» Archive for category: ‘Societal relevance

Paula Sánchez de la Blanca

The dynamic scene of community currencies in Spain


Learning about the civic innovation potential of alternative currencies during the 5th Meeting of Community Currencies

In the context of the ‘2016 Social Spring’, Alcalá de Henares, hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, hosted the 5th Meeting of Community Currencies (or ‘monedas sociales’) in Spain. Members of more than 20 community currencies (CCs) attended the meeting during the weekend of the 20th -22nd May 2016 and a series of thematic lectures during the previous week. A few academics including Georgina Gómez and myself, on behalf of ISS CIRI team, were also present at this meeting interested in the civic innovation dynamics of this gathering.

The major themes during the lectures were software applications for CCs, local currencies in public policy and the social transformation potential of solidarity-based community projects. There was also time for self-organized workshops among participants who were members of a community currency, an open space to exchange experiences and a general assembly to reach agreements for upcoming coordination projects. Indeed, the main objective of this meeting was to bring together the different community currencies throughout Spain, enhancing interaction and exchange of challenges and solutions.

The interactive nature of this meeting is a reflection of the dynamic scenario of Spanish community currencies. Community currencies have extraordinarily spread throughout Spain during last decade. According to Julio Gisbert’s CCs database, more than 300 initiatives are counted nowadays.

Contextualizing CCs in Spain

Over the past hundred years, Spain has had a rich history of local currency innovation. During the civil war (1936-1939), Francoist forces refused to accept the official money split Spain in two opposing currency zones. In parallel, communities with a tradition of anarchist ideas in the South and East of the country started to issue their own local forms of money (Hugues, 2015). As historian Wilko von Prittwitz put it, Spain became in that period a variety of currency experiments.


Historical community currency in Spain

According to Hugues, a second wave of currency innovation was in the late 1990s, when Spanish local governments engaged in ‘municipal timebanking’ creating or offering assistance to groups willing to use time-banking to support people’s needs and solidarity networks in the city areas.



Since 2009, Spain is living a third wave of experimentation in alternative economic practices. This recent rise of community currencies in Spain is framed in the context of economic crisis where CCs are responding to social needs created or accentuated by the crisis.

As evidenced in the Alcala de Henares meeting, there is also an important role for what Hugues calls ‘CC pioneers’, like Julio Gisbert or Enric Durant. Julio Gisbert is author of the book ‘Vivir sin empleo’ and a blog with the same name. He is also the president of the Association for the development of timebanks in Spain. Nicknamed ‘The Bank Robin Hood’, Durant is the co-founder of the crypto currency Fair coin and its cooperative Fair Coop, and he has been actively engaged in the Catalonian integral cooperatives. Besides, Hugues sees a growing influence of heterogeneous social movements such as the de-growth activists and the 15M Movement.

Although CCs in Spain differ substantially in their principles and goals, there is a common understanding of the systemic problems of a growth-based economy and the need of alternative economic practices experimentation, recognizing that money is socially-constructed. The 15M movement emerged in 2011 out of demonstrations where hundreds of thousands of ‘indignant’ citizens occupy city squares across the country (see our related post here). Many of the self-managed local groups remained committed to mutuality and locality and they join or create a community currency. For example, in the Canary Islands Demos, a self-organized CC with a basic income revenue scheme emerged from the 15M Assembly of La Isleta. In her research on Puma LETS in Seville, Medina (2015: 26) concludes that ‘contentious claims as well as the plans and actions of the 15-M social movement, motivated degrowth activists to inaugurate a LETS within the Pumarejo neighbourhood, transforming potential for mobilisation into action.’

Diversity and increasing interaction

Julio Gisbert’s database currently maps out more than 300 CCs throughout Spain, with Catalonia, Andalousie and Madrid being the most active regions.


Julio Gisbert’s map of community currencies

He differentiates time-banks, bartering schemes and social currencies/markets. Among them there is a wide variety of principles, designs and actors involved. In terms of community currencies, they can be euro-backed (such as the Boniato en Madrid and the Ekhi in Bilbao). However, the most widespread type is mutual-credit schemes where a virtual currency is created through the exchange of goods/services of its products. In fact, the vast majority of participants in Alcala de Henares were part of a mutual-credit currency. Examples include the Puma in Seville, the Turuta in Vilanova i la Geltrú, the ekos in the Castellón, the común in Malaga, the Demos in the Canary Islands, the pita in Almeria and the Osel in Murcia.

