The pandemic has pushed citizen panels online

Article by Claudia Chwalisz: “…Until 2020, most assemblies took place in person. We know what they require to produce useful recommendations and gain public trust: time (usually many days over many months), access to broad and varied information, facilitated discussion, and transparency. Successful assemblies take on a pressing public issue, secure politicians’ commitment to respond, have mechanisms to ensure independence, and provide facilities such as stipends and childcare, so all can participate. The diversity of people in the room is what delivers the magic of collective intelligence.

However, the pandemic has forced new approaches. Online discussions might be in real time or asynchronous; facilitators and participants might be identifiable or anonymous. My team at the OECD is exploring how virtual deliberation works best. We have noticed a shift: from text-based interactions to video; from an emphasis on openness to one on representativeness; and from individual to group deliberation.

Some argue that online deliberation is less expensive than in-person processes, but the costs are similar when designed to be as democratic as possible. The new wave pays much more attention to inclusivity. For many online citizens’ assemblies this year (for example, in Belgium, Canada and parts of the United Kingdom), participants without equipment were given computers or smartphones, along with training and support to use them. A digital mediator is now essential for any plans to conduct online deliberation inclusively.

Experiments have also started to transcend national borders. Last October, the German Bertelsmann Stiftung, a private foundation for political reform, and the European Commission ran a Citizens’ Dialogue with 100 randomly selected citizens from Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Lithuania. They spent three days discussing Europe’s democratic, digital and green future. The Global Citizens’ Assembly on Genome Editing will take place in 2021–22, as will the Global Citizens’ Assembly for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

However, virtual meetings do not replace in-person interactions. Practitioners adapting assemblies to the virtual world warn that online processes could push people into more linear and binary thinking through voting tools, rather than seeking a nuanced understanding of other people’s reasoning and values….(More)”.

To Thrive, Our Democracy Needs Digital Public Infrastructure

Article by Eli Pariser and Danielle Allen: “The story of how the internet has become so broken is already familiar. More and more of our public life takes place on big tech platforms optimized for clicks, shares, and virality. The result is that we spend our online time largely in rule-less spaces that reward our worst impulses, trap us in bubbles of like-minded opinion, and leave us susceptible to harassment, lies and misinformation. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube each took first steps to rein in the worst behavior on their platforms in the heat of the election, but none have confronted how their spaces were structured to become ideal venues for outrage and incitement…

The first step in the process is realizing that the problems we’re experiencing in digital life — how to gather strangers together in public in ways that make it so people generally behave themselves — aren’t new. They’re problems that physical communities have wrestled with for centuries. In physical communities, businesses play a critical role — but so do public libraries, schools, parks and roads. These spaces are often the groundwork that private industry builds itself around: Schools teach and train the next generation of workers; new public parks and plazas often spur private real estate development; businesses transport goods on publicly funded roads; and so on. Public spaces and private industry work symbiotically, if sometimes imperfectly.

Beyond their instrumental value for prosperity, we need public spaces and institutions to weave and maintain our social fabric. In physical communities, parks and libraries aren’t just places for exercise or book-borrowing — they also create social connections, a sense of community identity, and a venue in which differences and inequalities can be surfaced and addressed. Public spaces provide access to essential resources for people who couldn’t otherwise access them — whether it’s an outdoor workout station, basketball court, or books in a library — but they are some of the few spaces in a community where we get a glimpse of each other’s lives and help us see ourselves as part of a pluralistic but cohesive society….

If mission, design and governance are important ingredients, the final component is what might be called digital essential workers — professionals like librarians whose job is to manage, steward, and care for the people in these spaces. This care work is one of the pillars of successful physical communities which has been abstracted away by the existing tech platforms. Scholar Joan Donovan has called for 10,000 librarians for the Internet, while Sarah R. Roberts has pointed out that doing curation at scale would be impossible within the current social media business model. At a time when our country is pulling apart and many Americans need work, it’s worth considering whether we need an AmeriCorps for digital space.

How might we pay for this? A two-year project one of us helped lead at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences issued a final report that recommended taxing what’s known as “targeted advertising” — the kind Google and Facebook rely on for their revenue — in order to support the democratic functions social platforms have had a hand in dismantling, like local journalism. The truth is that Facebook, Google, and Twitter have displaced and sucked the revenue out of an entire ecosystem of local journalistic enterprises and other institutions that served some of these public functions. Those three companies alone made nearly $33 billion in profits in the third quarter of 2020 alone — and that profit margin in part comes from not having to pay for the negative externalities they create or the public goods they erode. Using some of those funds to support public digital infrastructure seems eminently reasonable….(More)”.

