Technopolitics for rethinking digital networks

Technopolitics for rethinking digital networks

In 2011, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards will take to the streets to protest against political inaction in the face of the economic crisis that is shaking the country. Trade unions and political parties remain paralysed in the face of this movement of unprecedented magnitude. For weeks, the Indignant people camped out and organized a mass protest alone.

In this moment of effervescence, an unprecedented reflection is emerging, renewing the relationship between politics and technology. The organization of the multiple actions of the Indignant via digital tools feeds this reflection by founding an argument that is now almost classic: Digital technologies allow citizens to organize themselves, to make their own decisions and to set their own objectives..

Apart from the classical instances of representation and expression of citizens' interests, the different tools developed by the 15M activists have enabled them to coordinate countless demonstrations and punch actions. They have created horizontal operating structures; they have succeeded in thinking about citizen engagement through the co-construction of digital networks.

This was a cardinal point in the development of these technologies; it was necessary to include all citizens. from the design stage. Give the maximum of guarantees of transparency, equality and accountability was on everyone's mind. The integration of these democratic principles at the beginning of the technical elaboration directly favoured thecritical and strategic use digital tools at the service of collective political action; what activists are still calling today the technopolitics.

Decidim, spearheading technopolitics

It is this spirit that presides, in 2016, over the creation of the Decidim project. The instigators of this project, for many of the researchers and former 15M activists, were determined to connect citizens via a tool dedicated to collaborative decision-making. The challenge was not to reproduce the 15M within the institutions more than to introduce citizens to these debates; in short, the aim was not to reproduce the 15M within the institutions more than to introduce citizens to these debates, It was necessary to create a pedagogical tool that would facilitate the engagement of citizens and make them want to go further in the quest for their own political autonomy.

In this militant intellectual context, Decidim has presented itself as the digital tool that translates technopolitics into practice by aiming at the progressive empowerment of citizens.through a Strictsocial contract and deeply democratic principles enshrined in the platform's own code of ethics.

For Open Source Politics, the stakes are high; it is a question of to preserve and spread the deeply pedagogical state of mind which founds the creation of the software while allowing its appropriation by actors who may have different objectives from 15M activists. We therefore work daily to ensure that the digital platforms we are launching introduce people to technopolitics by providing spaces for expression and discussion, mediated by a framework and objectives that are either agreed upon or left open.

Spreading a new digital culture

This is precisely what we wanted to illustrate on Decidim Day on 12 September. This day of workshops, plenaries and round tables organized by our team was a great opportunity to explain the term technopolitics to unaccustomed French ears, as well as to illustrate our own conception of this idea. 

We therefore sought to to infuse the various reflections raised by technopolitics in our own event. The inaugural plenary was to address two different approaches to the relationship between technology and politics; one with a regulatory focus developed within the National Assembly by Paula Forteza, the other built patiently and in a decentralized manner by Santiago Siri and the Democracy Earth team.

Three courses then directed the exchanges in different directions. We had the opportunity to questioning the place of the State and communities in the construction and support of digital commons, but also the relevance of the diffusion of technopolitics in the business sector and the emergence of new forms of industrial governance. A dedicated round table also discussed whether it was possible torole-play that citizens occupy and embody during participation processes. Fundamentally technopolitical, this discussion was able to get to the heart of the matter. What kind of pedagogy, what kind of accompaniment to bring citizens to grasp political issues through technology?

All this encouraged us to also discuss the emergence of a French network of local authorities generalist, in order to open up technopolitical thinking to other actors from other backgrounds. Broadening the discussion to examples of international digital tools has also contributed significantly to the completeness of the views on the subject. Finally, as pedagogy should be seen as inclusive and aimed at the widest possible audience, Open Source Politics wanted to propose workshops on the theme of "The Pedagogy of the Internet". accessibility, e-inclusion, synthesis and self-governance.

Technopolitical issues Shipyards Decidim and OSP
Processing of massive data sets and synthesis of queries Since 2017 we have been investigating the application of automatic language processing to text and data corpuses resulting from consultations. Read our articles on this subject on Medium part I and II.
Digital inclusion and accessibility Open Source Politics is a member of Mednum, the digital inclusion cooperative.
Digital Identity - OSP is developing a France Connect connector for Decidim which will be available this fall 2019. - Decidim allows the implementation of contextual identity verification systems for the action carried out by the user (vote on a participative budget) customized.
Representativeness Decidim is one of the only platforms to offer a draw module.
Decentralization and data security Decidim already offers a number of guarantees for the data that the platform generates (API, cryptographic fingerprint of proposals etc.). Within the framework of the European Decode project, Decidim has been able to experiment with blockchain technology for electronic signatures.

