European Civic Hall in Madrid: two weeks of immersion

European Civic Hall in Madrid: two weeks of immersion

As part of a two-week hackathon on the theme of collective intelligence at the service of democracy, Virgile Deville went, for Open Source Politics and Democracy Earth, to the Civic Hall in Madrid in order to develop Sovereignthe foundation's software project. It was also an opportunity for him to discover the Medialab Prado, a real collaborative citizen space.

Arriving in Madrid on 18 November 2016, Virgil was quickly able to soak up the atmosphere there. He fell in love immediately with the Spanish capital, which is lively while remaining true to its history, both pleasant and affordable. The only downside was the regrettable absence of good weather.

Located in the city centre, near the Atocha train station, the Madrid Civic Hall is housed in a refurbished former sawmill, in the heart of a dynamic and festive neighbourhood. The building is spacious and airy. It has a fablab, an exhibition area, a large work space and a conference room. The Medialab Prado team is composed not only of people from mairie - le "ParticipaLab" - mais but also of people in residence at place - sociologues, hackers (robotics), digital arts... This eclectic staff manages the reception and works on personal projects. Special attention is given to mediation. Thus, people are there to welcome the different publics and help them to use the place, open to all. Everyone can decide to come and propose a project whenever they wish. To sum up, Medialab Prado is a benevolent and open team, but also and above all a hard working, professional and experienced team since it has been in existence for 10 years. Before occupying its current location, the Medialab team used to meet in a space in the basement.

Medialab prado
Housed in a former sawmill, the Medialab Prado premises are incredibly spacious and well-appointed.

Once the discovery of the place had been made, the serious things could begin. The Medialab staff set about forming multidisciplinary working groups, with a range of skills from coding to writing or narration, to more artistic profiles.

Installed in a former sawmill, the premises of Medialab Prado are aesthetic and spacious.

Once the discovery of the place had been made, the serious things could begin. The Medialab staff set about forming multidisciplinary working groups, with a range of skills from coding to writing or narration, to more artistic profiles.

The subject on which all the groups were going to have to work was the following: "Collective intelligence in the service of democracy".

In addition to Virgil(Open Source Politics/DemocracyEarth), the team consisted of 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 Juan-Felipe (scriptwriter). In parallel, two coders participated in the project: Gage and Osiel.

The great illustrations created all throughout the two weeks.

Dream Team at work!

A team whose members had diametrically opposed but complementary backgrounds... It was not easy for Virgile to manage such eclectic profiles. That said, from the very first days, the participants were able to use an instance of Sovereign to make their decisions. They reproduced the following deliverable development process:

  • Definition of the problem ;
  • Testing of existing software and feedback ;
  • Definition of deliverables ;
  • Voting and deliberation ;
  • Division of labour.

With regard to the overall theme chosen, members were quick to express their desire to deal with digital issues and the future of democracy by linking them to the theme of popular sovereignty in the Spanish context. The topic was topical. Indeed, the Spanish press was headlining the revelation last November of a video recorded in 1995 in which Adolfo Suárez, former President of the Spanish Government, revealed that in 1976 he had refused to hold a referendum on the monarchical or republican nature of the regime (see article below in Spanish).

It must be understood that the subject remains very sensitive in Spain, where the king always has a real pouvoir - il is for example the head of the armies. To get around the taboo, the team chose to treat the issue in a less concrete way, through a fictional narrative.

The idea was to underline the following correlation: as the kings and queens of yesteryear may have been, the administrators of our digital governance tools are the rulers of connected democracies. They have a right of oversight over public decision-making, but also over the opinions and personal data collected on their platforms.

Digestive Governance
The challenge for democracy to create decentralized systems

This is why a whole part of the international civic-tech community advocates the use of open source platforms, where the approach of proprietary software publishers poses a problem of transparency and sovereignty. To remedy this, it is necessary to design a decentralized and incorruptible system of governance . This is where Democracy Earth, the successor project to DemocracyOS, comes in. But that's a story for another article...