Co-creation applied to public policy: a case study on collaborative policies for the platform economy in the city of Barcelona

Paper by Mayo Fuster Morell & Enric Senabre Hidalgo: “This paper addresses how far co-creation methodologies can be applied to policy-making innovation in the platform economy. The driving question is how co-creation collaboration-based policy-making can increase diversity and strengthen the participation of actors. The analysis is based on a three-year case study on the platform economy in Barcelona, describing how co-creation dynamics contributed to the participatory definition of local public policies and agenda. The methodology is based on participatory design techniques, involving participant observation and content analysis. Results indicate that co-creation can increase participation diversity aligning academic, economic, and social viewpoints in policy innovation from a quadruple helix perspective. In addition, collaboration schemes assist in engaging a wide diversity of participants in the policy ideation process which, in this case, resulted in 87 new policy measures, with contributions from more than 300 people of different backgrounds and perspectives. The case study demonstrates the value of a cycle of collaboration going beyond mere symbolic engagement or citizen support to public policy-making. It further shows the importance of combining co-creation with methods of action research, strategic planning and knowledge management, as well as with face-to-face interactions and online channels….(More)”.

The Global Assembly

About: “A global citizens’ assembly to accelerate action to address the climate and ecological emergency and influence COP26 in ways that citizens see fit.

The global assembly will involve both:

  • core group of people broken down by gender, race, age, economic background (and other criteria if appropriate) chosen by lottery, to be a true representation of the world population (1,000 people); and
  • distributed events that mirror the core group, and will be run by anyone anywhere e.g. communities, schools, organisations (100,000+ people).

The GA has three primary objectives:

  • Support a group of globally representative citizens make recommendations to COP26 and get an official response from the UN’s COP26 process (i.e. the core assembly)
  • Support a global conversation to amplify the core assembly process (i.e. distributed events)
  • Support large numbers of people and organisations globally to take action on the climate emergency.

Culminating in a ‘Moment for Change’ when the eyes of the world are on the citizens’ plans and a wave of enthusiasm is generated which makes those plans happen….(More)”.

Impact through Engagement: Co-production of administrative data research

Paper by Elizabeth Nelson and Frances Burns: “The Administrative Data Research Centre Northern Ireland (ADRC NI) is a research partnership between Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University to facilitate access to linked administrative data for research purposes for public benefit and for evidence-based policy development. This requires a social licence extended by publics which is maintained by a robust approach to engagement and involvement.

Public engagement is central to the ADRC NI’s approach to research. Research impact is pursued and secured through robust engagement and co-production of research with publics and key stakeholders. This is done by focusing on data subjects (the cohort of people whose lives make up the datasets, placing value on experts by experience outside of academic knowledge, and working with public(s) as key data advocates, through project steering committees and targeted events with stakeholders. The work is led by a dedicated Public Engagement, Communications and Impact Manager.

While there are strengths and weaknesses to the ADRC NI approach, examples of successful partnerships and clear pathways to impact demonstrate its utility and ability to amplify the positive impact of administrative data research. Working with publics as data use becomes more ubiquitous in a post-COVID-19 world will become more critical. ADRC NI’s model is a potential way forward….(More)”.

See also Special Issue on Public Involvement and Engagement by the International Journal of Population Data Science.

Curating citizen engagement: Food solutions for future generations

EIT Food: “The Curating Citizen Engagement project will revolutionise our way of solving grand societal challenges by creating a platform for massive public involvement and knowledge generation, specifically targeting food-related issues. …Through a university course developed by partners representing different aspects of the food ecosystem (from sensory perception to nutrition to food policy), we will educate the next generation of students to be able to engage and involve the public in tackling food-related societal challenges. The students will learn iterative prototyping skills in order to create museum installations with built-in data collection points, that will engage the public and assist in shaping future food solutions. Thus, citizens are not only provided with knowledge on food related topics, but are empowered and encouraged to actively use it, leading to more trust in the food sector in general….(More)”.

‘It gave me hope in democracy’: how French citizens are embracing people power

Peter Yeung at The Guardian: “Angela Brito was driving back to her home in the Parisian suburb of Seine-et-Marne one day in September 2019 when the phone rang. The 47-year-old caregiver, accustomed to emergency calls, pulled over in her old Renault Megane to answer. The voice on the other end of the line informed her she had been randomly selected to take part in a French citizens’ convention on climate. Would she, the caller asked, be interested?

“I thought it was a real prank,” says Brito, a single mother of four who was born in the south of Portugal. “I’d never heard anything about it before. But I said yes, without asking any details. I didn’t believe it.’”

Brito received a letter confirming her participation but she still didn’t really take it seriously. On 4 October, the official launch day, she got up at 7am as usual and, while driving to meet her first patient of the day, heard a radio news item on how 150 ordinary citizens had been randomly chosen for this new climate convention. “I said to myself, ah, maybe it was true,” she recalls.