The critical positioning of technopolitics allows us to think and build our participation strategies and the development of Decidim according to current issues (inclusion, decentralized decision-making, etc.). It also encourages us on a daily basis to reflect on cutting-edge issues on the subject of citizen participation and to continually questioning us on the purpose of Decidim as it is conceived and developed by OSP. The Decidim Day was a success, partly because it was an opportunity to demonstrate our method and to invite our partners (present and future) to take their full part in this method, which is constantly evolving.

Decidim, the European-wide platform for citizen participation

Decidim, the European-wide platform for citizen participation

Decidim, the European-wide platform for citizen participation

This article on Decidim (citizen participation platform) is based on a series of conversations we had with Pablo Aragon, Xabier Barandiaran, Josep Jaume[1] and many other contributors to the open source project Decidim.

Invited in April 2017 to the event "Gouverner la ville autrement" organised by Grand Lyon and Le Monde, we met Francesca Bria, Head of Innovation of the Barcelona municipality, and discovered at the same time their new platform Decidim: an open source framework for digital citizen participation.

Where does the Decidim citizen participation platform come from?

The platform was launched in February 2017, a few months after the new municipality took office. The election of Barcelona en Comù's candidates to the city council came about in part throughthe identification of ultra-localized issues - Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, was herself a co-founder of the Platform of Victims of Mortgage Credit(Plataforma d'Afectats per la Hipoteca), an association created in response to the Spanish housing crisis. Anchored in local solutions, the City Council also had to think about the wider scale of the city and its surroundings from the outset: the different cities in the Catalan agglomeration had to be able to use dedicated and autonomous participation spaces on Decidim.

One of the main points of Barcelona en Comù's candidacy was its affiliation with the Indignant movement, and the adoption of the latter's demand for open democracy. This demand, which was directed against the practices of the Spanish political class as a whole, fed the reflection on the adoption of a digital platform that would facilitate the participation of all in municipal decision-making.

The need to multiply the points of view, in other words the need for inclusion, was thus expressed in the elaboration of the participatory process for the construction of the Action Plan of the city and the agglomeration. The people involved felt that a digital platform was necessary, and that it was important to use open source technology for this process in order to guarantee transparency and mutualisation. Initially, they thought of adapting the technology of the, Consul. Very quickly, the project team realised the difficulty of adapting the tool to the needs of the city of Barcelona, whose functionalities had been designed in the specific political context described above.

The same was true for the few other available tools, relatively few in number, which were studied before the construction of the Decidim citizen participation platform: e-petitions platform (United Kingdom), Your Priorities (Iceland), Open Irekia (Basque Country). The technical environment of the future tool was thus rather poor, and none of these platforms fully met the needs of the daily management of local institutions.

This multifactorial context led the new Barcelona City Council directly to the need to create a flexible tool. Its multiple configuration options would allow administrators to ensure that the participation features could be adapted to specific local needs. The modularity of the platform would therefore allow the platform to be used in extremely different contexts, from ultra-localized scales to the entire agglomeration and beyond, which required extremely advanced configuration possibilities for the platform.

The city of Barcelona then invested several hundred thousand euros in the development of Decidim. At the same time, the awarding of public contracts was evolving, which allowed the city to choose a consortium of several Barcelona SMEs at the cutting edge of innovation in the field of web development. From the outset, this public order was designed to avoid dependence on a single service provider: the contract was divided into several lots and an ecosystem of three or four companies shared the functionalities to be developed according to their preferred field. Within a few months, the first version of the software was released and several thousand citizens participated in the co-construction of the municipal action plan.

As one of the leaders of the project presented in an interview, the main objective of the development of Decidim was to build a tool that centralises numerous functionalities making multiple citizen participation in city policy possible. According to him, more than allowing a 'simple' participatory budget, it was necessary to allow discussion between residents on the widest possible range of subjects related to municipal policy. Thus, the city needed a tool that was halfway between a platform focused exclusively on technical and efficient decision-making and a social (and political) network. Decidim achieves this hybridity and sets itself up as a counter-model to the large American platforms by providing open source code and a structure that guarantees user privacy, transparency and independence from private structures. The team in charge of the project also wants the platform to establish, intrinsically to the code, respect for individual digital rights and equality [see the article on Decidim's social contract].

In addition to Barcelona, Decidim has been deployed in a dozen municipalities in Spain, and is about to be used more widely across Europe (Turin, Helsinki, etc.) and in national institutions (Federal State of Belgium). These institutions are part of a movement where sharing experience, inclusion, collaboration, transparency, pooling of resources and respect for personal data are at the heart of the construction of a digital participatory democracy.

This expansion of the use of the tool at the European level is one of Decidim's crucial projects in order to gather an ever-increasing number of experiences and thus potential developments of the platform. The new functionalities planned (and already financed) will therefore allow Decidim to become the reference platform for participatory democracy in Europe.

