The results of the 2020 municipal elections have dramatically changed the political landscape in major French cities. On the one hand, the election campaign was marked by the health crisis and the entry into force of confinement in the in-between period. On the other hand, voters also observed the multiplication of platforms for citizen participation. Many lists relied on these platforms to collect citizen contributions. Citizens thus had the opportunity to contribute online to the construction of several political programs.
How have these platforms contributed to the victory of certain lists? Here are some elements of answer:
Lyon, victory of a citizen and environmentalist list in the 2020 municipal elections:
The local group of Europe Ecologie-Les Verts wanted to include the people of Lyon in the construction phase of the programme. To this end, Europe Ecologie-Les Verts called upon Open Source Politics to launch the Changer Lyon platform. This platform enabled the local group of Europe Ecologie-Les Verts to develop a participative programme. In addition, the activists organised numerous thematic workshops thanks to Decidim's "Assembly" function. Following these workshops, a consultation synthesized 5 flagship proposals of the programme. The people of Lyon were able to consult these proposals from the Changez Lyon platform.
This programme, co-constructed with the people of Lyon, is the one that won the second round of municipal elections by 52%.
As part of the call launched by Grenoble en Commun to build a solidary and ecological citizen project for the future of Grenoble and its metropolis, several meetings and workshops have been organized with citizens. The platform was used to feed these debates and meetings. Inhabitants submitted more than 200 proposals and supported or commented on them. Its proposals formed the basis of the programme presented to Grenoble residents for the 2020 municipal elections.
The programme received the support of 53% of the votes cast in the second round of the 2020 municipal elections.
The Action commune collective called on Open Source Politics to launch the Annecy Citizens' Factory platform, whose project was to support the emergence of citizens' lists for the 2020 municipal elections.
The Common Action approach was open and non-partisan. The Réveillons Annecy list brought together 60 citizens and elected representatives from different backgrounds, whose priority was the urgent need to tackle the climate, social and democratic issues. The working groups made up of citizens and elected representatives identified 10 themes for the future political project. These themes were presented on the participative platform Réveillons Annecy. The people of Annecy had the opportunity to react and share their ideas on the platform.
This approach has enabled the Annecy New Year's Eve list to achieve a score of 44% at the 2020 municipal elections.
Le Printemps Marseillais is a movement formed following a call for the union of left-wing and environmentalist forces. Open Source Politics has been mandated to put in place the platform participative Printemps Marseillais. The platform aimed to include civil society and allow a wide audience to contribute to the development of the programme. However, the organisers were aware of the digital divide. This is why participatory workshops with local residents were organised in order to feed the platform with the opinions of remote audiences.
Thanks to this programme, Printemps Marseillais came out on top in the first round of the 2020 municipal elections. During the period between the two rounds and the lock-in, a reflection was launched on the platform to adapt the programme to the new challenges. As a result, Le Printemps Marseillais relied heavily on the La Parole platform to solicit voters' opinions. The platform thus allowed Marseillais to continue to propose their ideas for the city during the lockdown.
In the second round, Printemps Marseillais won the elections with 40% of the votes.
While the electoral campaign period encourages political movements to set up a participatory platform, one may wonder about its usefulness afterwards. However, Decidim is much more than a simple tool for the co-construction of a political programme. There are indeed many use cases and functionalities that are particularly useful for engaging citizens in politics. For example, the Printemps Marseillais list has committed to maintaining the La Parole est à vous platform in order to involve citizens in the management and governance of the city of Marseille. The elected representatives have declared that they want to use the platform as a tool for transparency and monitoring of campaign commitments.
The future of the Annecy, Grenoble and Lyon platforms has not yet been clearly defined by the newly elected officials. However, the support provided by Open Source Politics allows these platforms to evolve towards new uses. For example, Decidim can be used to set up a participatory budget or a suggestion box. Elected officials will thus be able to maintain citizen participation and involve them more and more in local decisions.
Renewed mandates thanks to participatory tools?
Several municipal candidate lists had already called on Open Source Politics to include citizens in public policy choices using Decidim.
Most of the elected officials that Open Source Politics has supported in participatory projects have been reappointed by voters. Voters therefore seem to have more confidence when the programme is open.
Could this be proof that involving citizens in decision-making is a driver of trust? To be continued...
In conclusion, you can discover the platforms that we have been supporting for several years now, and which have been able to experiment with various forms of consultation:
The coronavirus crisis should be a catalyst for institutionalising the use of digital tools in parliament
This article is a translation by Open Source Politics of the article published on the Medium "Participo", an OECD publication. To read the original article by Paula Forteza, click here.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, legislative processes have stalled due to physical distance. Many legislators are now testing technologies that will allow their democratic institutions to meet, deliberate and vote despite these restrictive measures. We need to use this momentum to be ambitious in terms of participatory and collaborative legislative processes. How can we do this? By institutionalising the use of digital tools in Parliament with the necessary security and privacy safeguards.
