PhD Argument Introduction

General Argument: Decidim is a prototype for public-commons participatory democracy, forming part of a live ecosystem of collective intelligences with transformative impacts.

Argument 1: Decidim is part of a live ecosystem of interconnected collective intelligences.

Argument 2: Decidim.Barcelona is a prototype for public-commons participatory democracy and has characteristics of a live collective intelligence.

Argument 3: Decidim has transformative impacts.

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[Version November 2020 :: These PhD posts are online workbenchs and mood boards :: Opening up research process, playing with multimedia and inviting your comments]

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Welcome to my PhD Argument!

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Weekly Decidim office meetings in the FiC.
Still from The Sound of the Hive video (38 secs, 2019). Recorded July 2018.

Welcome to my PhD exploring Collective Intelligence through getting to know Decidim – a pioneering collective intelligence project and community. This has been my labour of love for sometime now and I’m glad to share the first version of the PhD Argument midway through the analysis phase of the PhD. With the analysis still underway, any feedback can still be listened to and acknowledged within the PhD, so please feel free to comment below. For now, here is a little introduction to the PhD and the PhD Argument. Click on the Argument 1 and Argument 2 links for more detail.

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Introduction

Decidim means ‘We Decide’ in Catalan and Decidim is literally just that: a way to make decisions together. Decidim comes out of network movement practices of collective intelligence, which have developed techniques combining code, social organisation and online tools to achieve social transformation.

Decidim open source code is used to create participatory democracy structures all over the world. The code is adaptable, the participatory structures can take different forms (processes, assemblies, initiatives, consultations) and they can be applied in many different types of organisations (city councils, trade unions, universities, neighbourhood collectives, NGOs). The online monitoring tool Decidim Monitor shows today (24.10.2020) a set of 42 applications of Decidim internationally with a total of 127,039 users.

Decidim has a social contract and community that take care of its (tecno)political compass and keep the self-generative transformative process going:

The social contract shows commitments to free software, open content, equality and responsibility – reflecting Decidim’s roots in hacker and politically savvy communities. As an open source code, the Decidim code and its development process are freely accessible on Github, which is a kind of online library of successive versions of open source code. Participatory processes and assemblies take place openly on on the Decidim sites and content remains viewable there. Furthermore, a commitment to Open Access data allows direct live overviews into what’s going on, such as live data available on Decidim homepages (see below), the aforementioned Decidim Monitor, and at the bottom of each Decidim website you can click and download vast xcel sheets of Open Data for each site.

Decidim self-governs and self-generates through a community called Meta.Decidim, which works to ensure that Decidim is not only open but also participatory. You can access and become part of the MetaDecidim community through meetings and events (Som, Lab and DecidimFest/JAMs) – which prior to Covid-19 were primarily in person meetings – as well as the website Meta.Decidim.org. The Meta.Decidim community uses the Decidim code to structure its own website, so the community can use all the participatory tools of Decidim (online processes, assemblies, initiatives, consultations) to improve Decidim itself. What the Decidim White Paper calls the tecnopolitical virtues of Dog-fooding and Recursive Boostrapping: the Meta.Decidim the community “use their own software, we eat our own dog-food [And] the organization does not only eat its own product, it nurtures from it. The very software is a product and also the scaffold of the community” (2019, pp. 65-66).

Or, in the spirit of the chicken and the egg, you could turn that around and say:

The community self-governs and self-generates through Decidim. Whilst in some ways it’s easier to see Decidim, draw a line around it, and talk about the chicken and egg cycle with Decidim as the starting point, in the end, the community and the people in the community, are always going to be the most important. And this research project reflects that by starting with Argument 1: Decidim is part of a live ecosystem of interconnected collective intelligences. Where the live ecosystem and the interconnected collective intelligences are the wider people- and community-centered forms that everything generates from.

Screenshot of data on MetaDecidim homepage (11.11.2020)
Decidim facilitator Alicia Mullor explaining the monthly Som assembly of the MetaDecidim community. Here, we see a small working group, during a breakout session of a larger meeting. Still from La Colmena video (11 mins 57 secs, 2018). (Recorded July 2018)

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Getting to know Decidim inside out

In this research project, we are going back to the source, focusing on one of the places where Decidim began: Barcelona, where the participatory democracy project Decidim.Barcelona was launched by Barcelona City Council in 2016.