In this diverse mosaic of alternative economic practices in Spain, there is not a common project. However, many CCs are increasingly interacting with each other. The Alcala de Henares meeting has been the fifth nation-wide effort to exchange experiences and meet strategic stakeholders (such as local governments and software design companies). There is a growing interest in learning from each other. For instance, out of the assembly of this V meeting, an open document was created to exchange practical challenges and solutions among CCs. Also, a workgroup was created to organize a journey-documentary visiting all CCs initiatives in Spain trying to only use social money.

Concluding, community currencies in Spain are opening new learning spaces from where many people are better coping with the social needs created or accentuated by the economic crisis. However, is their civic innovation potential limited to the context of crisis? Looking at the current scenario of Spanish CCs, it seems many of them have already created new ways of understanding and doing a sustainable social economy.




Mansoureh Shojaee, CIRI Visiting Fellow

CIR HormozganJPG


I will share the stories of some of my photos during the upcoming DRS Dialogue on “Coloniality of gender, cyberfeminism and the poetics of resistance” on 6 June 2016.

Paulina Trejo Mendez, ISS


I am looking forward to share my artwork and reflect on it jointly with you during the upcoming ISS Development Research Seminar (DRS) on “Coloniality of gender, cyberfeminism and the poetics of resistance” on 6 June 2016!

Liz Hilton, Empower Foundation


We were asked “What makes sex work a precarious and often dangerous occupation?” For us it is more interesting to be asked “What makes sex work such a viable occupation for millions of people when it seems precarious and often dangerous?”

The majority of people in the world have no qualifications, no capital and a need to earn cash for their survival and the survival of the people they love. In many countries, children of 8 or 9 years begin to earn money to help the family income or look after younger siblings while parents are out working. They work after school, weekends and holidays. By the time they reach the age of full time work, usually 15 years old, they have experienced many jobs. The adult labor market for those without qualifications or access to capital offers work that is often either excruciatingly tedious and/or physically grinding on our bodies. This work takes up more than a third of our days, which is our life. It rarely provides access to social protection and rarely leads to any opportunities.


Not work, but ‘labour of love’?

As women and mothers much of the work offered to us is the work of caring e.g. cleaning, cooking, washing, child minding, aged and disabled care. This is the kind of work we are expected to do free in our homes as a ‘labor of love’, so of course it is not valued much more when we do it outside the home for money. We are also expected to have sex for free, another ‘labor of love’. Asking to be compensated for sex in cash rather than in flowers is actively condemned both legally and morally. However, we find that men value sex more highly than ironed shirts etc., so are willing to pay more for this than any other service we women provide in the market. Still, it is just a small minority of women who will decide that the opportunities sex work provides are worth the risks of working outside State protection and social approval. Sex work provides a chance to end generational poverty for themselves and their families. It is not surprising people decide to do sex work; given the inequality between rich and poor combined with the tyranny of the man-made market.


Criminalisation and lack of recognition as work makes sex work precarious

Tens of millions of people, mainly women, decide to do sex work. It does not seem reasonable that the punishment for this decision should be total disregard for their right to human dignity, physical integrity, access to protection and justice. Even people who have committed serious crimes are still accorded their full human rights – why not sex workers?

I am looking forward to discussing these thoughts with you during the ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on “Decent Work for Sex Workers” on 24 May 2016. Also, have a look at Empower’s recent research report that details steps for “Moving toward Decent Sex Work“.


Patricia Viseur Sellers (PVS) and Kirsten Campbell (KC) have, among them, huge experience with some of the most important international, national and alternative strategies for addressing sexual violence in contemporary wars. Patricia Sellers worked as a feminist lawyer with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). She now works in the International Criminal Court, and in 2000 was Co-Prosecutor at the Women’s International Tribunal in Tokyo. Kirsten Campbell has been doing extensive research on  prosecution of sexual violence in ICTY and national Bosnian courts and participated in the 2015 Women’s Court in Sarajevo. Both are well known feminist scholars who wrote extensively on international criminal law, transitional justice and gender.

On 9 May 2016 they will be at ISS, at the Development Research Seminars (DRS) Dialogue, addressing alternative strategies for achieving justice for the crimes perpetrated during violent conflicts. The following short reflections are among some of the issues they will address during the DRS Dialogue.  


