Free Laboratories for activists and developers to build commons together

Technologies creation combines political knowledge with hacker culture to democratize and improve developing

We believe that the development of free social participation applications must be in the hands of collectives and social movements. This is essential so that they can respond to the political and social dynamics, enhancing autonomous collective action and power distribution.

This concept has guided the development of the Cidade Democrática Institute ideas contest and now drives the action “Free Laboratories of Social Participation” that we are doing in the city of São Paulo. Our goal is to work in different neighborhoods of the capital, along with at least seven local centers of culture. We want to know about their political actions and, from them, model together the use of free digital applications that leverage them. And we will do this with great presence and face to face in about 35 activities.

We seek to be very prudent in the choice of applications that we approached to the project. Among the factors that have guided our choice, the most important are: (1) Be open source and API available; (2) Have State participation and public institutions in the communities of these softwares, in what we consider a criteria for developing State capacity, transforming the institutions and generating impact; (3) Have an active community, preferably already with social and collective groups, especially in São Paulo. These criteria, as discussed by us in a previous article, appear to be fundamental to build actions with more political, institutional and social impact and in a more sustainable way.

It also seems to us that is the best way to facilitate the engagement of culture centers and other collectives as new subjects of applications communities, qualifying development decisions. The background is to improve the construction of common goods that can be effectively appropriated by local communities and society in general, via grassroots articulation with communities of developers. The key word here is autonomy. And on the other hand, produce common goods which can also be appropriated by the State in a sovereignty ratio — in contrast to the hostage role in hands of those who produce proprietary technologies — and collaboration with society — in contrast to the monopoly model of technological production.

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In short, the action of “Free Laboratories of Social Participation” will have three phases:

  1. It starts understanding the reality of each local culture center, its ongoing projects and builds the intervention strategy in the territory with the use of the applications. Hands-on to apply the applications at the local project, understand how they work and identify improvements;
  2. Will unveil the codes and the philosophy behind the development of free applications for social participation, understanding how anyone can work with simple tasks that do not involve programming;
  3. In the final round, hackers who develop free applications of social participation will meet with the participants, knowing the necessary improvements that have been identified and working together.

And which are the free apps that we intend to experiment in the labs?

Mapas Culturais

What is it? Cultural Maps is a free software for collaborative mapping for Culture, which contributes to the collective management of the cultural life on the territories.

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What could be the role of the culture center in the software community? The map is usually managed by the government, having adapted to this type of “client”. But he has a lot of potential to be zoomed into the territories with the management by the own agents, including moving the application focus from management to “cultural agenda” applications built on its API. This will certainly generate a new type of appropriation for the tool that will enrich their uses. The engagement of this new kind of “user” can encourage the developers to think solutions from the challenges of this new type of use.

Where’s working?

Where’s the code?

What is it? The is an open source application for collective deliberation developed by a Seatle startup and available under a BSD license. The first large-scale use is being made by Taiwan government, on vTaiwan participation platform, following the parliament occupation movement in 2014, the “Sunflower Student Movement”. The novelty of is to use machine learning algorithms to help people meet in groups based on how they participate in proposals.

What could be the role of the culture center in the software community? Both new features test and record ideas for improvements, and they can help to think how to evolve the sotfware to improve its incidence capacity in the social fabric of the territory (better uses for information from groups, how this can generate concrete actions etc. )

Where’s working? Unofficial experiment on proposals for open government in the city of São Paulo:

Where’s the code?


What is it? It is an open source application for collective deliberation available under a BSD license, developed by a project at Princeton University, and has been improved since then. The pairwise architecture is a kind of crowdsource discussion, as well as The pairwise has been used in some scale debates proposed by the Brazilian Federal Government under the Netmundial Conference (2014) and the Local Government of Rio Grande do Sul in the context of its Digital Office (2014). Consultations that used pairwise in Brazil, involved more than 200,000 people in each process with significant results in terms of engagement and quality of the proposals.

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What could be the role of the culture center in the software community? Interface improvements, new experiments for results systematization.

Where’s working? — Report with the Pairwise Experience used by the Brazilian Federal Government in 2014:

Where’s the code?

Cidade Democrática

What is it? The Cidade Democrática ideas contest is a social technology certified by the Bank of Brazil Foundation (FBB) and by the Studies and Projects Financing Organization (FINEP), two of the major organizations that investigate, recognize and certify social technologies in Brazil. This technology connects the use of free software Cidade Democrática with an engagement and social articulation method in the territories, with focus on local action, which can stimulate social participation from common people and fosters the emergence of collaborative communities around public proposals, in a process that makes use of some techniques and inspirations from design thinking applied to participatory and collective intelligence processes. The Cidade Democrática ideas contest has been held in 15 cities since 2011 and was conducted in two Brazilian states (São Paulo and Pará) and in cities of different socio-economic profiles and population size. Furthermore, this social technology has been used for the design and development of the digital stage for Brazilian Youth National Conference held by the federal government in 2015. In this case, the Cidade Democrática free software was not used directly, but their heuristics, algorithms and architecture inspired the development of a particular digital application for the Conference.

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What could be the role of the culture center in the software community? Interface improvements, ways to use the data and results of the competition.

Where’s working?

Where’s the code?

You can see that they are different tools. While the Mapas Culturais is a collaborative tool for Culture data,, Pairwise and Cidade Democrática are tools for collective deliberation. Some of them will make more sense than others, depending on the projects in the territories. Some mixes are also possible!

We have a great desire to try the first two, since we quite know the Pairwise and Cidade Democrática tools. We are also curious about the use of — the first use we realized in Brazil and which we already took part of the community — and the experiences with Mapas Culturais, which has a strong and active community of developers in the capital (São Paulo) which excites us even more to stimulate the culture centers to get to it! We will keep sharing advances!

Empurrando Juntas

Blog da EJ

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