The engineering of deliberative democracy

The engineering of deliberative democracy

Just as the architecture of a meeting room affects who can be heard, the design of our digital tools both offers and prohibits certain political possibilities

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 Jessica Feldman, click here.

Recent deliberative democracy projects have shown us that humans are remarkably good at collaboration, empathy and collective decision-making, even with complete strangers. In these times of physical distance, can we use networked digital tools to continue and even expand these projects? Can they take us even further into a future where deliberative democracy 'goes global'?

One of the keys to implementing true democracy will be a careful connection between engineering decisions and political values. We need to think carefully about 1) how and when to use different tools, and 2) how to build them. In this post, I focus on this second question: How can we proactively design for the needs of deliberative democracy? Below I sketch some areas where engineering decisions will need to be made and mention some possible concerns and solutions.


An algorithm is an automated process. When we think about algorithmic governance and deliberative processes, two sets of questions arise. First, where and how do we use digital technology in the deliberative process? For selecting participants? For occasional votes within a meeting? To collect, or even rank, the proposals to be deliberated on? There are many possibilities and many pilot projects. Secondly, how should these algorithms be written? The code itself will affect the conditions of decision making, just as any political protocol constrains our options.


While face-to-face voting is uncommon, it may be necessary in the context of online voting. If the deliberation leads to a vote, should the public be able to see the voting tables in real time? Should the identity of a participant be visible during comments or voting? Digital tools make it possible to record, compile and present this data quickly.

At the level of the code itself, we need to decide whether it should be visible, and to whom. We can learn from the recent Iowa Democratic primary scandal, where a closed, privately designed application was used to report vote tabulations and a "coding problem" resulted in only partial data being reported. For code to be reliable, it must be public: transparent and open source, and funded by the people.

Privacy and security

Computer scientists are taught to evaluate the security of a system on the basis of criteria they call the "C.I.A.". - Confidentiality, integrity and accessibility. In other words, communications/data should only be seen by those for whom they are intended. Data must not be compromised or falsified, and communications and information must remain accessible to those who should be able to access it - without being blocked, denied or deleted.

This is perhaps the most pressing issue: as many decision-making bodies move online, using pre-existing tools, we need to take seriously the threat of conversation monitoring, metadata collection, 'zoom bombing', server crashes (e.g. a cyber-attack) and online vote hacking.

Finally, participants working from home may not be able to speak or vote as they wish. This is not to say that digital tools should not be used, but that they should be designed to be secure and robust. In the short term, democratic bodies need to be carefully advised on which tools to use and make strategic and perhaps conservative decisions on how to use them.

Digitisation beyond quantification

While many debates about digital democracy focus on vote counting, deliberative democracy is much more concerned with conversations and consensus. We need to think carefully about how digital tools can help facilitate this process, rather than replace it. Some tools, such as Loomio or the consul software, have been developed from consensus-based communities, with the idea of helping discussions throughout the process.

Deliberative assemblies have always provided the affective conditions for developing empathy, derived from time-tested traditions of listening. As we move online, we need to ask whether - and if - these experiences can be achieved using digital tools. If so, what tools are needed, and how are our practices changing? If not, what role should digital play in supporting 'in person'?

In answering these questions, we need to keep in mind three key concepts:

Path dependency :

Once an infrastructure or a tool is built, we get used to using it, we start to organise our activities around it and build new technologies on top of it. We have to design things with that in mind.

Open Source :

As an engineer once told me, "open source is honest source". The code that underpins our decision-making and deliberative procedures should be publicly available.

Participatory design :

The best way to build these tools is through 'participatory design', in which the communities that will use and be affected by the engineering are involved in every step of the decision-making and testing process.

One of the great achievements of deliberative democracy is that it has been evolving and testing non-digital codes and processes for (at least) thousands of years. It offers many protocols that can be drawn upon for imaging digital processes.

A participatory platform for the Citizens' Climate Convention

A participatory platform for the Citizens' Climate Convention


Since 4 October, 150 randomly selected citizens have been meeting at the Citizens' Climate Convention to discuss the question of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, in a spirit of social justice.

Since 25 October (second session of the Convention), a digital platform has been receiving external contributions from all citizens and organisations. Three intermediate summaries will be produced before the next sessions to feed the work of the 150 members of the Convention.

Why Decidim?

Open Source Politics has been commissioned to set up a platform based on the open source software Decidim . All proposals from participants are public and available on the platform:

The choice of Decidim and its open code is in line with the Convention's principles of democracy and transparency. The platform allows everyone to express themselves in confidence regarding the protection of their data.

6 themes :

The platform allows contributions to be submitted on the five working areas of the Convention. A sixth space is reserved for transversal contributions.