Patricia Viseur Sellers

PVS: Sexual violence in wars has been tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Other international or hybrid courts, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, also addressed crimes of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Sierra Leone. Each of these judicial mechanisms developed extraordinary jurisprudence and other precedents, such as for example procedures for witness protections. Other international and national courts, such as the International Criminal Court, and war crimes chambers in national courts such as in Uganda, or Bosnian and Herzegovina, special chambers such as in Senegal or the national criminal courts in Guatemala, Colombia, Argentina or Germany also have jurisdiction over criminal acts that entail international crimes of sexual violence. So, the ICTY and ICTR initiated the modern wave of addressing international crimes based upon sexual and gender-based violence.

Each judicial mechanism attempts to redress international crimes such as rape as an act of crimes against humanity or as a war crime not only for the individual survivor, but also for the affected communities.  So the Special Court for Sierra Leone, for example, judged in the Charles Taylor case, that the civilian population had been attacked, inter alia, by sexual terrorisation. Hence, testimonies that individual and communities members might offer to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice should not be diminished.  Furthermore, other courts, such as the International Criminal Court have procedure that allow recognized victims to be represented as a party at all stages of the proceedings and to receive reparations, compensation and restitution.  Besides, some courts could expand the temporal jurisdiction of crimes of sexual violence. In Guatemala and Argentina as well as in Cambodia, the respective courts have examined testimony of sexual violence that was committed decades ago.  The lack of statute of limitations on war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity opens the possibility that past atrocities might be judged today.


Former Korean ‘comfort women’ waving their handkerchiefs to supporters after the closing of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal Tokyo

This possibility is important for the courts and tribunals that are organized as alternatives to the official, international and national courts. I served as a Co-Prosecutor at the Women’s International Tribunal, in Tokyo, in 2000. This was a symbolic trial for the women who had been subjugated to sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.  The victims and survivors are commonly known as the ‘Comfort Women’.  The tribunal was a unique exercise of civil society’s ability to draw critical attention to the unanswered crimes committed against at least a hundred thousand women. The legal angle was paramount because state courts in Japans repeatedly rejected any claims made by the ‘Comfort Women’ during the past decades. Also, the legal approach highlighted that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also held in Tokyo, in 1946, did not include the crimes committed against the ‘Comfort Women’. The Women’s Tribunal was composed of over ten national prosecution teams, such as North and South Korea, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Netherlands, because these were the countries – some former colonies – from where the girls and women originated.  The judges were highly respected international law experts, that came from the United States, Kenya, Australia, and Argentina.  The Women’s Tribunal used as its own criminal code, the 1946 Tokyo Charter, to underscore that the crimes committed against the ‘Comfort Women’ could have been tried already in 1946. The Women’s Tribunal presented evidence and reached conclusion about the criminal conduct and the reparations due to the survivors and to the memory of the victims. The judgment is a source of law under Article 38(c) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice.



Kirsten Campbell

KC: Sexual violence in wars has received a lot of attention lately – from international and national courts, from women’s groups and feminist activists, from UN, from national governments, but also from celebrities. While this attention is politically important, it has not resulted in greater clarity of our understanding of conflict-related sexual violence, or how to provide justice for these crimes.  Rather, the context for serious academic or political engagement with this topic is increasingly challenging.  Academic research is turning away from gender and feminist analysis, while also calling for more quantitative data and cross-country comparison.  The broader political context is increasing ‘securitization’ of conflict-related sexual violence, emphasizing the security of states rather than justice for victims.  The issue of justice remains a crucial question for feminist politics in the field of conflict-related sexual violence.


The Women’s Court Sarajevo (Photo: Clara Casagrande)

In such a context of securitization of sexual violence in conflict, it is important to be attentive to an effort to create a new feminist paradigm of justice in the first women’s court held in Europe.  The Women’s Court dealt with the connected violence committed during and after the war in the former Yugoslavia, and was held on 8-9 May 2015 in Saraevjo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Court aimed to offer an alternative to the failure of the formal legal system to provide justice; to enable women to be active agents of justice, and to build a more just peace in the former Yugoslavia. The work of the Court has not yet finished.  The Preliminary Decision was rendered by the Judicial Council, with the Judgment and book of witness testimonies still to be published. Above all, it involves the ongoing attempt to create a new feminist paradigm of justice.  How to do this remains the crucial issue for the Court, and for feminist interventions in this field.