You can get to know Decidim.Barcelona through it’s public (inter)faces online and in-person. People can take part in discussions and decision-making processes about the City of Barcelona on the Decidim.Barcelona website – sometimes in combination with in-person meetings. Proposals discussed range from a Municipal Action Plan (a strategic plan for the whole city) with over 25,000 participants, to smaller neighbourhood focused ideas such as the pedestrianisation of certain roads. On the homepage of Decidim.Barcelona key current data is public:

Pablo Aragón, Xabier Barandiaran and Gemma Degollada in the Decidim office in the Fic. Still from La Colmena [The Hive] (7 mins, 13 secs, 2019). (Recorded July 2018)

If you are in Barcelona – and Covid restrictions do not apply – you can also attend the in-person meetings and events of MetaDecidim which take place in Barcelona. These meetings and events give you a deeper insight and participation into the development of the Decidim code and the broader project itself. Some MetaDecidim meetings typically take place in the FiC (an old textile factory converted into a ‘Creation Factory’ of co-working and public spaces), where one of the Decidim.Barcelona offices are also based (see pic above). The Decidim.Barcelona office team play an active role in the MetaDecidim meetings, so you can also get to know them and maybe even their own community dynamic.

Going further beyond the public interfaces, this research project takes us under the skin of Decidim, going deeper into Decidim.Barcelona and Meta.Decidim to find out: What really makes it work? How do collective intelligences actually work here? We are going through the screen, through the office door, inside the shell of the server, delving into the code, tuning into the collective mind, trying out movement practice, diving into the data, getting into texts produced by the Decidim community, working out its role within the wider structures of the City of Barcelona, and we are lucky enough to share in some of the inner life of the Decidim.Barcelona and Meta.Decidim communities.

And whatever we find, whatever Decidim is, it is simultaneously something that generates itself and knows itself, it is recursive. Not only through the self-reflexive Meta.Decidim. But through the wider live ecosystem of interconnected collective intelligences that we got to know in Argument 1. Following on, in Argument 2, we zoom into the specifications of how the wider ecosystem feeds Decidim, by focusing on how that works in Decidim Barcelona and Meta.Decidim. This involves disentangling and telling the interconnected stories of the Decidim.Barcelona, Meta.Decidim and Tecnopolítica communities and networks, who have played a key role in recent events in Barcelona, Spain and beyond. Key recent events and processes including: the 15M/Indignados movements, the rise of municipalism and new political parties which saw 15M movements enter state institutions and the election of progressive women mayors in Barcelona and Madrid; and it was people from Tecnopolitica networks who co-founded Decidim.Barcelona and Decidim itself in the first place. In parallel, embedded author-actors have produced a substantial body of work documenting, analysing and storytelling the ecosystem around Decidim, Decidim itself, the genealogy, the current project and visions for the future.So, importantly, this is not a closed Decidim system only recycling itself, we are talking about a wider live ecosystem of collective intelligences having a self-generative self-knowing recursive capacity.

The recursivity is not only organisational, it is also narrative. As a result, the narrative of this research project must find a way to articulate the cycles of the Decidim community making itself, knowing-itself, researching-itself, telling its own story itself, re-configuring itself and getting to know itself all over again (on repeat). Cycles of telling its own story – stories within stories within stories. Reminiscent of researcher-hacker Marga Padilla explaining recursivity through the example of ‘One Thousand and One Nights – the story in which Queen Scheherazade tells King Shahriar stories in which a character begins to tell a story in which a character begins to tell a story – a recursive narrative structure’ (Padilla, 2013, p. 43) (A).

So the overall PhD research narrative must accomodate this recursive dynamic, alongside the very concrete operational functionality of Decidim that aspires to materially improve people’s lives in the here and now, alongside the multiple scales and dimensions that go into Decidim. The challenge being to communicate this coherently without sacrificing significant content.

Charged with this somewhat tricky task, the research project acknowledges it may be a red herring to ask, let along answer, the question ‘What is Decidim?’ in a singular way because maybe there is – but maybe there isn’t – a singular coherent whole that emerges from all the multiple dimensions and scales, that allows us to know all these different sides and scales at the same time.

