FLOK: Public Policy for ICT, Open Government and Civil Society

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by John Restakis, Daniel Araya, Maria José Calderón [1]


The rise of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as the driving force of globalization, has generated an intense interest in the use of ICTs for the promotion both of good government and of social development in the operations of modern democratic societies. This is particularly so with respect to the role of civil society as a force for the progressive democratization of politics and for the alleviation of social and economic inequities. The relevance of ICTs in this respect is also central to the promotion of what has been described as Good Living (Buen Vivir) as the defining purpose of Ecuador’s National Plan. Open Government and an empowered and engaged civil society are the political prerequisites of such a transition.

How then, do ICTs serve this political transition? More to the point, canthe aims of democratization realistically be served given the existing power dynamics that are embedded within the structure of these technologies? To many, the rise of the Internet and the ubiquity of personal computers herald the dawn of a new kind of democratic polity. For the first time in history, technology has made possible the unrestricted access to human knowledge and to global communication that places both the power of collaboration and the means to exercise this power in the hands of the common citizen. For others, the ongoing centralization of the Internet and ICTs generally, prefigures a very different future – one in which state and corporate surveillance and control destroy the very freedoms that open access to information and communication are meant to uphold.

This policy paper explores these questions within the context of what a social knowledge economy means for government and for the society it is meant to serve. We first undertake an analysis of ICTs and how they have been used as an instrument for Open Government, with a particular focus on the Smart City concept as one instance of this application. Second, we track the evolution of how ICTs have been used by civil society organizations to advance their own work, including the promotion of political aims. Finally, we examine the nature of social knowledge and ICTs in relation to the structures and aims of the social and organizational models that are intended to make use of them. Particular attention is paid to the questions of co-operation, sharing, and commons values and their relationship to organizational structure and the accessing and diffusion of knowledge as a force for progressive social change. Policy recommendations accompany each of the three sections of this paper.

In Section One, Promoting Open Government, we examine the role of ICTs in connection to the idea of Open Government and its connection to the broader movement for democracy that advocates for a more direct and participatory role for civil society in the operation of the state. We examine uses of ICT that align with this vision and to the idea of a social knowledge economy. We also delve into an examination of “smart cities” as prime instances of how ICTs are being deployed to make e-government a defining feature of emerging urban design.

The section continues with a case study of Smart Seoul as a prime example of a smart city and concludes with a reflection on key factors that must be addressed if such models are to reflect the principles and aims of en empowered and engaged citizenry as central features of Open Government as here conceived.

A series of policy recommendations for implementing such a vision close this section.

In Section Two, Information Technologies and Institutional Innovation, we discuss the historical and political context within which ICTs are deployed as drivers of rural development. We offer an overview of factors that have served to advance or inhibit the successful development of ICTs in Latin America and how they relate to policy choices in Ecuador, including the propensity of ICT–led development to widen existing social and economic disparities and the emergence of a “digital gap” in citizen access to digital technology and information. The section follows with a consideration of how ICTs impact on the social and political work of civil society organizations and also on the changes that they have initiated in the work and lives of rural farmers. The section continues with an examination of the Community Info Centres and their influence within the political and civic processes at work at the local community. It concludes with a set of policy recommendations addressing the implementation of ICTs for rural development and the promotion of citizen and community involvement in the political process.

In Section Three, ICT, Social Innovation and Social Capital, [1]the discussion moves to the relation between ICT use for social innovation and the role of organizational structure in this process. We discuss the co-relation of social knowledge to the aims and practices of civil society organizations and in particular to the effect of co-operative systems in this process. We examine the role of social capital in the transmission and use of social knowledge and draw policy implications from the evidence on how organizational and social structure relates to the use of ICTs as tools for democratization and the common good as envisioned in the National Plan for Good Living.

The common thread that runs through all the sections is a central concern with ICTs as a means of promoting a more open, just, and egalitarian society. The common concern that also runs through the document is the many ways in which information and communication technology, in the framework of existing political and economic power relations, is equally amenable to uses that contradict and undermine these aims. Our policy recommendations reflect these concerns and seek to safeguard the social and democratizing purposes both of Ecuador’s constitution and the vision of Buen Vivir.

