Crowdvocacy — Amplifying democracy by bridging political participation, digital campaigning platforms, and civic crowdfunding

The good reception of digital platforms for citizen participation launched by the municipalities of Madrid and Barcelona –Decide and Decidim– have made evident the need to continue stimulating and accompanying the transition towards civic participation through online platforms.

At the same time, only a very small number of proposals currently go beyond the initial phases and become visible to other citizens. We need to create a mechanism so that these initiatives that seek a local impact reach the potentially interested people, and stimulate forms of direct citizen participation. We, at Platoniq lab propose to make an intervention in digital platforms that potentially stimulate direct democracy in the urban context, as is the case of civic crowdfunding platforms such as Goteo.org. This proposal to stimulate forms of digital democracy is based on our observations and on the data generated both in Goteo.org and in other platforms. We have detected concrete examples of the fact that the proposals that have coincided in time in both the city councils’ platform and Goteo.org’s platform -in Madrid and in Barcelona- have had a longer and more solid development, and ultimately a stronger impact.

The Crowdvocacy project seeks to promote direct citizen participation, generating proposals that can have access to more resources.

We imagine Crowdvocacy as a distributed but coordinated process between different platforms where civic initiatives increase their influence.

The initiatives proposed in these citizen participation platforms currently have a very short life expectancy or lack visibility. We propose to increase the viability and strength of these proposals by creating a synergy between citizen participation platforms such as Decide and Decidim, and the civic crowdfunding of Goteo.org and similar platforms. We aim to generate a progressive engagement among citizens that combines the increase of its involvement level leading proposals or supporting initiatives proposed by others, and the increase of its capacity to influence the public policies that affect them.

Crowdvocacy can start with simple gestures such as donating or signing a petition, and then collaborating more actively, benefiting from the effects achieved by those proposals.

As mentioned above, some successful proposals have been published both on Goteo.org and on the municipalities’ platforms. An example of this is the case of “Salvem el Sant Pau” (Let’s save Sant Pau sports centre) in Barcelona.

The studies on crowdfunding and the experience of Platoniq in Goteo.org, after having hosted more than 1,212 campaigns with a success rate of 76%, make it very clear that campaigns that are not broadcasted or led by their promoters have low probabilities to achieve their goal. Therefore, motivating users to spread their own initiatives is vital.

The combination of platforms such as DecideMadrid and DecidimBarcelona, ​​on the one hand, and civic crowdfunding such as Goteo.org, on the other has several advantages. In addition to the increase in visibility and the facilitation of direct citizen participation, it is through Goteo that the financing of the costs represented by an initiative can be facilitated.

Our plans

Platoniq lab will study concrete ways of implementing this combined system of Crowdvocacy from systematic data analysis and also from the comparative analysis of civic crowdfunding cases. This analysis will be led by the objective of finding ways to enhance citizen involvement and impact.

We have very valuable anonymized data that will help us understand more the profiles, geographical distribution and even the motivations of the communities of citizens who have supported proposals in both civic platforms and in Goteo.

As a way to determine a common language readable to key actors such as policymakers, we will propose a framework for measuring the impact of the proposals, common to the different platforms, and that can be integrated in widely recognised models such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

How? With two pilots

Platoniq Lab has created two pilots, one in each city, both incorporating the aforementioned platforms.

Case 1. The proposal Dashboard in Decide.Madrid

At the end of 2017, Platoniq started a research and development project with ParticipaLab, the Collective Intelligence Laboratory for Democratic Participation at MediaLab Prado, in Madrid. The commission sought to transfer the experience of Platoniq in co-creation methodologies and its civic crowdfunding platform Goteo.org to devise improvements in the “engagement” and user experience in one of the spaces of the Madrid Decide platform, that is the citizen proposals space.

Platoniq has the goal of facilitating progressive engagement and the transition to direct digital civic participation through gamification. The gamification is based on applying elements of games to non-ludic environment, and more specifically, providing incentives to the participants gradually, as they reach certain pre-established goals. In this case, we focused on mechanisms such as rewards, acquiring new resources and feedback to create action loops. We followed three keys to achieve progressive engagement: motivation-action-feedback. Motivation to establish a connection to the user, an invitation to action to generate a specific challenge that keeps them interested, and a feedback on the result to create an environment of satisfaction and surprise that reinforces motivation and keeps the engagement cycle alive.

Once thresholds are reached in terms of the number of supports in Decide Madrid, the initiators of initiatives can unlock a series of resources generated by Platoniq and other organizations, such as a communication kit on paper, a communication kit on social networks, or an online distribution list, also, a mentoring session with an expert (city council technicians, or a member of an organization reputed in the field), or a day of visibility on the Landing page of Decide.Madrid, or on the City Council’s social networks.

Case 2. Crossing communities and technologies between Decidim and Goteo

The Platoniq team is designing and implementing a technological solution that allows to link the communities of two potentially complementary areas between Goteo.org and Decidim. We concretely aim at connecting the promoters of projects in Goteo.org and on the Decidim.Barcelona platform. The promoters will have in common the interest in social change in areas like open data, activism, transparency, active democracy, among others.

In order to do this we will carry out 2 activities: 1) a technological analysis at the level of the design programming of a simplified campaign structure in Goteo.org for the projects of Decidim and 2) the analysis of communities of the two platforms — Decidim and Goteo — to detect the convergences and connections at a sociodemographic level, geographical location, topic, and motivations.

We are, in short, investigating at two levels. First, at the technological, to create a model of interoperability of technologies. For example, the technological connection between the civic platforms of the town halls and that of civic crowdfunding could materialize through a specific button. And second, at the community level, where we will seek to build specific targets to optimally direct communication and visibility efforts, both in the participation platforms and in the proposals, and to design a simplified model in Goteo for proposals in Decidim.

We call this scenario “Plug and fund”.

We will develop a model to connect initiatives in Goteo and other civic participation platform that will potentially team up by topic –ecological, social, political–, or by geographic scope, to design, launch and promote citizen initiatives that reach their goal.

In short, Crowdvocacy seeks to promote more direct democratic action, improving participation and the impact on public policies.