By Ruben Korevaar, Business Development Manager at Simavi

How social and technological innovation support menstrual hygiene management and women empowerment

menstrual hygiene, Uganda, civic innovation

Micro entrepreneur promoting MHM in Uganda (image: Mona van den Berg)

Increasingly women participate in economic life, generate income and are an important driver for economic development. Girls’ school enrollment is increasing and in many countries more girls pass secondary school certificate than boys. More than ever we have access to various sources of information. However, millions of women and girls still lack information on menstrual hygiene, and lack access to hygienic and affordable solutions to manage their menstruation. In many countries girls and women are being excluded from public life – like going to school or work – because they are having their period. How can social change and technological innovation contribute to turn the tide?

Social constraints for women’s socio-economic participation

We give periods many names like “Aunt Flo,” “time of the month,” “crimson wave” or a number of other weird euphemisms that only serve to mystify and hide the process that women go through every month. Menstruation is a natural and essential part of the reproductive cycle. However, in many parts of the world it remains a taboo that is rarely talked about. These taboos and social norms restrict the participation of women and girls in society during menstruation. In addition, limited access to clean water, proper sanitation facilities and sanitary napkins make it difficult for women to manage their menstruation hygienically. As a result, many (young) women around the world face considerable physical and social challenges during their menstruation period.

Menstruation is a cross-cutting issue that relates to several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), e.g. SDG 3-6. While menstruation issues and menstrual hygiene management have recently gained attention in the global development agenda, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is not specifically mentioned as such in the SDGs.

Social change

Development organisations like Simavi believe that solutions for menstruation issues are vital in empowering women and ensuring basic health conditions. Approaches include:

  • Creating awareness on sexuality, reproductive cycle and menstrual hygiene among girls, women and men in order to empower women to take care of themselves during their menstruation, self-develop and live a healthy life.
  • Creating a supportive environment, in which menstruation is socially accepted and women are not excluded or discriminated because of their monthly periods.
  • Improving access to services, such as sanitary pads and sexual, reproductive health services, as well as sanitation facilities and clean water.

Where NGOs are well-rooted in society and have access to especially the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), the private sector is a driving force in producing MHM solutions like pads, tampons or menstruation cups. Therefore, a multisector collaboration in addressing menstruation is needed to accelerate change and increase impact.

Innovations to reduce the environmental burden of waste

While promoting MHM and creating access to modern methods, we do not want to create more plastic waste. The average woman uses up to 11,000 pads or tampons during her lifetime. Imagine what this means with regard to the amount of waste in a country like Bangladesh where about 40 million women/girls menstruate.

The role of the private sector is important in looking for innovations and developing environmental friendly alternatives. For example Simavi, together with TNO and a private partner in Bangladesh, is developing and producing biodegradable sanitary napkins. The involvement of the private sector is crucial to ensure supplies can actually be provided in a cost-efficient way and at scale. Looking at sustainability, NGOs can encourage sanitary producers to consider environmental friendly solutions that are also reaching girls and women who have limited resources to spend.

By facilitating social change, working together with the private sector and encouraging technological innovations, NGOs contribute to ensure that all girls and women have comprehensive knowledge of menstrual hygiene, appropriate methods to manage their cycle and are in the position to do so.

I am looking forward to discuss these ideas about technological innovation on this blog and during the ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation on March 7, 2016!

By Clarisa Perullini & Luciana Comes, Maggacup, Argentina

In our presentation in the next session of the Dialogues on Civic Innovation research on 7 March 2016, we will be looking at the question: How the use of a new menstrual technology can produce social and environmental impacts?

Creating a new feminine habit through technological innovation Maggacup

The inception of the menstrual cup brings a disruption to a standing dominant behavioral pattern that has been imposed by market forces to women, which promotes the idea of consuming disposable products and rapidly getting rid of the ‘annoying issue’ of menstruation by simply wrapping it, absorbing it and throwing it to the garbage. Leaving the consequences of the disposability to another stakeholder: the environment.

With the cup, a woman has the possibility to alleviate the environmental impact caused by this way of managing menstruation and become part of the solution. The cup brings her the possibility to be in charge of the disposal of her own menstrual fluid. By being reusable, the cup offers a simple way to reduce the production of waste: the cup lasts for 5 years with the proper care, and costs the same as the average woman will spend on disposable sanitary protection in ten months.

What Cíclica does is helping women to navigate this change of paradigm, by promoting new interpretations and ways of managing the menstrual cycle.