What do you get when you get such a diverse team working together? Answer: a platform carried by a strong message: the question of the future of sovereignty beyond nation states.

After several days of work, the team launches the platform "Kingdom Tale”. This is an online experience whose aim is to raise awareness of the global issue of individual sovereignty in the 21st century and, through a fictional narrative, to discuss the monarchy in Spain and other modern monarchies, drawing a parallel between them and the digital aspect of contemporary political systems.

Kingdom Tale

After this short introduction, the reader is propelled into a mini-game in which he embodies the current emperor of the "Kingdom I don't want to remember". Everything seems quiet for the first few moments. You can recognize different famous buildings in Madrid. As the emperor approaches, his subjects follow him peacefully... But soon they rebel and invade the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol(the meeting place of the Indignados in May 2011)!

The interactive experience

From then on, the narrative axis unveils itself and we discover the context in which the citizens and the successor of the emperor, "King I" of the "Kingdom I don't want to remember", evolve. A king who was able to demonstrate a desire for equity and social justice, but who remains the heir to a fundamentally unjust system whose integrity he can only preserve, despite his good will.

Kingdom Tale
The narrative around the experience

Finally, the final link is a call to action entitled "BecomeSovereign" which opens on a Democracy Earth instance allowing users to vote on issues such as the laws of succession of royal heirs or the maintenance of the decision-making powers of monarchs.

Democracy Earth's "Sovereign" debate software

Virgil's experience at Medialab Prado was pleasant and extremely rewarding. This hackathon was not only an opportunity for him to make progress on the Democracy Earth project, but also to forge links with the Spanish civic-technical ecosystem, which emanates directly from the Indignados movement and which has been able to carry out many experiments since citizen coalitions came to power in the main Spanish cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and A Coruña. It was also an opportunity to meet a community of almost a hundred democratic innovators from all over the world who are all working on incredible and varied projects and who do not compromise with the values around which they work retrouvent - notamment free software (synonymous with cooperation and transparency) and a certain attraction for spaces of participation that engage the responsibility of institutions and political decision-makers towards citizens.

Among other projects, Virgile was particularly impressed by :

  • Turnometro An application to count or request speaking time at general assemblies, directly from the experience of Wiki Politica in Mexico. Turnometro also makes it possible to collect opinions and feelings about each speaker.
  • Red Argos : Real-time collaborative drafting tool based on jetpad technology (open source alternative to Google docs), aimed at improving participation in the legislative process.
  • Consul + Emapic: Merger ofEmapic, which allows the development of geolocalized polls, and Consul, the citizen participation tool created by the Madrid City Council. The idea is to locate the origin of the proposals, but also to be able to square, for each proposal, the distribution of votes by neighborhood, etc...
  • Digidem Guide A platform that centralizes and redirects to different tools for citizen consultation/participation according to needs(OpenSpending for transparency of public and private spending, Loomio for argumentation and discussion, for broad consultation etc.).

Medialab Prado is a true model of democratic innovation for several reasons:

1. Accessibility: the place is open to any citizen who wants to carry out a project there, and a team of mediators is available to accompany them.

2. Collaboration with the town hall: the members of the "ParticipaLab" work at the town hall and carry out the experiments within the Medialab. This kind of partnership between civil society and institutions is exciting because it widens the scope of stakeholders in the consultation process and makes it easier for citizens to get involved.

3. The opening on the international scene: while dealing with local issues, the Medialab team manages to organize hackathons with participants from all over the world and guarantees them an accompaniment by recognized mentors, such as Audrey Tang, digital minister of Taiwan.

4. The diversity of themes: Medialab welcomes and promotes robotics projects as well as artistic, social or musical projects .

This is certainly the model that should inspire us collectively to design the future Parisian Civic Hall.

Paris Civic Hall Team
The participants

Article written by Noe Jacomet(@NoeJcm)

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