Open Source Politics
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The history of Open Source Politics
Open Source Politics has been a company in the field of the social and solidarity economy since spring 2016, developing free and open source digital platforms and running collective intelligence workshops to support public, private and associative actors engaged in participatory approaches.
We are four associates united by the conviction that democratic practices must have a more important place in our society - not only in the political world, but also in the functioning of our companies, the governance of our associations and the conduct of our collective projects. In the spring of 2015 we met to discuss the concrete solutions that digital technology can bring to these challenges.
Virgile witnessed the creation of the Democracy OS platform and the Partido de la Red in Buenos Aires in 2013 and had recently created an association in France to promote citizen participation in political decision-making. Olivier had followed the Argentinean experiment and was eager to use the application as part of his many associative and political commitments. Alain offered the association his services as a seasoned developer to support the first uses of the technology in France. As for Valentin, he had experience working with several local and national elected officials and was looking to create a platform allowing citizens to follow and vote on laws in real time.
With the other members of Democracy OS France, we took advantage of Pia Mancini's (the co-founder of Democracy OS) visit to Paris of to organize a meeting. As a result, the Open Source Politics Meetup was launched on May 15, 2015, with the aim of extending the invitation to the developers and entrepreneurs present within this network.
The first Open Source Politics Meetup with Pia Mancini on May 21, 2015 at Volumes.
In one year, we brought together 1,300 people for 45 events that we directly organised or actively promoted. While French projects were scare at the time of our launch, over the last fifteen months, our community has helped to foster the emergence of the concept of civic tech within the public debate and on the entrepreneurial stage. Today is recognized by dozens of initiatives and is regularly endorsed by media and political leaders. We have also opened up our collective reflection to include international perspectives, by welcoming figures to Paris, such as the founder of Democracy.Earth, Santiago Siri, and by participating in events beyond our borders such as the Darefest in Antwerp, the d10th Blockchain conference in Amsterdam, the 2016 edition of TicTEC organised by MySociety in Barcelona, the Future of Democracy conference in Reykjavik and MECATE, the international public entrepreneurship programme of the TEC University of Monterrey in Mexico City.
We are pleased to have played our part, alongside a growing number of inspiring pioneers, in this much-needed movement for political renewal. However, over the last few months, we have made two observations: on the one hand, several initiatives have specialised in monitoring the current state of French civic tech; on the other hand, this ecosystem is now sufficiently diversified that the veils of technological neutrality and political equivalence between these projects have been lifted. No, not everything is the same and not all approaches serve the same objectives. It seemed important to us to return to the values and practices that motivated our commitment: defending and instilling open source practices into the political world.
Based on principles of transparency and collaboration, open source allows the public to have the best products. This is how Firefox and Wordpress were designed. That is how the White House and Podemos teams created their mobilisation and consultation platforms. It is also the ambitious choice made by the Nanterre town hall in calling on Democracy OS.
After proposing to organise the first #CoderLaVille civic tech hackathon in October 2015, over several months we started a collaboration process to develop the permanent Agora participez.nanterre.fr. Six consultations have been carried out since the spring; the most important of which has enabled us to quadruple the number of citizens involved in the quadriennal meeting of the Assises de la Ville. All the improvements made to Democracy OS thanks to the investment of the Nanterre City Council were then integrated into the application's source code and reused, to our great surprise, by the Argentinean presidency itself!
Following the launch of the Nanterre Permanent Agora, the Democracy OS association has been increasingly solicited by public institutions, political movements and associations of all sizes to create consultation platforms. In many cases, these requests went beyond a simple installation of Democracy OS and involved other tools, from collaborative forums to participatory budgeting. A real professional accompaniment was necessary to carry out these complex IT projects and to advise our interlocutors, thanks to our sustained international monitoring, on the tools and methods to increase the participation of the entire public.
These reasons justified the creation of our company. We wanted it to reflect our conception of civic tech and we adopted statutes that place us in the field of the social and solidarity economy. We chose to keep the name Open Source Politics because it defines our ambition and methodology.
By curating the best of open source software, we have been able to identify, test and manipulate applications from all over the world that best respond to the different approaches for online participation, from local social networks to collaborative cartography through a wide typology of debate and voting modules. Using this foundation, we are now able to build the most suitable solution for each use and to carry out complementary developments to meet our clients' needs. In a context where no civic tech solution has been proven over the long term, we share the strategy developed by Audrey Tang in Taiwan: to focus on tools that already respond to concrete issues rather than inventing a new technology with the illusion that it will solve all the problems of our democracy. The transparency, diversity and modularity offered by open source are therefore the best guarantees for establishing trust and truly lasting collaboration.
Civic technologies are full of promise. Our collective expectations are very high. However, the impact of digital technology on politics is, to this day, still too limited to a restricted circle of insiders with the same socio-economic traits. This reality, which we have confronted in each of our projects, has prompted us to develop a second, complementary area of activity focusing on the organisation of mobilisation and participation campaigns. In contact with our partners CivicWise and SourcesLab, laboratories for collaborative urban planning and creative facilitation methods, we have learned to draw the best proposals from a group of citizens who only have a few hours to discover the issue and the other participants. We have in turn gained experience by becoming facilitators at several public events. During these events, we discovered many methods of collective intelligence to create a hybridisation between the organisation of offline events and the submission of online contributions to enrich the content of our platforms. Informed through practice, we are against the blatant rhetoric of technological solutionism, and offer our clients complementary approaches and skills combining engineering and facilitation of consultation, web development and marketing on social networks.
Mindmap of proposals on emancipation during a SourcesLab workshop on June 4, 2016 at Volumes.
This new chapter of the Open Source Politics adventure does not change our commitment to the Democracy OS community in France. We naturally remain active members of the association, which continues to grow and elected a new president at the beginning of the summer, Caroline Corbal, an intellectual property lawyer at Inno3 who is very involved in the free software community in France and with the organisation of the Paris Open Source Summit. We will continue to produce analyses on democratic renewal and to organise events on civic tech. The most ambitious of these events is the Open Democracy Now hackathons that we co-organize with Etalab and the associations Democracy OS, Open Law and République citoyenne. Together, we continue to identify, test, improve and create open source civic tech projects and build bridges between administrations, companies and citizen movements, between French innovators and our American, Argentinean, Brazilian, Spanish, Icelandic or Taiwanese inspirations.
Like democracy, we are aware that entrepreneurship can never be taken for granted. We are fully committed to the success of both.