New Caring Paradigm

“When we love, we care; and when we care, we love”

“Caring is the key category of the new paradigm of civilization that is struggling to emerge all over the world. Caring serves both to prevent future damage and to repair past damage”

Leonardo Boff

We promote three main levels of care that can trigger social and environmental change:

  1. Caring towards each person, encompasses care about the body, the mind and the spirit.

Caring about the body, implies self-care. Developing a better self-esteem and self-knowledge. How to maximize women’s optimal times in the menstrual cycle. The non-toxic and hypoallergenic silicone cup protects the body by inhibiting health risks.

Caring about the mind: this is a technology that promotes well-being and generates self-awareness. It helps re-telling the narratives about menstruation, replacing the rejection and embarrassment for acceptance and respect.

Caring about the spirit: we see the connection to the menstrual cycle as something sacred, not as something dirty or a waste, rather as something that strengthens and connects all women with life.

  1. Caring about the community

We are a B Corporation, whose motto is “to be the best FOR the world” and not “the best OF the world”.

We provide different kinds of trainings in order to create value and awareness of the importance of menstruation and its impact on health, education, the environment and the economy.

  1. Care about the environment

Besides reducing plastic waste production, in what has to do with the manufacture of the menstrual cups, no trees are cut or used. Plus none of our activities include animal testing.

With our sales we have already achieved to preserve (until February 2016) 14,000 m2 of the Misiones jungle with the help of the Forest Bank foundation. This is possible due to our commitment to make a donation to this foundation for each Maggacup that is purchased.

What Maggacup promotes

Maggacup offers workshops and programs to different sectors of our society: entrepreneurs’ festivals, cooperatives and educative institutions. To briefly name and explain a few:

The Heritage Love Cycle is a workshop about the menstrual cycle and its role in the construction of the feminine identity within the family system in a transgenerational level.

The “Blood life. Wisdom of Humanity” Where menstruation is explored from different artistic manifestations.

menstruation, menstrual technologies, civic innovation, India, protest

Learning that ‘Menstruation is not an illness’ (picture from a protest in Kolkata, India)

Menstru-action A program for students about sexual, reproductive and sustainable health.

Women’s Empowerment Program It is a strategy which is presented to the community through arts, communications and business tools.

We are developing the “Cíclica Observatory” on which we are making agreements with local universities to build and systematize knowledge about the experiences of women concerning a dignified management of menstrual health.

We are looking forward to discussing these ways to promote civic innovation through menstrual technology with you during the ISS Dialogue on 7 March!

Wendy Harcourt & Saskia Vossenberg


The next session of our Dialogues on Civic Innovation research on 15 February 2016 will be looking at: How do we translate feminist visions on the economy into viable options for action and policy influencing? What openings do we see and what feminist dilemmas do we face when negotiating and debating new forms of economic life and what strategies do we use to counter these?

In an interactive form of dialogue – a fishbowl conversation – we will reflect on these questions by putting the feminist dilemmas and innovative practices of ‘interlocutors’ in the spotlight. These women and men working from a gender lens at the interface of the market and government, actively influencing their economic policy debates, agendas and instruments will begin the conversation and then we will invite the audience to join.

In bringing people from the academe, civil society and government together, we aim to create an open space for scholars, policy makers, activists, development practitioners, students and lobbyists to share in and reflect on our diverse efforts to aim for different and more gender just economic policy and pathways in the Netherlands and beyond.

We would like to open up the conversation by asking four questions that will guide the fishbowl conversation:

Why? What ‘feminist principles’ are important to you and what are the ‘gender just economic alternatives’ that you aim for?

Where? In what spaces, with what audiences, do you try to create openings, debate or negotiate for new forms of economic life?

How? Which activities and strategies do you use?

What? What dilemma’s do you encounter and what innovative practices do you use to counter these?

Democratisation in Indonesia

Democratisation in Indonesia

By Kristian Stokke/ Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo

Recent decades have seen a global spread of democracy and increased attention to decentralisation in discourses, institutional arrangements and practices of governance. At the same time, economic globalization and the global spread of neo-liberalism have pushed public administration towards market and network forms of governance. Taken together, these processes have created new and widened spaces for different actors with very diverse interests, capacities and strategies, but also reduced the public affairs that come under democratic control and limited the substance of popular participation. Most post-transition states have thus not achieved well-functioning democracy but can be more accurately described as flawed democracies.

These problems of weak popular influence on public affairs means that it is necessary to ‘bring politics back in’ – to politicise democracy – both in academic analyses and through political struggles and broad alliances. This means to draw attention to and further the ways in which people participate or are represented in the governance of public affairs, and to enhance the strategies and capacities of various actors to use and transform minimalist democratic institutions in a more substantive direction.