The citizens and organisations registered can submit one contribution per theme and per intersession on the platform (i.e. a maximum of 18 during the whole Convention).

A full month of October for participatory democracy

A full month of October for participatory democracy

Participatory democracy was punctuated in October by a series of interventions by the OSP team in France and Spain! Between Madrid, Barcelona, Marseille, Poitiers and Paris, there were many destinations and many opportunities to present our experience with the Decidim software.

Virgile Deville at the conference of the Association of Mayors of Île-de-France in Paris

Virgile is speaking at the Association des Maires d'Île-de-France conference on the subject of the round table "Will civic-tech tools transform citizen participation?

Read our article on Virgil's interventionhere

Léo Cochin at the "Social innovations: our best investment" event in Paris-Bercy

Léo Cochin visited Bercy on 14 October as part of the "Social Innovation, our best investment" event organised by the State Procurement Directorate (DAE), the LIBERTÉ LIVING-LAB and Le French Impact.

Several public actors have expressed their desire to orient public purchasing towards a permanent search for economic but also social efficiency. Used today by more than 150 institutions, the DECIDIM open source software is part of a sustainable logic of public investment. Each investment aimed at improving this common good allows a large international community to serenely explore democratic and social innovation. Investing in open source software allows public actors not to be in a situation of dependence on their provider.

Eloïse Gabadou at the Europeanlab in Madrid

Eloïse represented Decidim and OSP at theEuropeanlab in Madrid on 18 and 19 October 2019. Every year, this think tank brings together 250 European actors to shed light on, support and accompany the initiatives that will shape tomorrow's culture.
On the programme for these two days of reflection and meetings: debates, meetings, a living library, music, a radio set, workshops for children, etc.
Eloïse presented Decidim and Open Source Politics at a round table on digital citizenship, the smart city and digital municipalities.

Valentin Chaput in Marseille for the "Faire ensemble" event of Numérique En Commun(s)

On 18 October 2019, OSP went to Marseille for the "Faire Ensemble" event. This national meeting organised by Numérique en commun[s] brings together for two days the stakeholders in the construction of the digital society.

In parallel to the digital inclusion issues widely debated in the framework of Numérique en Commun(s), Valentin Chaput presented the European dimension of the Decidim project during an exchange with Louise Guillot from the 27th Region about the commons. How does creating a society around the commons ensure the sustainability and development of resources in the general interest? This question led to a fascinating debate at the Mars Medialab.

Antoine Gaboriau at the 2019 digital citizenship meeting in Poitiers

Antoine Gaboriau spoke on 7 October about open source digital tools during the event "Rencontres, citoyenneté numérique" organised in partnership with the Conseil de développement de Grand Poitiers. He was accompanied by

Together they discussed the topic of civic tech, and the initiatives carried out by civil society through digital technology. In turn, they listed existing methods for citizens to get involved in institutions and public policy making.

Virgile Deville at the Decidim Fest in Barcelona

Participatory democracy: Decidim Fest in Barcelona

During Decidim Fest 2019, on 29, 30 and 31 October, Virgile Deville will represent OSP in a workshop: " Participation in practice: participatory processes and budgets".

He will talk about Open Source Politics' experience in setting up participatory budgets using Decidim. Open Source Politics has now installed about twenty participatory budgets for local authorities, which allows us to draw lessons, which Virgil will detail during his speech.

Virgil will be joined at his round table by :

  • Alberto Labarga (Public University of Navarra, Open Knowledge Foundation)
  • Sílvia Luque (Ferrer i Guàrdia Foundation)
  • Óscar Pretel Ramírez (former Councillor for Participation, and transparency of the Zaragoza City Council)
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.

Corporate democracy": what relevance, needs and levers?

Corporate democracy": what relevance, needs and levers?

This article was written following Decidim Day, an event organized by Open Source Politics on September 12, 2019. Its purpose is to set out in writing the main arguments presented by the speakers. These discussions focused on the relevance of the concept of This is a "corporate democracy", the real underlying needs and levers such as Decidim, which embodies the new methods of collective intelligence.

