Limits to the scalability of online participation in the 15-M and Podemos: An Interview with Miguel Arana (part 2)

In the first part of this interview, Miguel Arana made some critical observations about the limits to the scalability of direct democracy via digital tools. In the 15-M the penetration of ad hoc tools such as Propongo and N-1 was quite limited as compared to mainstream social network sites. For a mass movement with a radically inclusive ethos such as the 15-M this must have been an issue because the vast majority of participants would not accept decisions coming out of contexts they were unaware of or unable to participate in.

I would add that all social movements of the 2011 wave had trouble taking collective decisions because of the lack of a stable membership, the constantly evolving configuration of assemblies and working groups, and the emphasis on consensus. (By this, of course, I do not mean that these movements were unable to make collective decisions–just that arriving to common decisions was a very elaborate process).  If we add that websites such as Propongo and N-1 did not embed any identity verification protocol, it is easy to see why this informal digital layer could exist in parallel to the movement on the ground but without having any real decision-making power.

This is how Arana put it:

[In the Indignados] even when you say, “ok, these are the ideas”, it’s difficult then to say what we do with these ideas, because there is not like the head of the movement or an executive group that takes the idea and does something with it. . . . Even when we agreed that these were the ideas of the 15M (and they were not) it’s difficult in such kind of movements to do something. If we could have something more complex than Propongo, that maybe was not just focused on the proposals, but also helping to organize us all every day maybe it could have been used as some kind of organizational method, like ‘what can we do now?’ and then people propose, vote and do it. Maybe if it was structured like a kind of a permanent global forum of the movement to take decisions, it would have had more impact. Continue reading “Limits to the scalability of online participation in the 15-M and Podemos: An Interview with Miguel Arana (part 2)”

Limits to the scalability of online participation in the 15-M and Podemos: An Interview with Miguel Arana (part 1)

Last year-–on March 16, 2017–I had a chance of interviewing via Skype Miguel Arana, who directs the Participation Project of the City of Madrid  (Proyecto de Participación del Ayuntamiento de Madrid) and overviews the participation portal Decide Madrid.

Image result for miguel arana
Miguel Arana, director of the Participation Project of the City of Madrid

Our conversation lasted 2 hours and half and touched on many topics, including the role that Arana played as a member of the Participation Team of Podemos back in 2014, when he, along with a few others, tried to convince the party leadership to transform the political proposals that were emerging out of Plaza Podemos (a highly participated discussion forum based on Reddit) into binding initiatives for the first Podemos congress, which was held in Vistalegre in October 2014. As I have previously noted on this blog in relation to the use of Loomio within Podemos, this attempt to let ordinary members determine the political direction of the party was openly rejected by the party leadership, which preferred to control the political process from above.

Of course this tension between what Richard Katz and Peter Meir call the party on the ground and the party in central office exists within every party, and I challenge anyone to find a single party where the party leadership voluntarily gives up its leading function. But the Podemos of 2014 appeared to many as a movement party, that is, a party that inherited, at least in part, the extraordinary participatory experience of the 15-M movement. Indeed not only many who had participated in that movement were now ready to engage in party politics, but also saw the Internet as instrumental to scaling up the Indignados’ assemblies from the local to the national without necessarily reducing the complexity and diversity of mass participation.

Continue reading “Limits to the scalability of online participation in the 15-M and Podemos: An Interview with Miguel Arana (part 1)”