The purpose of this policy document then, is to explore the development of a new political model based on commonsvalues and the creation of knowledge as a common good, This represents a major shift in neo-liberal policies both in Latin America and around the world, and constitutes a foundation for placing the country’s socioeconomic development at the service of the public good and not merely the enrichment of a privileged elite. Technology is never neutral. It serves the interests and purposes of those who have the power to mould it and to wield it. A civic and democratic use of ICTs – whether for promoting Open Government or for enhancing the power and role of the citizen – is ultimately a product of many factors. These include the political will to do so; the formulation and implementation of policies that democratize the technology; the education and engagement of citizens in a deliberate democratization process; the investment in institutional change – both inside and outside government; and the development of governmental and civic institutions that are best able to utilize ICTs as a force for economic and social transformation.

Section One – Promoting Open Government: The Role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

Widely viewed as a cornerstone of contemporary debates on participatory democracy, Open Government is closely linked to democratic reform movements and a renewed focus on citizen participation. While the concept of Open Government dates back to the European Enlightenment, the ideal of Open Government has expanded significantly with the rise of ICTs. [2]Contemporary claims supporting the value of Open Government are rooted in the notion that citizen participation enhances public scrutiny and reduces government corruption. Indeed, as the National Plan for Good Living makes clear:

A democratic, participatory government requires the active participation of citizens and strong social movements working in open networks to address both local and national issues. Participatory democracy aims for a sort of equality that enables reciprocity among its members. This will integrate the different stakeholders in a process of dialogue in which conflicting interests and goals are assessed and ranked according to an array of criteria defined publicly among peers. (SENPLADES, 2013: 23)

Building on this understanding, this policy paper advocates the application of principles of a social knowledge economy to new forms of participatory governance in the context of an open knowledge society. Linking rising demands for participatory democracy to ongoing discussions on “smart cities”, we explore the application of new forms of Open Government to national policy and planning. We begin by examining the basic principles of Open Government, highlighting the role of ICTs in the evolution of democratic institutions and practices.

Towards Open Government

In contrast to neo-liberal conceptions of socioeconomic development, the FLOK Society project advocates a vision of bottom-up governance that centers on dialogue in the context of collaborative negotiation. In this way, the FLOK model challenges the prevailing view that closed hierarchical institutions are the best systems for developing knowledge and innovation. Instead, it suggests that open, co-operative, community models are more efficient at accommodating social and economic development. This implies a kind of development and growth that is supported by engaged citizens, civic institutions, and a wide range of policy actors in a society of the Commons. Indeed, according to the National Plan, the ultimate goal of Good Living is to defend and strengthen society by guaranteeing equitable access to goods, opportunities and conditions of life:

Socialism for Good Living questions the dominant pattern of hegemonic accumulation, i.e., neo-liberal models of production, growth and distribution. We propose a transition toward a society in which life is the supreme asset. This demands a deep democracy and the constant involvement of its citizens in the country’s public affairs. It is based on the pursuit of the common good and individual happiness, rather than excessive accumulation and consumption. (SENLADES, 2013: 22)

Ecuador is not alone in its desire to expand democratic participation and develop new social and political thinking on participatory governance. In the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, significant doubt has been cast on the credibility of neo-liberal models of political economy popularized in the 1980s under U.S. President Reagan, and U.K. Prime Minister Thatcher.Building on recent literature on Open Government, there is rising interest in reforming the practices and institutions that now define modern democracies. This includes increased advocacy for greater openness and greater transparency in political decision-making and the reform of public services.