At the home of her second patient, a good-humoured old man in a wheelchair, the TV news was on. Images of the grand Art Déco-style Palais d’Iéna, home of the citizens’ gathering, filled the screen. “I looked at him and said, ‘I’m supposed to be one of those 150,’” says Brito. “He told me, ‘What are you doing here then? Leave, get out, go there!’”

Brito had two hours to get to the Palais d’Iéna. “I arrived a little late, but I arrived!” she says.

Over the next nine months, Brito would take part in the French citizens’ convention for the climate, touted by Emmanuel Macron as an “unprecedented democratic experiment”, which would bring together 150 people aged 16 upwards, from all over France and all walks of French life – to learn, debate and then propose measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030. By the end of the process, Brito and her fellow participants had convinced Macron to pledge an additional €15bn (£13.4bn) to the climate cause and to accept all but three of the group’s 149 recommendations….(More)”.

Macron’s green democracy experiment gets political

Louise Guillot and Elisa Braun at Politico: “Emmanuel Macron asked 150 ordinary people to help figure out France’s green policies — and now this citizens’ convention is turning into a political problem for the French president.

The Citizens’ Convention on Climate was aimed at calming tensions in the wake of the Yellow Jackets protest movement — which was sparked by a climate tax on fuel — and showing that Macron wasn’t an out-of-touch elitist.

After nine months of deliberations, the convention came up with 149 proposals to slash greenhouse gas emissions this summer. The government has to put some of these measures before the parliament for them to become binding, and a bill is due to be presented in December.

But that’s too slow for many of the convention’s members, who feel the government is back-pedalling on some of the ideas and that Macron has poked fun at them.

Muriel Raulic, a member of the convention, accused Macron of using the body to greenwash his administration.

She supports a moratorium on 5G high-speed mobile technology, which has created some health and environmental fears. Macron has dismissed proponents of the ban as “Amish” — a Christian sect suspicious of technology.

The 150 members wrote an open letter to Macron in mid-October, complaining about a lack of “clear and defined support from the executive, whose positions sometimes appear contradictory,” and to “openly hostile communications” from “certain professional actors.”

Some gathered late last month before the National Assembly to complain they felt used and treated like “guinea pigs” by politicians. In June, they created an association to oversee what the government is doing with their proposals. 

…The government denied it is using the convention to greenwash itself….(More)”.

Platform Power to the People

Essay by Sanjay Pinto & Beth Gutelius: “When stay-at-home orders swept across the United States in response to the coronavirus outbreak this past spring, workers’ rights advocates accustomed to in-person meetings had to adjust quickly—and many did. In April, thousands of supporters joined a digital workers’ town hall to learn about the issues facing Nashville’s low-wage workers amid COVID-19, compounded by a series of tornadoes that had recently hit the Tennessee capitol’s region. In May, Taco Bell workers in Michigan created an online petition with support from the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, a group formed in the early months of the pandemic. That effort won them hazard pay and increased paid sick leave, among other benefits.

In response to the pandemic, workers both employed and unemployed have used digital platforms and tools to magnify their voices and meet their needs. They have launched online petition campaigns to demand safer workplaces. Worker centers, unions, and other economic justice groups are broadcasting Facebook and Instagram live events to share information about programs that support workers, offering online training to navigate state unemployment insurance systems, and sending out text blasts asking workers to take direct action.

Digital platforms have also helped workers share information about the problems they’re confronting, mobilize different forms of support and mutual aid, and make demands of employers and policy makers. Such engagement occurs not only within the channels created by established worker justice organizations, including unions and worker centers, but also among informal networks of workers who have common concerns. In some cases, digital tools are mediating relationships between workers and employers to address needs that have intensified during the pandemic. Online platforms are connecting people to steadier work, for example, and enabling employers to pay in to benefits funds for workers who have been shut out of government-sponsored and regulated systems.

These uses of digital tools are not new. Mainstream social media platforms, despite serious drawbacks discussed below, have played an important role in a variety of social movements. For example, activists used Facebook and Twitter to coordinate protests during the Arab Spring uprisings in the early 2010s. In the worker justice arena, online engagement using social media platforms that mobilize and organize workers, like Facebook and customized platforms like Coworker, has contributed to impressive actions and campaigns, including teacher strikes in the United States, strikes of Ryanair workers in Europe, and successful efforts to challenge unfair workplace policies in nonunion settings around the world. In many ways, COVID-19 has amplified and accelerated the digital efforts that have already been in motion. In a time of social distancing, people have increasingly relied upon digital tools to support collective action across different sectors, just as they have for a broad spectrum of other social interactions.