Since last summer, Open Source Politics has adapted the software to French-speaking needs. We have deployed it for several French institutions, including the Angers town hall, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and the Commission Nationale du Débat Public. Open Source Politics is now an official partner of Decidim and is highly motivated to participate in its development and adoption in France and Europe.

1] Pablo Aragon is a researcher at Pompeu Fabra University and Xabier Barandiaran is a professor of philosophy at the University of the Basque Country. Josep Jaume Rey is co-founder of the computer development company Codegram, which is involved in the code of the Decidim platform.

Open Source Politics is a company that develops participatory democracy platforms for public, private and associative actors. Contact us if you want to get involved in a consultation process or a participatory budget using civic-tech tools!


Why and how do we choose to build an economic model based on digital commons?

Why and how do we choose to build an economic model based on digital commons?

When we created Open Source Politics, in the heart of the democratic ferment of spring 2016, we used to conclude our presentations by noting that civic-tech had not yet proven anything and that the first challenge to ensure its progress would be to find a sustainable economic model.

Two years later, a first selection naturally took place. On the one hand, the citizens' initiatives that had an electoral horizon were at the end of their experiments; they will form the basis for sedimentation in the next iterations, with a crucial need for access to new funding. On the other hand, several companies have begun their growth phase by successfully marketing platforms and applications to public institutions and private players.

Since we are often asked about the OSP model, we have taken the time over the last few months to analyse the different approaches to our market being structured. An opportunity to reflect on our own specificities and to anticipate the long-term consequences of the political and economic choices currently being made.

Let us first point out that the search for a cost-effective model is not mandatory: for projects of an associative nature, relying essentially on voluntary and militant contributions, the call for philanthropic donations and/or public subsidies may suffice. One example is the association Regards citoyens, which regularly warns of potential abuses of civic-business.

On the other hand, for official approaches to participatory democracy to benefit from the potential of civic-tech, it is necessary to invest in the development of ever more effective tools and in professional methodological support. This is the path we have embarked on with OSP - without abandoning our associative actions for all that.

In the United States, the Knight Foundation lists eight variants but, for our part, we identify at this stage 4 major funding models for our industry: raising funds, selling data, selling licenses, selling skills. While they may all prove to be viable and lucrative in the short and medium term, these models will certainly not have the same democratic consequences in the long term.

Raising funds

This is the classic financing model for a start-up to accelerate its growth. By projecting himself on the future economic success of a company, a venture capitalist (also called venture capitalist or business angel ) will inject a lot of money in exchange for shares in a company. This cash injection allows the company to recruit new employees, invest in research and development, implement a more ambitious communication plan and stifle competition in the logic of being the dominant player in the market to eventually pocket a stake almostmonopolistique - the winner takes all.

At the end of 2016, at the world summit of the Partnership for Open Government held in Paris, we expressed our fear that French civic-tech, in a reversal of international trends, would turn away from the creation of digital commons and move almost exclusively towards the financing of proprietary software.

Our diagnosis is in the process of being carried out since some of the most visible French "civic-tech companies" have raised several million euros over the last six months. They have thus been able to double their workforce in a few months and intensify their communication, sometimes jointly, to institutions and the general public.

Raising funds is not a problem in itself, quite the contrary, but it is actually only temporary funding to accelerate the implementation of a company's real business model. Therefore, the key question is: what is the business model that has convinced public and private investors to engage with these civic-tech players?

Sell data

As early as June 2015, on the occasion of a test of the American application Brigade, which was presented as the "Tinder of Democracy", the economic potential of the political big data was perceptible. The platforms that collect our opinions in their databases in the form of responses to micro-surveys or signatures on petitions are veritable gold mines behind our backs.

Even if they would not do so today, what guarantees do these companies give us that they will not exploit this data for commercial purposes tomorrow, when the level of supply and the need for cash are too irresistible? Political decision-makers, journalists and major economic players, who are already investing fortunes in the opinion measurements carried out by polling institutes, are only waiting for this: tools that make it possible to precisely target a segment of the population in order to address them with the content they will like in terms of their political background and thus ensure the success of an election or lobbying firm.

Two concrete experiences with the discretionary power of these platforms have lifted our last suspicions.

During the recent "Digital Democracy" consultation, which we moderated and summarized for the National Assembly, a third of the overall traffic recorded on the platform came from a direct link to its own proposal that shared with 1.5 million fans on Facebook and emailed to its 500,000 users most interested in institutional issues. Logically, this proposal was by far the most popular (almost 20% of all votes cast out of a total of 1700 contributions). In a single targeted message, had more impact than a month's worth of daily communication by the National Assembly on its social networks and a dozen interviews with the President of the institution and several MPs, which were nevertheless relayed by our largest print, radio and television media! It's great for many causes that a platform like has reached such a critical mass, but such great power imposes great responsibilities.