We were delighted to welcome four speakers to this round table:

  • Loïc BlondiauxProfessor at theUniversity of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne, specialist in participatory democracy.
    His main argument? "There is today a kind of unthinking of the democratic question in companies. It is a question that is poorly addressed in political debate. »
  • Lex PaulsonDirector ofthe UM6P School of Collective Intelligence in Morocco
    .According to him: collective intelligence is a tool that brings a democratic contribution within a company as soon as its culture is ready to welcome open innovation.
  • Thibaud Brière
    Who considers that: "the more an organisation claims to be democratic, the more it must, in order not to (lie to itself), invest in training: training of members (so that they understand the ins and outs of the issues on which their decisions are based) and training of managers (so that they learn how to regulate group dynamics, boost collective intelligence, prevent collective excesses, manage conflicts, etc.).
  • Rudy Cambier - moderator - co-director of the Liberté Living-lab, a place dedicated to impact technology.
    According to him:most participative approaches in companies are limited to simple "collective intelligence" exercises (and therefore internal/external communication). Too few of them are based on real shared governance and the involvement of employees in strategic orientations or decisions for the company.

Corporate democracy:

what are we talking about?


This expression is not new as it has been used since the 1950s. However, like any concept, its meaning has evolved and, while it was an argument for giving shareholders more say at the time, it is now used to highlight employees and their degree of involvement in the company's strategic orientations.

Moreover, while the term can be intuitively understood as the application of democratic principles within private structures, its practical definition does not exist and its use is often devoid of nuance. There is a real need to clarify this term and "a continuity to be reflected upon between citizenship in the public and private sectors" (Loïc Blondiaux) as well as precautions to be taken in the application of a concept of public origin in the private sector. However, its use is not insignificant. 

This year, Open Source Politics had its first corporate use case - Decathlon - and our first observation: the theme of democracy has not remained on the sidelines.

How relevant is this concept today? What are the specific needs of a company?


  • The PACTE law: a context that calls into question the structural organisation and CSR positioning of companies

Rudy Cambier introduced it: the PACTE law, which must come into force by 1 January 2020 at the latest, has put the issues of social mission, co-management, employee participation and governance back on the table. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been accentuated and strengthened to highlight a concrete need for organisational and structural change. As a result, and in a context of renewed economic, civil and social codes, more and more actors are talking about the need for economic/productive democratisation within the company. 

An economic democracy? Thomas Coutrotan economist and author of "Liberate Work", would define it as a situation where :

"On the one hand, workers collectively have a decisive influence on the organisation of their work, i.e. more precisely on the necessary trade-offs between productivity, quality of working conditions and remuneration. On the other hand, the power to manage the company is democratic and not privative in nature. "» – Neo-liberation of work and self-management

  • This context of democratization translates into several challenges for companies

Responding to employees' loss of sense of belonging

Estimating one's place in a company as obsolete or (at best) going ahead, on one's own scale, on strategic decisions but having no commitments in return; these are real situations for employees in many companies today. Even in the SSE sector, which Loïc Blondiaux establishes as the place "where democratic principles are attuned to capitalism", companies do not always respect them. And, according to him, although the sine qua non of corporate democracy remains that the employee has "a say in the strategic choice of the company and [is] able to contribute his or her idea of the working environment", a loss of sense of belonging can only be resolved by fully participatory approaches, as tools such as Decidim allow.

Ultimately, increasing employees' sense of belonging within a company also means establishing a corporate culture that better reflects internal dynamics (interests, needs and visions). 

...while taking a measured risk... 

Decidim, being a modular and deeply configurable tool, allows to model the most ambitious approaches in terms of participation. It also takes into account the progressive learning and appropriation time required. These same characteristics make it possible to start with simpler approaches (a call for proposals) limiting risk-taking and to move progressively towards more complex processes (co-construction and monitoring of the implementation of an action plan). This free software can thus adapt to the desires and needs of governance while ensuring that the questions asked are those that meet the most realistic objectives.

It is through promises that are kept because they are achievable that companies protect the satisfaction of all stakeholders. It is by documenting the decision-making process that these companies, in the same way that a government opens up its data, ensure a degree of transparency that is always welcomed in the best possible way. According to a survey conducted earlier this month by Sparkup, "More than half [of the French] (58%) think that their questions and feedback are not taken into account by the management team or management. Result: 86% would like their company to be more transparent. . Open Source Politics thus encourages project owners to use Decidim's functionalities to report on the framing, evolution and monitoring of the project to create more traceability on the commitments made and in this way, avoid any form of frustration.

Prevent a decrease in autonomy? 

Thibaud Brière added: "Thomas Coutrot noted that studies showed that in France, autonomy at work (of which he distinguished several categories) was decreasing. "Indeed, if there is democracy, what about autonomy? He underlines a paradox: "we have never talked so much about autonomy in companies, freedom, liberated companies, etc.". We can therefore wonder whether we are not talking about it all the more because the reality is less. "Autonomy or empowerment, collective intelligence methods allow employees to invest themselves personally and feel they are project leaders.

What are these methods of collective intelligence? How are they levers
for a possible corporate democracy?

