From Landsgemeinde to Policy 3.0 – Paper review – The Futurium—a Foresight Platform for Evidence-Based and Participatory Policymaking


This blog post is a detailed review/notes of a paper called The Futurium—a Foresight Platform for Evidence-Based and Participatory Policymaking Franco Accordino by Franco Accordino

(Note this post is part of a related twin post An analysis of Internet Policy trends over the last six months and their implications for technology policy)

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the ESPAS  workshop  in Brussels (Scientific and Technological Futures and Policy Challenges) on invitation of   MEP James Elles

I read the paper at that workshop. The paper talks of a platform called futurim which is the topic of the paper review also.

The paper ends with reference to the vision of the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – for a supreme point (Omega Point) towards which the universe is constantly developing to reach increasingly higher levels of consciousness and unity.  And says that “As a consequence, policymaking and decisions will, in the future, be increasingly taken in a collective way.”

I have yet to see a policy paper refer to ideas of interesting philosophers like Teilhard and that got my attention! (If interested in these things, I would recommend you read the book The Phenomenon of Man )

More to the point, I very much agree to the overall idea of Collaboration, Collective Intelligence (ex Collective Intelligence by Pierre Levy) and the need for a new form of decision making.

Why this matters?

As I have said in the related blog (An analysis of Internet Policy trends over the last six months and their implications for technology policy) – conversations on the Internet are based on cool/sexy issues often dominated by Tech.

This is only part of the picture.

Looking from a policy perspective, we need a comprehensive and rational way to widen the policy conversation.

Why should we widen the Policy conversation?

Here are two reasons:

1)      Direct democracy – Landsgemeinde – There is a (now diminishing) tradition in some Swiss cantons called Landsgemeinde.  The Landsgemeinde or “cantonal assembly” is one of the oldest forms of direct democracy. Eligible citizens of the canton meet on a certain day in the open air to decide on laws and expenditures by the council. Everyone can debate a question. Voting is accomplished by those in favour of a motion raising their hands. Image Landsgemeinde in Appenzell image source NBC news

Could we bring the ethos of participatory democray(aka Landsgemeinde – to the age of the Web and beyond)

2)      The argument for inclusive institutions – Why nations fail – There is an interesting book I am reading called “Why nations fail”. A book review of Why Nations fail from  the guardian has some key segments that show why we need inclusive institutions

Their argument is that the modern level of prosperity rests upon political foundations. Proximately, prosperity is generated by investment and innovation, but these are acts of faith: investors and innovators must have credible reasons to think that, if successful, they will not be plundered by the powerful.

For the polity to provide such reassurance, two conditions have to hold: power has to be centralised and the institutions of power have to be inclusive. Without centralised power, there is disorder, which is anathema to investment.

So, if inclusive institutions are necessary, how do they come about? Again, Acemoglu and Robinson are radical. They argue that there is no natural process whereby rising prosperity in an autocracy evolves into inclusion. Rather, it is only in the interest of the elite to cede power to inclusive institutions if confronted by something even worse, namely the prospect of revolution. The foundations of prosperity are political struggle against privilege.

Futurium and Policy making 3.0

The Futurium platform – The  paper presents the Futurium platform which was initially developed with the purpose of hosting and curating visions and policy ideas. The platform has evolved into an experiment for Policy makers to engage more widely which is referred to as ‘Policy Making 3.0’. The idea of Policy Making 3.0 is in a nascent and evolutionary stage.

The Futurium platform distinguishes between different variables, reflecting the emotional  vs. rational mindsets of the participants, and offers the possibility to frame the engagement and co-creation process into multiple phases of a workflow.

Futurium is an early prototype implementation of the Policy Making 3.0 model, which is a long-term vision requiring further investigation and experimentation.

The keywords give an indication of the approach (especially evidence based policy making) – Policy making 3.0,  Foresight ,  Futures ,  Participatory policymaking , Crowdsourcing , Collective emotional intelligence , Collective rational intelligence, Evidence-based policy making ,  Data mining,  Social media , Complex systems , Digital futures .

Rationale – Public policies need to be continuously reviewed and adapted to deal with unforeseen issues or to react to emergency situations such as coping with the consequences of the on-going systemic crisis. Rapidly evolving socio-political contexts exert influence on policymakers who have to take decisions more quickly and accurately than in the past.  Very often, they have no other choice but to react to emergencies.  Hence, more than ever, there is a growing need to improve forward thinking in policymaking practices. New policies are often thought up on the basis of current trends rather than by capturing future opportunities offered, for instance, by long-term advances in science and technology.

Short term vs Long term – The need to focus on short-term measures often prevents governments and businesses from orientating their policy choices towards future possibilities,partly because they have been elected to come up with tangible responses to current challenges that matter to citizens and partly because long-term investment decisions may be too risky. This may make it difficult to put in place sustainable solutions to structural problems.

Two tradeoffs and balances: How can these shortcomings in current policymaking be overcome? The challenges can be articulated along two main axes, highlighting typical tensions between different policymaking mindsets: 1. Evidence about the status of the real world vs. inspiration from longer-term thinking 2. Delegated leadership vs. participatory leadership

Evidence vs. Futures – Our current ability to gain insight into the status of the real world (individuals,society, economy, environment, etc.) makes it possible to inform policy decisions more successfully than in the past.

Representative vs. Participatory Leadership  The advent of social networks has opened up new prospects for policymaking. They give a voice to everyone and allow people to organise themselves into groups and ultimately contribute to policy debates at local, national and international levels. Today, in principle, citizens could be empowered to co-decide on issues that matter to them by transposing well-established direct democracy tools such as referenda into the virtual space.

Trust , scale of e-democracy tools – however, still a long way to go due, for instance, to the unresolved issues of trust in and the security of the underlying IT infrastructures as well as  identity management. Another challenge is the fact that e-Democracy tools are now widely available and have not been taken up by all citizens. Social media can, however, still be used to improve the links between policymakers and stakeholders to take a more participatory approach to the design of future policies. Brainstorming and engagement techniques such as ‘the art of participatory leadership’4, traditionally used in in-person workshops,could be transposed into the virtual space to engage (potentially) all citizens in policymaking.

Policy Making 3.0 – Policy Making 3.0 is a participatory and evidence-based model designed to provide an answer to the above challenges. It is based on the metaphor of a ‘collective brain’ (or emerging collective intelligence) according to which stakeholders and policymakers form a social network to co-design policies on the basis of two distinct factors:  can be considered as the ‘emotional and imaginative’ contribution of the participants to the policy (the ‘right hemisphere’ of the social network’s brain). Policy Making 3.0 scales up the metaphor of the ‘left and right brains’ to the social network to make current policymaking processes more evidence based, participatory, transparent and agile.

A common vocabulary – The paper then goes on to define a common set of vocabulary as a foundation for discussion. This include the terms Vision, Trend ,  Future, Desirability, Likelihood,  Policy, Impact,  Plausibility, Support

Proposed three layers in the co-creation process – The co-creation process then consists of the three layers  1. Futures (what we all want to achieve) 2. Policies (how to underpin the futures) 3. Agents (who executes the policies)

The Futurium architecture: consists of Front-end Participatory Tools, Knowledge-Harvesting Tools for Both Policymakers and Stakeholders, Data-Crawling Tools, Data-Gathering Tools

My analysis:

Policy Making 3.0 model and its implementation platform is an ambitious attempt and I watch it with interest. The hard part lies ahead .. ie platforms can be built but getting real intelligent discussion and input is the hard part(community engagement). I shall try and contribute to this effort through my current and ongoing work

Image source NBC news