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Published on 14 de November, 2016 at Cities and Regions

Democracy, civic participation and smart devices

By Pol Solà
3 min read

In the last years we are have been experiencing an exciting discussion on the concepts of democracy and citizen participation. The impact of new technologies has indisputably facilitated citizens’ access to information (hence concepts such as Transparency or Open Data emerge), and in this regard, citizens expect to be empowered to become smart citizens. The main debate takes place when determining which are the limits of participation and assessing the value of these new forms of participative democracy, such as public consultations or online petitions.


Several political and social movements have shown that citizenship is wishing to explore new channels of participation. Democracy can no longer be understood only as the option to choose among two or three political formations every 4 years. In a single vote, choosing between white or black, we cannot express an elaborated view on the preferences of citizens in economic, cultural, religious, citizen, issues… No, it is not enough. Citizenship wants to participate more and better.

4 Years from Now, or the need to innovate constantly

During the Mobile World Congress, 4YearsFromNow, the start-up business lounge of the telephony sector, takes place. It owes its name to the fact that in 4 years the world changes so much that today’s social and technological disruptions, with an still limited impact, will be global in 4 years, and will even possibly generate more economic movement than the GDP of certain countries. We can take a look to the case of Blackberry, in its day the world leader in business telephony services, but today it has no relevance because it made a wrong decision when betting on an analog keyboard. We live in a “liquid modernity”, as sociologist Zygmunt Bauman points out, and today the opinions and needs change so rapidly that a four-year term becomes an eternity.


Collective Intelligence: Smart Citizenship

It is not good enough to hold elections every four years to have a fully democratic political system. In order to create efficient participation mechanisms that allow the development of collective intelligence (‘Smart Citizenship’) above the individual intelligence of those represented, we need an informed citizenship and with predisposition to participate, with insitutional conditions to favor this participation such as a free press and a justice system that responds to its needs.

We the people

The White House, the seat of the executive branch of the United States of America, published a portal in January 2014 where any US citizen could file a petition and, if it had the support of 100,000 citizens in 30 days, White House was committed to give an answer. The success of initiatives like this one has been overcome in a local level, since citizen mobilization is proportional to the proximity of the effects it may have on communities with a higher degree of social capital.

The key role of technology: proximity experiences

In U · TRANS we know of experiences such as those we have implemented in Catalan municipalities such as Gavà and Castelldefels, pioneers at the international level in participatory democracy, allow us to predict that, within 4 years, we will surely find, in our lives, intelligent systems of citizen consultation in order to decide the name of a new square in the neighborhood, to prioritize participatory budgets or to suggest improvements in our neighborhoods. You can take a look to the services we offer though this link.

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