However, digital engagement will never replace analog or in-person forms of connection, as we have seen in the recent protests drawing attention to the epidemic of police violence against Black Americans. Nor will tools designed to directly address specific challenges confronting low-wage workers single-handedly transform the broader set of conditions that have produced rising inequality; ongoing expansion of the low-wage economy; and entrenched marginalization based on identity markers like race, gender, and citizenship status. Just as we need to challenge the idea that technological change will inevitably lead to mass unemployment, we also need to resist seeing new technology as supplying a set of easy fixes that secure a just and equitable future of work.

In this article, we examine how worker-centered digital tools and approaches to digital engagement might fit within a larger set of strategies for shifting power in the economy and ensuring that all people have access to “decent work” that provides fair income, social protections, and the freedom to organize, among other measures. How can online organizing foster connection and collective action—even direct action—for workers separated by geography and working across different sectors? For those lacking information about their labor rights and the behavior of unscrupulous and abusive employers, how can digital channels offer a lifeline? How can digital tools help pave the way for “high-road” forms of employment that pay fairly and invest in workers, particularly in areas where prevailing policies and norms translate into chronic precarity?…(More)”.

How smart cities are boosting citizen engagement

Article by  Joe Appleton: “…many governments are implementing new and exciting ideas to try and boost citizen engagement and overcome the obstacles that prevent citizen involvement. Here are a few examples of how cities are engaging with citizens in the 21st century.


The city of San Francisco has been working hard to improve resident participation. To help solve city-wide problems, the city created a program called Civic Bridge. Civic Bridge is a platform that can be used to bring together residents and volunteers from the private sector with city staff. This allows city hall to work closely with private sector professionals to solve public challenges.

By enlisting the help of hundreds of otherwise unreachable residents, solutions to city problems such as homelessness, access to healthcare, and other social issues, fast and effective results could be produced.

Civy is another program that has been designed to put city officials directly in touch with residents. Civy is a cloud-based platform that gives citizens a voice, in a confidential environment, that allows citizens to add their thoughts and opinions on citywide projects, helping officials make better-informed decisions.


Physically traveling to a city hall can be an immense barrier to citizen participation. However, some innovative cities are taking steps to bring city hall into resident’s homes. To do this, they are enlisting help from platforms such as CitizenLab. CitizenLab was first launched in 2016, and it has proven itself to be a practical medium for many European cities. The platform boosts citizen engagement by sending data directly to members of the public via a user-friendly mobile interface. Officials can see the results from surveys and questionnaires in real-time, and use the data collected to make decisions based on real citizen insights.

Civocracy is a similar digital platform that has been designed to promote citizen participation, champion collaborative governance projects, and improve city hall efficiency. It focuses on direct communication between residents and officials, giving citizen’s a platform to discuss projects and allow officials to get ideas from the public. This service is currently being used in Amsterdam, Nice, Potsdam, Brussels, Lyon, and many other European cities.

Platforms like these are essential for removing the obstacles that many citizens face when interacting with city governments. As a result, cities can enjoy a more citizen-centric form of smart government.


There’s more to citizen engagement than giving and receiving feedback for ideas and projects. To boost participation, some cities have really embraced 21st century trends. 

For example, two cities in the UK (London and Plymouth) have been experimenting with crowdfunding for potential city projects. Proposals for urban projects are listed on popular crowdfunding websites, in an open and transparent manner, allowing residents and investors to directly contribute funds to projects and initiatives that they’re interested in. In some cases, the local authorities will support winning proposals by matching the raised funds.

Crowdfunding can be used as a platform for citizens to show off their own ideas and initiatives, and highlight any potential problems in the community. The service can be used for a wide range of applications, from restoring derelict buildings to installing social health programs.

Allowing citizens to show their approval with their personal funding is one way to boost participation, however, there should be other ways to attract attention and allow citizens to voice their opinions too. Maptionnaire is one such way. 

Maptionnaire is an online tool that creates a virtual map of a city, where residents can freely offer their advice, opinions, and feelings about areas of the city or specific projects. Users can simply leave comments that can explicitly inform city officials about their feelings. 

This is a great tool that can provide widely representative data about city plans. The platform can also take votes about certain projects and garner fast results. Since it can be accessed remotely, it also allows for citizens to say what they want, without feeling intimidated by a crowd or swayed by popular opinion.


Encouraging public feedback is one way to boost participation, but some local authorities are going a step further by directly asking citizens for solutions. By allowing citizens to formulate their own solutions and give them the tools to realize those solutions, interest in city governance can grow exponentially.

For example, Lublin is the first city in Poland to adopt an initiative called the Green Citizen’s Budget. This participatory budget scheme welcomed residents to put forward ideas to improve urban greenery, and allocated a budget of PLN 2 million (450.000 €) and teamed residents up with technical experts to help realize those plans.

Turning to citizens for inspiration is a popular way of generating new ideas and seeing fresh perspectives. The city of Sydney and the New South Wales government in Australia has recently launched an innovative competition that presents an opportunity for citizens to submit daring proposals to solve public space problems….(More)”.