So, the research project tries to address the challenge in a different way. Before going on to summarise and conclude how the Research Argument breaks down the challenge, I wanted to share a key part of the research project which grounds and orientates the whole process moving forward:

Yes, fortunately, I have a very faithful guide which helps me navigate the way: my experience of being embedded in the Decidim Team in July 2018. That experience brought the Decidim ecosystem and collective intelligences to life for me in a very grounded way. Particularly in terms which may be thought of as intangible, but actually can be the most vivid and reliable parts of an experience: movement, sensory, homeliness, self-making, self-knowing, shapeshifting. It became clear that getting to know Decidim was more about getting in touch with and interacting with Decidim (‘trying it out’, ‘getting into it’) than any attempt to pin it down to a unitary static formalised thing. In other words, when I was welcomed into and embedded in the Decidim Team, I felt my understanding of Decidim deepened as I jumped into and got into their rhythm, and when I got home after fieldwork, I literally felt like I’d just jumped off a very fast moving train with its wheels going round and round through its non-stop daily, weekly, monthly working breathing cycle. In fact, the hum of the Decidim office was still ringing in my ears for a long time after returning home. And I went on to capture that hum in the experimental video The Sound of the Hive, taking it further into a more complete picture of the Decidim Team and MetaDecidim community in the more documentary style video La Colmena [the Hive].

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Research Argument Breaking It Down

In Argument 1, we start by sketching the bigger picture: Decidim is part of a live ecosystem of interconnected collective intelligences. We sketch the shapes, context, relational lines and composition that define the overall thing we are looking at, using concepts advocated by the Decidim community themselves: ecosystem, collective intelligence; and emphasising the aliveness of the ecosystem and the collective intelligences, which articulates self-generating, self-knowing aspects of recursivity. .

In Argument 2, we go into greater focus on Decidim.Barcelona: Decidim.Barcelona is a prototype for public-commons participatory democracy and has characteristics of a live collective intelligence. Again using concepts native to that Decidim community of actor-authors: public-commons participatory democracy, collective intelligence; and the term prototype partly serves as a proxy for recursivity. Here we also explore in detail how different modes and understandings of collective intelligence are mobilised and brought to life in Decidim.Barcelona.

In Argument 3, we look at the transformative impacts. I am currently focusing on Arguments 1 and 2, scoping out the boundaries of what we will look at in Argument 3.

And throughout, I keep the aliveness of Decidim.Barcelona and its ecosystem very present,. On the one hand, doing the work of specifying how aliveness dialogues with these concepts native to the Decidim and Tecnopolitica communities (ecosystem, collective intelligence, public commons, participatory democracy, recursivity), and drawing out where that takes us to conceptually and operationally. And on the other hand, working with the fact that we are researching a moving responsive phenomena and we are getting to know this phenomena in an interactive live way.

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So please, read on and welcome to the these PhD blogposts. Making the PhD open and sharing the process towards the final submission date. Tick tock tick tock 🙂

Comments are invited on all blogposts, so please feel free to share any thoughts, questions, objections, additions. Thank you for reading!

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Notes

(A) I found the concept of recursivity through the writing of Tecnopolitica researcher-activist Dr Antonio Calleja-López (2017), although I had already got to know the related concept of fractality through a presentation by Marga Padilla at Lab Decidim (July 2018) and the classic Tecnopolitica text Tecnopolítica: la potencia de las multitudes conectadas. El sistema red 15M, un nuevo paradigma de la política distribuida. [Technopolitics: the potential of connected multitudes. The 15M network system as a new paradigm of distributed politics.] (Toret et al, 2013).

We start to see Calleja-López’s concept of the recursive citizen in Argument 1.

References

Barandiaran, Xabier, Calleja-López, Antonio (2019). Decidim White Paper. Authors and Editors: Xabier E. Barandiaran & Antonio Calleja-López. Contributors Eloy Caloca Lafont, Arnau Monterde, Pablo Aragón.

Calleja-López, Antonio (2017). PhD thesis: Since 15M: the technopolitical reassembling of democracy in Spain. (Exeter University, UK).

Padilla, Marga (2013). El kit de la lucha en Internet [The online struggle kit]. Madrid, Spain: Traficantes de Sueños.

Padilla, Marga (2018). Presentation ‘Citizen Participation Technologies for Social Movements and Organisations’, MetaDecidim Lab, FiC, Barcelona, July 2018.

Toret, Javier et al. Tecnopolítica: la potencia de las multitudes conectadas. El sistema red 15M, un nuevo paradigma de la política distribuida. [Technopolitics: the potential of connected multitudes. The 15M network system as a new paradigm of distributed politics.] (2013). Author and research coordinator: Javier Toret. Authors: @Datanalysis15m, Antonio Calleja- López, Óscar Marín Miró, Pablo Aragón, Miguel Aguilera, Xabier E. Barandiaran, Alberto Lumbreras, Arnau Monterde

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