In the context of missions to accompany local public consultations, we have also had the opportunity to broadcast "Facebook Ads". These are sponsored publications for which we were able to calibrate the audience with great precision: in exchange for a few dozen euros, we could place the invitation to a public meeting or the link to a questionnaire in front of the eyes of several thousand Facebook users living in this or that neighborhood, corresponding to this or that age group and having shown an interest in this or that subject through their likes.

If the sample is large enough, the investment is considerably more efficace - notamment with young people citoyens - que than distributing leaflets on the market or sending mail to mailboxes. The problem is that Facebook deliberately limits the scope of the messages to encourage us to add a few euros in exchange for a larger display. Petition platforms work the same way: pay 10 euros to have your petition sent directly to 1000 additional potential signatories. And so on and so forth.

The adage is now famous: "On the Internet, when it's free, we're the product."

In an "attention economy" where it is increasingly difficult to get a civic message out of the bubbles of already convinced and involved insiders, can the definition of the democratic agenda now only depend on paid filters imposed without transparency or counter-power by private platforms?

Sell licenses

A mistranslation of "free software" misleads many people who solicit us: it is not because software is free that it is free.

Without even mentioning the development of the software, using it has costs for deployment, configuration, hosting and maintenance. Conversely, once it is developed and outside of the above-mentioned costs, duplicating software has a zero marginal cost. Since the development has already been financed and carried out, anyone can benefit from it. In exchange, it is necessary to invest in the next developments, which will benefit everyone in return. Conversely, in the case of proprietary software, it is necessary to pay a license fee for a software that already exists, in order to make the initial investment profitable as in the case of a manufactured product. By the way, in the case of a dominant position tending towards monopoly, chances are that you will pay more and more since you have no alternative.

Thus the French State has paid more and more to use the same proprietary platform. Instead of increasing the skills of public administrations in the management of a basic solution and investing in its amélioration - quitte to entrust the latter to development companies privées - la public authorities agree to pay, licence after licence, for a platform of which they have no control over the source code or the evolution strategy. In a funny way, it is already a public investment, via a participation of the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, which partly finances the development of this solution that deprives the State of its sovereignty in terms of online participatory democracy!

Using the Software as a Service (SaaS) offer from a proven company is a comfortable choice that takes the responsibility off the decision-makers and technical teams of ministries and local authorities. According to nous - et we say it as citizens beyond the competing interests of our entreprise - un major risk of privatization of tools and skills that must instead be shared with the greatest number.

Should the State instead create its own platform or buy the rights of its preferred provider? This would be potentially just as serious, in the unforeseeable event that a government with liberticidal practices used such platforms to record the opinions of participants or to modify their contributions a posteriori. This is notably the position of our Barcelona inspirators who designed the Decidim platform of which we are partners. Virgile Deville developed this argument at the beginning of December 2017 duringa conference of the think tank Decide Together around the relationship of institutionalization or independence between civic-tech and representative democracy.

Every design and integration choice made by a technical team on a platform has, even unconsciously, an impact on users. Let's take an example: knowing the result of a vote before participating changes our behaviour. With free software, we can have a debate on whether or not to give access to this information to participants - quitte possibly to develop both options. In the case of proprietary software, a module for displaying positive, neutral or negative opinions is part of a global offer to take or leave because these decisive choices have already been arbitrated by the developers who, in the end, control the meaning of your participatory process. Code is Law.

Selling skills

What to do then? How to finance truly democratic digital tools? The process of creating a viable common good is certainly slower, but in the long run it is considerably more virtuous and resilient.

The National Assembly has just set an example: in the fall of 2017, it called upon Open Source Politics to advise it on the configuration and use of a DemocracyOS instance that its technical team learned to use and deploy on its own secure servers. She is now free to consult on DemocracyOS as much as she wants with her own resources. Another advantage is that the National Assembly has been able to use Open Source Politics to analyze contributions without us having access to the database being consulted, and therefore without us having any means of altering citizens' contributions. The National Assembly drew conclusions from its use and issued specifications for desirable functional evolutions with a horizon of several months. A body démocratique - le Bureau de l'Assemblée Nationale - a validated some of these developments and ordered their implementation. The National Assembly's investment will benefit any institution and any citizen group that wants to use it, anywhere in the world.

This is what a digital commons is. This is what a public investment in a public code should be.

What is the point of Open Source Politics if our customers can do without us as soon as the transfer of skills has taken place? In reality, this model is totally consistent with the model of selling multiple services: hosting and maintaining a tool for customers who do not have sufficient internal resources, developing new functionalities when our customers finance these improvements which will be mutualized, and finally supporting the use of these technologies through training, communication support, strategic consulting, moderation and analysis ...