In his article Collective intelligence, liberated enterprise and knowledge organization: the problem of the "energy transition" at GRDF, Antoine Henry speaks of collective intelligence as "a method of organising knowledge". . Indeed, as Lex Paulson asserts, it is an organizational method that thwarts the verticality of a company by making room for more employee/employer dialogue, which for the more international ones, decentralizes the dialogue to better converge local visions in the global strategy. It confronts points of view to bring out orientations; it disseminates dialogue spaces to better infuse the elements of debate.

More concretely, these methods translate into online (Decidim) or offline (e.g. creative workshops) co-construction spaces. These spaces arise from a need to take up a series of sensitive challenges for a company: a lack of stakeholder mobilisation on strategic decisions (vision, new products and services...), internal governance that slows down the implementation of a real transformation or a loss of employee buy-in and/or a culture that struggles to welcome open and innovative approaches. According to the BVA 2018 survey, 90% of employees would like to be consulted on corporate strategy and 77% of managers are also of this opinion.

However, as Loïc Blondiaux mentioned in an exchange with Lex Paulson, one unknown remains: although these tools of collective intelligence work relatively well, is there the political will to make them work? As Lex points out, there is a whole area of cultural pedagogy to be carried out within top management, and like all work, it follows a progressive curve.

It is on this stake that Decidim appears as an introductory tool to progressively implement collective intelligence tools and democratic will. This free software was born within the Barcelona City Council in 2016 with a clearly defined philosophy: technological innovations applied to participatory approaches must integrate democratic principles from their conception.

A few thoughts...

The risk of taking too unambitious steps is to create a pseudo-democracy that generates disappointment.

A digression from the round table, but an important point. Charles Felgate, Vision leader of Decathlon United, mentioned it during his testimony at Decidim Day: a company that is not liberated and that does not, therefore, include stakeholder consultations in its strategic orientations is not sustainable. Finally, integrating these democratic principles (transparency, accountability, equality...) within a company sends several positive messages to the outside world: a competitive advantage even a necessity for a sustainable business.

However, as mentioned by Loïc Blondiaux, the risk of talking about strategic benefits for the company (competitive advantage or better sustainability) is ultimately to establish a pseudo-democracy. Indeed, are we really talking about democracy or is it a choice on the part of top management to establish a system of democratic principles à la carte? In the same way that CSR operates on a logic of soft lawAre democratic principles only used to benefit from a better showcase and competitiveness without guaranteeing a profound cultural and structural change?

Moreover, there is no discussion of democracy without questioning the new balances of power. It is on this question that Thibaud Brière reacts by comparing today's enterprise to an "enlightened aristocracy". Indeed, how to balance the place of shareholders versus the voice of employees? As indicated by the EchoesThe PACTE law "entrusts the shareholder with the supreme responsibility for defining the company's purpose and monitoring its consistent and sustainable implementation. "Therefore, what real normative definitions can we give to a corporate "democracy" if the distribution of powers is not equal?

A "one-shot" approach reduces good intentions to a simple communication stunt.

Applying participatory approaches within a company and integrating a platform such as Decidim to carry them out must not result in a "one shot" approach. Using Decidim to co-construct a vision, a culture or to establish a governance platform is a continuous process that requires a culture ready to innovate. In other words, applying a "corporate democracy" is not a "simple innovation" in project management integrating democratic principles a la carte but must be a new form of management inspired by them. 

Involving more democratic tools and processes within one's organization must therefore go beyond a simple communication stunt, although these approaches remain an important way of communicating on the innovations implemented within the company in order to further involve stakeholders in its future orientations.

The larger the company, the more thought must be given to decentralising consultations.

The company needs to think about open innovation processes and the methods of collective intelligence and agility that best suit its size (large groups, companies going to scale...).

It is more difficult to conceive of a real economic democratisation in large companies or companies going to scale because their backbone remains the vertical hierarchy that has been set up. However, as Rudy Cambier pointed out, size is far from being a fatality for adopting open innovation methods because any mass consultation dynamics can take the form of decentralised consultation nodes. These nodes in this case are not defined by the different departments but rather by transversal teams.

As the speakers pointed out, "there are obviously the experiences of liberated companies that are a reference, but they remain marginal". Practical cases of real intelligence and collective action emanating from massive consultations remain rare but do exist and different approaches should be highlighted to carry out exercises such as these. 


We've been talking about corporate democracy so far, but... it would be interesting to study the reciprocal If this corporate culture changes sufficiently to accommodate more democratic processes within these strategic orientations, what impact will this have on the notion of democracy? By what approach can we consider corporations as a "political entity"? Does the citizen have a role to play in the future of social enterprises as they have a direct impact on the socio-political landscape of a society?

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