One approach to transforming neo-liberal governance models has been a renewed focus on government driven social investments linked to neo-Keynesian welfare policies. Whereas neo-liberal theories on social development emphasize the importance of private investments across expanding global markets, “social investment” thinkers emphasize the importance of active social welfare policies that respond to growing social and economic polarization facing societies in a global era (Esping-Andersen et al., 2002). Emerging from think tanks and ad hoc policymaking efforts and diffused through the 2000 Lisbon Agenda, Social Investment Theory is currently positioned as a counter model to traditional welfare state retrenchment (Jenson and Saint-Martin 2003). Theorists on social investment policy argue that national and/or regional economic strategies need to be more clearly focused on long-term investments that promote learning and innovation (Lundvall, 2004). This includes a particular stress on education and human capital development and a full range of social investments in the context of technological innovation and participatory democracy.

This focus on education, training, and human capital development is also evidenced by the successful implementation of ICTs in the Asia region and in former “underdeveloped countries”. As discussed in Perez (2008: 8, 16), the Asian region

“quickly understood the importance of ICT and the trend towards global markets ... and [is now] far ahead in its accumulation of knowledge and experience in technology, production, management and trade”. This was backed up by intensive education programs with a strong technical focus and accompanied by the development of a more even income distribution. Together with the more current examples of India and China, these Asian countries also have proven the need of “persistence and effort and [...] learning” due to the fact that technological catch-up processes are time-consuming, difficult, uneven and often unfair.

As to the Latin American case Perez (2008: 15) states that there is “a previous bias towards the processing industries and enough ICT capabilities to serve as a minimum platform of technological expertise” but there is also the need for a “gigantic effort in education, training and technological capability enhancement across the range involved.”

Beyond the need for industry-specific training and education however, we also stress the primary role of community education both for expanding ICT use and for adapting knowledge in the service of social aims.

ICTs and Community Mobilization

One of the main goals of the FLOK project is to achieve social transformation through policy interventions following principles outlined in the National Plan. Linking the notion of Open Government to ICTs and the application of technological innovation, the FLOK Society advocates deliberative experiments in new forms of democracy – both economically and socially. By democratizing access to knowledge through the use of open licensing, for example, the FLOK approach seeks to empower communities to participate in the production and consumption of knowledge without limitation. Indeed asCastells (2007) argues, the rise of socially driven ICTs has sparked new social movements that now have the capacity to build collaborative networks at multi-scale levels, amplifying the impact of insurgent politics across a wide spectrum of socio-political environments.

ICTs have introduced a range of new capabilities for collaboration and consequently for shaping social change. The growth of platforms that leverage next generation communication, data sharing, and application development, for example, has opened up new opportunities for bottom-up civic engagement across a range of ICT driven public services. In the United States, the Open Government directive from President Obama (2009) has its foundation in regulations such as the Freedom of Information Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act, and the e-Government Act (McDermott, 2010). In Europe and East Asia, robust government-driven investments in designing and developing “smart cities” have become critical to guiding and solving complex social problems. In Italy, new initiatives and legislation have accompanied novel conceptions of the City as a Commons and building on the principles and practices that have accompanied the digital revolution (http://www.labsus.org, http://www.cittabenicomuni.it/bologna).

Given the fact that an estimated 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by the year 2050, it makes sense that “smart” urbanization has become a key feature of national planning.As a growing number of analysts suggest, the intelligence of cities “resides in the increasingly effective combination of digital telecommunication networks (the nerves), ubiquitously embedded intelligence (the brains), sensors and tags (the sensory organs), and software (the knowledge and cognitive competence)” (Mitchel, 2007, p. 5).To this, we would add the central role of social capital as a key feature of civic networks that provide the social circuits through which social knowledge – knowledge as commons – is accessed, adapted, and shared.

Perhaps the central feature of smart cities is a unique capacity to respond to feedback generated through data in order to change the action or behavior of the system as a whole. As Chourabi et al. (2012: 2290) observe: “While systems in industrial cities were mostly skeleton and skin, postindustrial cities—smart cities—are like organisms that develop an artificial nervous system, which enables them to behave in intelligently coordinated ways”. Put differently, smart systems are emergent wholes made up of interdependent sub-systems of networked resources that together afford scaled technological and human “intelligence”. As the OECD (2013) explains, smart technologies refer to applications or services that are “able to learn from previous situations and to communicate the results of these situations to other devices and users” (p. 4).