Since the spring of 2016, we have broadened our scope of expertise to include the facilitation of collective intelligence workshops and automatic language processing, in order to understand all the steps of an open and modern democratic process, both online and offline. We are not selling a captive asset; we are sharing know-how. The participation platform is only a tool, part of a process that still faces sociological and cognitive barriers that exclude a large part of the population from participation. Just as platforms do not evolve in a snap of the fingers, citizen participation is not something that can be decreed overnight.

We must, to use a formula resulting from a working meeting with Nancy's town hall, give citizens power, meaning and time. Power, so that they can really decide: 2,300 Nancy parents and teachers took part in the first online vote on the evolution of school rhythms; the mayor followed their decision. Meaningful, so that they understand the processes they are taking part in: thanks to intense fieldwork, 14% of tenants voted in the first participatory budget of the RIVP - unrecord. Time, so that habit is created and trust is gained: for the past two years, Nanterre City Council has been able to conduct more than ten successive consultation campaigns to gradually broaden the profile of the citizens involved.

Our common code

We approach the challenges before us with great humility. Civic-tech platforms are still largely perfectible, and democratic practices need to be fundamentally rethought. Since day one, we have wanted to build a company that is like us and aligned with our values. We still have so much to do, but we are not alone and we know what the collective makes us capable of.

Around us, great partners are committed to ensure that the model of a truly open democracy exists and we thank them for their soutien - citons for example Entr'ouvert and its user relationship management solution Publik that we want to make interoperable with our platforms, La MedNum which supports new models for the development of innovation in partnership with the territories or Medias-Cité which carries the creation of APTIC vouchers to disseminate the skills of digital mediation actors to all those who need them.

Around us, about twenty French-speaking institutions are getting ready to join a community of users who are thinking and investing together in the future of our tools... sharing with the town halls of Barcelona, Helsinki and Turin, with the governments of Argentina or Belgium.

Around us, and we have already introduced you to some of them, researchers and activists from all over the world are mobilizing, not to build new economic rents, but to make 21st century democracy our common good.

Open Source Politics is a company that develops participative democracy for public, private and associative actors. Contact us if you wish to engage in a consultation mechanism or a participatory budget using civic-tech tools!



Pourquoi la civic tech doit miser sur les communs numérique ?

Pourquoi la civic tech doit miser sur les communs numérique ?

La civic-tech française risque de se détourner de la création des biens communs numériques

Notre génération aspire à créer un monde plus collaboratif. Les enjeux de notre époque ne nous laissent de toute façon pas le choix. Nous devons changer en profondeur le fonctionnement de notre démocratie si nous ne voulons pas qu’elle soit emportée à court terme par la défiance, la colère et le renoncement. Le numérique, qui nous offre la promesse d’abaisser les barrières d’accès à l’information et à l’échange, est une partie de la réponse. Mais les modèles classiques résistent et, en croyant les dépasser, nous aggravons parfois leurs torts. OuiShare l’a observé sur l’économie dite « du partage », absorbée par la croissance fulgurante de géants comme Uber qui ont rapidement préféré la lucrativité à la transformation sociale. Nous risquons de voir exactement le même phénomène s’appliquer à la civic-tech française, que nous célébrons en grande pompe du 7 au 9 décembre dans les plus beaux palais de la République lors du sommet mondial du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert que la France préside cette année.

Nous sommes collectivement responsables d’avoir laissé grandir la confusion qui entoure la civic-tech, cet objet politique non-identifié derrière lequel nous nous sommes réfugiés avec espoir et enthousiasme. Nous avons décliné un jargon fleuri composé d’« open gov », de « hackathon », d’« open data », d’« API », de « do it yourself », de « crowdsourcing » et de « proxy voting » sur la « blockchain » qui rend nos projets littéralement incompréhensibles pour la très large majorité de la population que nous voulons toucher. Nous avons par ailleurs été piégés par nos propres définitions de la civic-tech, si englobantes qu’elles ne permettent pas la distinction entre plusieurs réalités techniques, économiques et finalement éminemment politiques.

La civic-tech concerne l’ensemble des plateformes et applications mobiles spécifiquement conçues pour renforcer l’engagement citoyen, la participation démocratique et la transparence des gouvernements. Ces solutions accompagnent tout le cycle de vie d’une politique publique, de l’idéation à l’évaluation. Il est cependant nécessaire de creuser le sujet pour obtenir une typologie plus objective des modèles et des acteurs.

