The emergence of the Internet-era citizen movements and political parties

The 19th century institutions of democracy, such as Parliaments, elections, parties, manifestos democratic assemblies are in great need of revival since they are out of synchronization with the 21st century technologies, norms and collective aspirations. Network parties are appearing in Europe: the Pirate Parties in Iceland, Germany and Sweden; and the Five Star Movement in Italy have pioneered Internet-based decision-making structures. Podemos in Spain, now leading in the national pools, is opening decisions up to large numbers of people through the Internet, involving citizens in shaping policy and sharing their expertise.

However, attempts to engage people in democratic decision-making using digital platforms are still in their early stages. Few existing platforms have been specifically designed to engage in Internet-scale democracy that goes beyond the limits of traditional corporate social media.

Running large scale experiments with democratic organisations across Europe

D-CENT wants to provide a positive vision of collective intelligence in democracy in the XXI century. It is trying to change the decision-making processes and makes it easier for citizens and social movements to participate and change things. This means running experiments that help building new kind of political parties and institutions best suited to next generation democracy – open, experimental, and able to tap into collective intelligence of citizens.

New political movements in Spain

In Spain the experiments were launched with two new and influential political groups: Podemos at national level and Barcelona En Comù at municipal level.

Podemos is a political party born in the wake of the 15M ‘indignatos’ anti austerity and pro democracy social movement, with strong citizen participation and that relies heavily on the Internet and online platforms to mobilise their members. In the spring of 2014, it obtained five seats in the European Parliament Elections. As of today, polls reflect a huge growth in vote intention, to the point of being clear candidates to win the elections due in November 2015. Barcelona En Comù is a citizen-led coalition attempting to win the next city elections and build a new type of city management. They are using D-CENT tools to engage citizens in writing the coalition political programme and voting candidates.

D-CENT is now running large scale pilots in collaboration with Laboratorio Democrático, a digital strategy Lab driving the participatory infrastructure of Podemos at national and municipal level. Labodemo is developing innovative tools for networked democracy and has launched the debate platform Plaza Podemos with 220,000 registered people. The challenges reside now in developing new prototypes and tools that allow experts and citizens to get involved in policy making processes, ranging from citizen initiatives, collective policy-drafting, to meaningful large scale debates and voting.

Crowdsourcing legislation and bottom-up municipal democracy in Finland organisation active in the D-CENT project is Open Ministry, which has assisted citizens in drafting laws for a couple of years already. The citizens’ initiative amendment to the Constitution in 2012 ensures each Finnish citizen the right to have his or her bill presented to the parliament. The prerequisite is that minimums of 50,000 persons of voting age back the bill. Open Ministry, has been involved in drafting the bills aimed at changing the copyright laws and establishing the equal marriage law. Another focus is to create bottom-up citizen feedback on the decision making of the City of Helsinki. The D-CENT project tests how to produce an functional kit for establishing an online democracy community using open source tools so that citizens can get organized, mobilise, and act to influence decision-making.

E-democracy and participatory budgeting in Iceland

One success case is the Icelandic Better Reykjavik, a website enabling citizens to voice, debate and prioritize ideas to improve their city, giving the voters a direct influence on decision making of the City Council. The website was launched in 2010 and it has attracted over 12,000 registered users with over 50,000 unique visitors the past 12 months in a city of 120,000 people. In 2014 300 million ISK (1.9 million EUR) were allocated as part of an open budgeting process to 10 different neighbourhoods in the City of Reykjavik.

During FutureFest we are inviting leading figures from three parties Podemos, Five Star Movement, The Pirate Party and others to share their wisdom about what the Net can – and can’t – do, to help mobilise citizens for profound societal change.

D-CENT is bringing together leading European examples that have transformed democracy in the past years, and helping them in developing the next generation of open source, decentralised, and privacy-aware tools for network democracy. Francesca Bria is the EU project coordinator of the project. She works at Nesta as a Senior Project Lead in the Nesta Innovation Lab.

The original article was published at the Nesta website D-CENT: The emergence of the Internet-era citizen movements and political parties.


Follow us

Project partners