John Matsusaka reveals in Let the People Rule, this belief is based in fact. Over the past century, while democratic governments have become more efficient, they have also become more disconnected from the people they purport to represent. The solution Matsusaka advances is familiar but surprisingly underused: direct democracy, in the form of referendums. While this might seem like a dangerous idea post-Brexit, there is a great deal of evidence that, with careful design and thoughtful implementation, referendums can help bridge the growing gulf between the government and the people.

Drawing on examples from around the world, Matsusaka shows how direct democracy can bring policies back in line with the will of the people (and provide other benefits, like curbing corruption). Taking lessons from failed processes like Brexit, he also describes what issues are best suited to referendums and how they should be designed, and he tackles questions that have long vexed direct democracy: can voters be trusted to choose reasonable policies, and can minority rights survive majority decisions? The result is one of the most comprehensive examinations of direct democracy to date—coupled with concrete, nonpartisan proposals for how countries can make the most of the powerful tools that referendums offer….(More)”.

Rethinking gamified democracy as frictional: a comparative examination of the Decide Madrid and vTaiwan platforms


Paper by Yu-Shan Tseng: “Gamification in digital design harnesses game-like elements to create rewarding and competitive systems that encourage desirable user behaviour by influencing users’ bodily actions and emotions. Recently, gamification has been integrated into platforms built to fix democratic problems such as boredom and disengagement in political participation. This paper draws on an ethnographic study of two such platforms – Decide Madrid and vTaiwan – to problematise the universal, techno-deterministic account of digital democracy. I argue that gamified democracy is frictional by nature, a concept borrowed from cultural and social geographies. Incorporating gamification into interface design does not inherently enhance the user’s enjoyment, motivation and engagement through controlling their behaviours. ‘Friction’ in the user experience includes various emotional predicaments and tactical exploitation by more advanced users. Frictional systems in the sphere of digital democracy are neither positive nor negative per se. While they may threaten systemic inclusivity or hinder users’ abilities to organise and implement policy changes, friction can also provide new impetus to advance democratic practices…(More)”.

From “democratic erosion” to “a conversation among equals”


Paper by Roberto Gargarella: “In recent years, legal and political doctrinaires have been confusing the democratic crisis that is affecting most of our countries with a mere crisis of constitutionalism (i.e., a crisis in the way our system of “checks and balances” works). Expectedly, the result of this “diagnostic error” is that legal and political doctrinaires began to propose the wrong remedies for the democratic crisis. Usually, they began advocating for the “restoration” of the old system of “internal controls” or “checks and balances”, without paying attention to the democratic aspects of the crisis that would require, instead, the strengthening of “popular” controls and participatory mechanisms that favored the gradual emergence of a “conversation among equals”. In this work, I focus my attention on certain institutional alternatives – citizens’ assemblies and the like- that may help us overcome the present democratic crisis. In particular, I examine the recent practice of citizens’ assemblies and evaluate their functioning…(More)”.

Inclusive policy making in a digital age: The case for crowdsourced deliberation


Blog by Theo Bass: “In 2016, the Finnish Government ran an ambitious experiment to test if and how citizens across the country could meaningfully contribute to the law-making process.

Many people in Finland use off-road snowmobiles to get around in the winter, raising issues like how to protect wildlife, keep pedestrians safe, and compensate property owners for use of their land for off-road traffic.

To hear from people across the country who would be most affected by new laws, the government set up an online platform to understand problems they faced and gather solutions. Citizens could post comments and suggestions, respond to one another, and vote on ideas they liked. Over 700 people took part, generating around 250 policy ideas.

The exercise caught the attention of academics Tanja Aitamurto and Hélène Landemore. In 2017, they wrote a paper coining the term crowdsourced deliberation — an ‘open, asynchronous, depersonalized, and distributed kind of online deliberation occurring among self‐selected participants’ — to describe the interactions they saw on the platform.

Many other crowdsourced deliberation initiatives have emerged in recent years, although they haven’t always been given that name. From France to Taiwan, governments have experimented with opening policy making and enabling online conversations among diverse groups of thousands of people, leading to the adoption of new regulations or laws.

So what’s distinctive about this approach and why should policy makers consider it alongside others? In this post I’ll make a case for crowdsourced deliberation, comparing it to two other popular methods for inclusive policy making…(More)”.