Le Gouvernement ouvert repose par définition sur un espace de collaboration, un trilogue qui doit s’engager entre les institutions publiques, les structures organisées de la société civile et les citoyens dans leur diversité. Les intérêts et les moyens de chacun sont naturellement différents, parfois divergents. Les gouvernements et administrations désirent améliorer la qualité et la transparence du service public rendu à leurs usagers, et tout signe d’ouverture est une bonne communication en vue d’une réélection. Les citoyens attendent que de meilleures décisions soient prises avec eux pour améliorer concrètement leur existence. Les associations cherchent à valoriser leurs actions, accroître leur audience et leurs ressources. Le modèle économique d’une start-up du numérique est lui aussi assez limpide : il faut commencer par investir sur fonds propres ou en levant des fonds pour proposer le meilleur produit, être le dernier à survivre à la phase d’accélération et ainsi s’imposer comme un monopole de fait, quitte à racheter des concurrents en cours de route pour mieux s’imposer. Il n’y a qu’un Airbnb, qu’un Facebook, qu’un Netflix, parce que tous les autres sont morts ou marginaux. Winner takes all. La question qui se joue en ce moment en France est de savoir si nous devons soumettre la civic-tech aux mêmes modèles économiques ou si la démocratie justifie une exception.

Les institutions françaises prisonnières des logiciels propriétaires.

La diversité des initiatives civic-tech françaises qui foisonnent depuis dix-huit mois a maintenu une apparence de complémentarité. Elle a désormais été décrite sous forme de catalogues homogènes par tous nos principaux médias locaux et nationaux, qui pour la plupart n’ont pas poussé l’analyse au-delà des éléments de langage corporate. Entrons dans le détail.

Certaines plateformes sont « scalables », c’est-à-dire que le coût marginal d’un nouvel utilisateur tend vers zéro, comme l’illustre Jeremy Rifkin dans son analyse de l’économie des plateformes numériques. Ainsi, ne doit pas ré-investir de ressources — en dehors de serveurs plus importants — pour passer de dix à dix mille pétitions, de dix à dix mille signataires. Il en va de même pour l’application GOV qui veut « uberiser » les sondages grâce à une application qui lui permet de collecter les avis d’un nombre croissant d’utilisateurs sans dépenser plus d’énergie alors qu’un institut classique doit reproduire et analyser des centaines d’entretiens téléphoniques dont le coût unitaire ne varie pas. La contrepartie est la centralisation et l’uniformisation des plateformes. Facebook propose les mêmes fonctionnalités à tous ses utilisateurs. C’est un modèle qui marche pour des outils de mobilisation, dès lors que l’on considère que l’usage n’est pas différent pour un candidat de gauche ou de droite, qu’il gère une base militante de dix ou de dix mille personnes. Cela conduit Nation Builder à équiper à la fois la campagne pro-Brexit et la campagne anti-Brexit, la campagne de Jean-Luc Mélenchon comme celle de François Fillon. Ces plateformes sont des outils d’action au service des intérêts particuliers qui s’affrontent dans la vie politicienne — sans connotation négative, mais par opposition au système politique institutionnel et public — et il convient donc de les regrouper sous le terme plus précis de « pol-tech ».

Un autre pan des civic-tech, celui qui concerne la prise de décisions et leur évaluation, dépend justement de l’initiative des gouvernements eux-mêmes. Certains ont les moyens de développer eux-mêmes des outils (comme la mairie de Paris pour son budget participatif), mais la majorité fait appel à des prestataires privés. On parle alors des « gov-tech », au modèle hybride : il est important que chaque gouvernement dispose d’un outil sur-mesure et puisse garantir la sincérité et la protection des données individuelles qui sont récoltées, mais les types de participation sont récurrents — appel à projets ou idées des citoyens, consultation sur une décision publique, cartographie collaborative, budget participatif, portail d’accès aux données publiques… Les mêmes plateformes peuvent donc être dupliquées modulo une légère adaptation contextuelle. C’est ici que deux modèles entrent en concurrence : les logiciels libres contre les logiciels propriétaires.

Plusieurs entreprises françaises se sont créées sur cette opportunité. Spallian s’est partiellement reconvertie dans la vente d’applications de signalement « Tell My City ». Fluicity développe une application mobile de communication entre une municipalité et ses administrés. OpenDataSoft propose une solution intégrée pour que les collectivités créent facilement leurs portails open data — désormais une obligation légale. Cap Collectif commercialise des plateformes de consultation. Ces entreprises font de la gov-tech et à mesure que les cas d’usages se multiplient — particulièrement en période pré-électorale — leur qualité et leur rentabilité augmentent. Ils attirent des investisseurs privés qui entrent au capital ; OpenDataSoft vient par exemple de lever 5 millions d’euros pour déployer sa solution partout dans le monde. Les dernières améliorations techniques sur ces plateformes sont indéniablement intéressantes.