Digital technologies to ensure democratic continuity during the crisis
The National Assembly has introduced temporary solutions to preserve parliamentary debate by using video conferencing applications for committee deliberations. However, legislative voting is still done in person and is only possible for a very limited number of members. There are both historical and technical reasons for keeping the institutions functioning mainly physically: sincerity of voting, security, tradition, etc.
Our parliament is lagging behind in modernising its processes, unlike, for example, the parliaments ofLatin America, which are pioneers in this field. In addition to using video conferencing applications, the parliaments of Brazil, Chile and Ecuador have developed their own online platforms and solutions for recording attendance, verifying quorum and voting. In at least six other South American countries - Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica and Mexico - legislative bodies have begun to experiment with virtual participation, applying it to non-decision-making spaces such as working groups or committee meetings. In Europe, countries such as the United Kingdom andSpain are moving faster than we are. We should follow these examples.
In France, one of the most common arguments against the digitisation of parliament is that it will weaken the ceremonial aspect of parliamentary deliberation. It is argued that digitisation could threaten the symbolic duties of MPs and their political weight vis-à-vis other branches of power, including the executive. Another reason may be the lack of digital literacy and skills in the French parliament. A recent study showed that only 5.37% of MPs considered themselves digital experts, 10.23% as connoisseurs and 12.65% as enthusiasts.
In order to achieve a digital parliament, technical profiles and suitable equipment should also be recruited in both chambers. As regards concerns at the political level, the doctrine needs to change. Digital parliaments may be less solemn than traditional procedures, but this horizontality is beneficial and can bring elected representatives closer to their citizens.
Data protection, security and accessibility are the conditions for a digital parliament
I am not arguing for a blind race to digitalisation: of course, there are certain limits to the introduction of digital tools in institutional decision-making. For example, Zoom has been heavily criticised for unclear data protection policies, lack of security and personal data breaches.
When considering remote voting, several security issues arise, such as fraud. The use of digital tools in Parliament facesother challenges, such as uneven internet bandwidth, technical problems (bad sound, connection problems, etc.), and uneven digital literacy and skills. However, this does not mean that we should stop modernising legislative bodies. On the contrary, we should address and solve those problems that have been made more visible through physical removal measures.
In addition to the technical challenges, the use of digital tools requires high standards of data privacy, cybersecurity and decentralisation. Firstly, by implementing the EU General Data Protection Regulation, as well as stronger safeguards against government surveillance and misuse of personal data.
In addition, free and open source web solutions should be the norm for digital tools in both institutions and public administrations. For example, decentralised peer-to-peer video conferencing applications such as Jitsi or Big Blue Button can be an excellent alternative to Zoom or Google Meet.
More broadly, civic tech can help us continue citizen deliberation in times of physical distance, provided it is open, ethical and meets a real need. As an example, I have used the Decidim platform on several occasions to establish a dialogue with and between citizens. During the COVID-19 crisis, together with 65 other MEPs, I launched the platform ' The day after', where citizens could propose, deliberate and discuss their own ideas. where citizens could propose, deliberate and vote on ideas to collectively decide on the direction to take after the crisis.
Digital technologies can support more resilient, innovative and vibrant democracies
The containment measures have shown the urgency of adapting our democratic institutions and processes to ensure their continuity, even in times of crisis. Today, almost 79% of French people surveyed have a negative feeling towards politics. Beyond the response to the emergency, such technical - and cultural - developments could contribute to strengthening citizens' confidence in elected officials and institutions by promoting participation, transparency and accountability.
There are a myriad of examples, tools and methods to support the modernisation and openness of our parliaments, for example by publishing parliamentarians' agendas and expenses, ensuring transparency of lobbying in parliament, or involving citizens in law-making.
Finally, the underlying question is not whether we need more or less digital tools in our institutions. It is about taking into account the major transformation of our society, the digital revolution, and adapting our political culture to it. We can use today's challenges to build a resilient, innovative and truly vibrant democracy. Although this discussion is about the use of digital tools, the ultimate goal is to transform and adapt our institutions to the needs and realities of the 21st century.
Paula Forteza, born on 8 August 1986 in Paris, is a French politician. She has been a Member of Parliament since June 2017, representing French citizens from Latin America and the Caribbean. She has spent more than 20 years of her life in Latin America. After several experiences in the government of the city of Buenos Aires, in the French administration, at Etalab, or in entrepreneurship, she wishes to place digital, transparency and citizen participation at the heart of the political debate in France.