But how will this come about? In a recent anthology on democratization in the global South, Olle Törnquist and I argue that it is possible to make advances on the basis of formal democratic institutions, even in deeply flawed democracies (Stokke & Törnquist, 2013). While acknowledging the importance of structural constraints on democratization, we insist on the centrality of ‘transformative democratic politics’. By this we mean political agendas, strategies and alliances that use formal and minimalist democracy to introduce politics and policies that may enhance people’s chances of both using and improving democracy.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of political and developmental approaches to democracy assistance and how can they be further developed to promote substantive democracy and citizenship?

Carothers (2009) points to a divide between political and developmental approaches to democracy promotion among aid organizations. The two approaches hold distinctly different views on the value and concept of democracy, the understanding of democratization and the means for democracy assistance.

However, recent years have seen a convergence between the two approaches in the sense that both have come to place a strong emphasis on state building as a precondition for democracy. This convergence on state capacity building accentuates these critical questions. While there is general acceptance that functioning state institutions are crucial for democracy, peace and development, the mechanisms whereby initial state building is followed by political liberalization and substantial democratization remain unclear at best. In fact, it may be argued that such institution building in the context of authoritarianism may be more likely to consolidate and legitimize semi-authoritarian forms of rule.

This danger of institutionalizing minimalist and illiberal democracies supports the argument in favor of a gradualist or transformative approach to democracy, whereby pro-democracy forces are empowered to use minimalist political spaces to push for more substantive forms of popular representation and to promote policy making towards people-centered social and economic development. The implication of these critical remarks is that international democracy assistance needs to balance developmental state building with political assistance to pro-democracy forces to ensure substantive democratic transformations in terms of representation, justice and welfare.

I am looking forward to your comments and to discussing the potential of Transformative Democratic Politics of Citizenship during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on 1 February 2016.

Will Derks / Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD)


Representative democracy is deteriorating. It seems unable to live up to the expectations we once had and meets increasingly with scepticism from citizens who feel detached and disenfranchised — it is, in short, in a crisis of legitimacy. Something similar, no doubt, could be said about the political party, which today is among the world’s most distrusted institutions, often lacking in vision and ideology and no longer able to aggregate the aspirations of the citizenry in an era of much less conformity than the one in which this institution was once conceived.

There is a whole range of responses to this major development. Political populism is now discernible all over the world, to some extent providing a valid diagnosis though without offering a feasible remedy. Technocratic “solutions” are rife as well — meant to enhance representative democracy’s efficiency but at the same time invigorating its legitimacy problem. Think of so-called “quangos” which implement legislation without being democratically accountable. Some see the answer to representative democracy’s ailment in sortition (rather than, or in combination with, elections): a means to select citizens for public office that was used in classical Athens. Numerous initiatives are also being taken to involve citizens directly in political decision-making, even in connection with constitutional drafting processes.

All this may be bewildering, but what seems certain is that we are on the brink of a new era and that democracy is on its way to becoming more direct, deliberative and participatory. The technology that today is changing the world so profoundly and quickly is coming to democracy’s aid in this respect, as more and more (free and open source) software is becoming available that facilitates what has been dubbed “strong democracy” — a democratic system in which citizens govern themselves to the greatest extent possible.

In the last few years, a growing number of initiatives have been taken across the globe to set up platforms for collective, on-line decision-making. Amongst these are Airesis, Loomio, DemocracyOS, YourPriorities, IserveU, LiquidFeedback and MyMadison. These platforms constitute a fascinating development and a most promising technological break-through. They are all sophisticated and visionary tools for solid participant-driven proposition development and decision-making processes — also for users that are not very tech savvy. Small wonder that they have already acquired a certain international reputation and are now being used to facilitate democratic processes in various countries, in diverse contexts and in a variety of organisations, including political parties. In The Last Vote; The Threats to Western Democracy, his recently published analysis of the trials and tribulations democracy is presently going through, senior journalist Philip Coggan states: “If there is one region of the developed world where democracy seems to be most threatened, it is Europe.” The coming into being of these digital platforms suggest that we need not despair, that help is under way and that there is hope for democracy, even in Europe.

Let’s discuss the future of democracy! Leave your comments on this blog – or join our ISS Dialogue on “Transformative democratic politics of citizenship” on February 1, 2016!

International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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