Le modèle propriétaire s’accompagne toutefois d’une série d’inconvénients :

  • Le manque de transparence pour commencer. La puissance publique n’a pas accès au code source qui fait tourner ces plateformes. Pourquoi se préoccuper de ces détails techniques — qui, avouons-le, dépassent de très loin la compréhension de la majorité des décideurs — tant que la plateforme marche ? Si le code a valeur de loi, selon la démonstration faite par le Pr. Lawrence Lessig (Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, 1999), une plateforme numérique n’est jamais neutre. Elle est le fruit des choix techniques et idéologiques de ses concepteurs. Lorsque nous ne maîtrisons pas son code, ce sont les auteurs de ce code qui nous maîtrisent.
  • L’abandon de la souveraineté ensuite. Publier rétrospectivement un jeu de données issu d’une plateforme non auditable n’est pas une garantie suffisante que les données n’ont pas été manipulées. Quand bien même nous n’aurions pas de raison de douter des intentions des éditeurs actuels de ces plateformes, le fait que ces entreprises puissent être rachetées à moyen terme par d’autres acteurs est une menace que tout acteur public doit prendre en considération dès lors qu’il engage sa responsabilité dans un processus de récolte d’opinions citoyennes et de concertation démocratique.
  • L’absence de collaboration durable enfin. Tous les gouvernements ayant les mêmes besoins, ils représentent une manne promise à ces entreprises. Au lieu de mutualiser ces besoins, les institutions — et donc in fine les contribuables — payent et repayent chacune à leur tour des technologies existantes. Une partie des gains sont certes réinvestis par ces entreprises, mais les améliorations ne profiteront qu’aux prochains clients. L’argent public ne finance pas le développement de biens communs librement réutilisables, mais des modèles économiques classiques. Dans le modèle propriétaire, il faut que chacun le sache et le comprenne, aucune mutualisation technique n’est possible.

Le défi de faire émerger la “common-tech” en environnement fermé.

Après avoir distingué la pol-tech et la gov-tech, nous obtenons une vision plus claire des technologies de la citoyenneté stricto sensu. La capacité des citoyens à maîtriser et utiliser par eux-mêmes ces outils pour s’informer, s’organiser et prendre des décisions collectives est dans l’ADN de la civic-tech, définie aux Etats-Unis comme « the use of technology for the public good ». Peut-être faut-il évoluer vers une définition des « common-tech » pour délimiter plus précisément la création de ces communs digitaux, qui correspondent davantage à ce qui existe à l’international. Car des alternatives libres existent pour les mêmes besoins :

La création de logiciels libres pour la démocratie est en train de se généraliser à travers le monde :

  • La Commission européenne impose que les logiciels qu’elle finance, comme ceux du programme D-Cent, soient open source.
  • L’administration Obama a ouvert le code de son application officielle de pétitions « We the People » et vient de lancer le portail qui libère le code de toutes les plateformes gouvernementales américaines.
  • La nouvelle ministre taïwanaise du numérique Audrey Tang a animé depuis des années les hackathons autour du développement de solutions open source.
  • Le pionnier des outils de lobby citoyen est la plateforme Meu Riodéveloppée en open source au Brésil.
  • Les Islandais dont nous saluons les pirates et le modèle démocratique ont créé un portail open source pour Better Reykjavik.
  • Les élus Podemos à Madrid ont investi dans le logiciel Consul qui est utilisé par le portail pour les concertations et le budget participatif de la capitale… et d’autres villes espagnoles, qui ont ainsi accès au même outil.

La civic-tech française est à contre-courant.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings., le portail qui donne accès aux logiciels développés par l’administration américaine.

Le modèle open source repose sur des licences qui définissent les conditions de libre accès, utilisation, transformation et commercialisation de plateformes qui sont codées de manière ouverte et collaborative. Les fichiers qui structurent les applications sont accessibles publiquement sur des plateformes comme GitHub ou Gitlab, et des notices vous expliquent comment déployer et configurer gratuitement des instances indépendantes que vous pouvez héberger sur vos propres serveurs et adapter à vos besoins. De là vient une incompréhension manifeste autour de l’open source : ce n’est pas parce que l’accès est gratuit que le développement l’est aussi. Le paramétrage technique, la traduction, l’ajout de fonctionnalités nécessitent du temps et des compétences de développement — parfois plus que pour une solution propriétaire qui existe déjà et dont le coup de duplication est infiniment plus faible que le prix de la licence d’exploitation que l’entreprise vous fait payer. En revanche, l’amélioration ainsi financée bénéficie à tous les acteurs de la communauté. Partout dans le monde. Ainsi, en choisissant Democracy OS pour développer le portail, la mairie de Nanterre a investi dans une amélioration de l’ergonomie de la plateforme qui a été réutilisée jusqu’au niveau du gouvernement argentin. La diffusion de l’open source est libre : la métropole de Reims a fait appel à un prestataire privé pour mettre en place une instance de consultation Democracy OS sans même que l’association ne soit au courant. De la même manière, n’importe quelle collectivité, n’importe quel projet associatif disposant en interne de la compréhension technique nécessaire peut utiliser Democracy OS. Il existe des dizaines d’alternatives développées à travers le monde : Discourse (Etats-Unis) pour des forums participatifs, Loomio (Nouvelle-Zélande) pour des prises de décisions adaptées aux organisations non pyramidales, Ushahidi(Kenya) pour de la cartographie collaborative, etc. Dans ces contextes, la plus-value provient de l’expertise déployée sur le terrain grâce à l’outil, et non du dangereux mirage d’un solutionnisme technologique qui prétend qu’un outil unique va tout changer.

Nous sommes convaincus qu’il y a un modèle économique pour ces common-tech. Nous sommes en train de l’expérimenter avec Open Source Politics en faisant un travail de curation et d’adaptation des meilleures plateformes libres dédiées à la démocratie. Ce modèle est probablement moins rentable pour des investisseurs à court terme, mais beaucoup plus pour les citoyens à moyen terme. Et donc pour la démocratie à long terme. Le chemin prendra nécessairement plus de temps à réaliser son plein potentiel. Les institutions préfèrent souvent le confort de la relation avec un acteur privé plutôt que la collaboration avec une communauté encore peu structurée. Mais elle existe à travers le concept de hackathon permanent que nous avons lancé début 2016 au sein de l’équipe Open Democracy Now et nous rencontrons de plus en plus de développeurs heureux de s’engager pour une civic-tech libre.

Dans son ouvrage de référence sur les nouveaux modèles de pair-à-pair, Michel Bauwens explique qu’un commun a peu de chance de triompher s’il est isolé face à des concurrents privés, mais finit toujours par l’emporter s’il s’allie avec des acteurs publics ou privés qui apportent une stabilité et une rétribution au travail de la communauté. Comme le détaille ce brillant article d’Uzbek & Rica, le défi pour la puissance publique de comprendre et de collaborer avec l’émergence des communs dépasse le cadre de la civic-tech et concerne tout le secteur de l’innovation. La responsabilité des dirigeants réunis lors du sommet mondial du Partenariat pour un Gouvernement ouvert dépasse donc largement l’exercice de communication.

Le siècle des communs, à lire chez Usbek & Rica

A ce jour, la civic-tech n’est qu’un passe-temps pour la classe moyenne urbaine désabusée par le spectacle de sa représentation politique. A de très rares exceptions près, nos initiatives ne sont pas inclusives et ne touchent pas les citoyens des quartiers populaires et des périphéries qui forment les bastions d’abstentionnistes et de votes extrêmes. La tâche est immense tant le fossé à combler est profond, tant les fractures seront longues à cicatriser. D’autres villes ont réussi à le faire, comme Medellin en Colombie, passée de plateforme de la drogue à la démocratie participative en vingt ans d’actions vertueuses. Nous manquons la cible car nous n’avons pas les moyens de passer à l’échelle. Il faut un soutien fort en faveur du développement de nouveaux outils numériques capables de se répandre de plus en plus facilement sur tout le territoire, afin d’intensifier nos pratiques démocratiques dans les écoles, les associations et les entreprises, de multiplier les consultations et les redditions de comptes transparentes, d’équiper les collectifs citoyens locaux qui sont les seuls en position d’associer les exclus. C’est la condition de la transition démocratique.

Ces outils existent déjà pour la plupart. Nous mettons à l’honneur leurs auteurs venus d’Allemagne, de Taïwan, d’Estonie ou de Malaisie lors d’une soirée de la société civile ouverte ce mardi 6 décembre. La boîte à outils du Gouvernement ouvert ( qui est développée par Etalab depuis un an est mise en ligne lors du hackathon international au Palais de l’Elysée le 7 décembre puis au Palais d’Iéna le 8 et 9. Aspirant le contenu de nombreux référentiels internationaux, ce site donne accès à une information détaillée sur les bonnes pratiques mises en oeuvre à travers le monde.

La civic-tech française a énormément grandi depuis dix-huit mois. De nouveaux leviers sont en train de se mettre en place. Un incubateur va naître grâce au soutien d’Axelle Lemaire. Il a vocation à être hébergé à terme par le « Civic Hall » voulu par Anne Hidalgo à Paris. Tant que nous n’aurons pas de garanties sur les critères techniques et politiques exigés pour en faire partie, nous regarderons ces deux initiatives avec la vigilance qui est attendue de la société civile dans une démarche de Gouvernement ouvert. Cette posture peut paraître idéaliste à l’heure où l’innovation démocratique souffre d’une réelle précarité économique, mais si ce n’est pas pour nous rapprocher d’un idéal démocratique plus libre et plus ouvert que nous nous battons, alors à quoi cela sert-il ?

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