Building on layers of fixed Internet protocol networks, “always on” broadband networks, and more recently wireless satellite and mobile networks, smart technologies leverage massive amounts of data generated by billions of Internet and mobiles devices and services around the world. Commonly portrayed as the next stage in Internet technologies, smart technologies include:

  • Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication across mobile devices.
  • Large-scale data processing via “Cloud Computing” in the processing and display of data.
  • Data analytics, linked data, and “Big Data” to correlate and interpret flows of knowledge and information.

What makes the idea of smart cities particularly important to Open Government is that smart cities demonstrate a shift in the relationship between citizen engagement and the evolution of public management. Part of this shift in thinking reflects an enlarged interest in designing systems that enable citizens to have a greater role in decision-making and governance. Hollands (2008), for example, makes the point that smart cities represent “territories with a high capacity for learning and innovation” that depend upon the creativity of their population as well as “their digital infrastructure for communication” (p. 306). This too, is greatly affected by the level of social capital in a community and the networks of co-operation, reciprocity, and trust that facilitate mutuality and the pursuit of shared goals.

Indeed, Hollands articulates a growing intellectual movement that is refocusing the discussion on smart cities from the promotion and administration of servicesto questions of democratic governance (Allwinkle & Cruickshank, 2011). Overlapping an expanded notion of government accountability is the question of new tools and technology that can now enable more potent models of participatory democracy (Osimo, 2008; Obama, 2009). Alongside questions of open data and increased transparency, there are new possibilities for strengthening the capacities of communities and stakeholders to play far more significant political roles.

ICTs may be critical to serving as platforms for communication and collaboration. However, it is the people themselves and the networks of co-operation, sharing, and trust in which they participate, who solve (or do not solve) social problems. Beyond the affordances of technology, many now argue that the key to truly smart cities is their capacity to support social capital and sociocultural development. Accordingly, smart cities have the potential to remake democratic processes and promote political inclusion by connecting citizens with one another and with their government.

Case Study 1: Smart Seoul

Building on an expansive ICT infrastructure to support government, particularly the application of government services, Seoul has introduced robust policy and planning to develop itself as a smart city (Naphade et al, 2012). Announced in 2011, “Smart Seoul” is the South Korean government’s plan to develop the world’s most advanced smart city. A 900 billion won ($792 million) effort to link the city with its citizens, Smart Seoul includes nearly free wireless connectivity that is ubiquitous across the city’s public spaces and a variety of follow on commercial and public services.As the capital of South Korea and the country’s largest metropolitan city, Seoul supports a staggering population of over 10 million people. Taken as a whole,the city faces serious challenges related to overpopulation and urbanization but has used ICTs to help manage pollution, and resource scarcity. Incorporating ICT services into health and welfare services, Seoul has managed to become one of the most advanced smart cities in the world.

The main pillars of Smart Seoul include:

• ICT Infrastructure: Securing next-generation ICT infrastructure is critical to the success of emerging smart-city services. Efforts to develop ICT infrastructure must anticipate future service demands, rather than respond only to those that are most apparent.

• Integrated City-management Framework: A well-defined ‘integrated city-management framework’ is essential. The many integrated subsystems, meta-systems, and individual building-block systems of a smart city will work in harmony only through the strictest adherence to common standards.

• Smart Users: ICTs are the tools to enable a smart city, but are of no use without smart-tech users able to interact with smart services. Increasing access to smart devices and education on their use, across income levels and age groups, must remain one of a smart city’s highest priorities.

Perhaps the most important feature of Smart Seoul, however, is its strategic emphasis on e-government. This includes the “Information Communication Agora”, an information portal through which its citizens can view a wide variety of administrative documents even as they are still being processed. The goal of this digital platform is to enable more active citizen participation by providing all official documents within every administrative process to citizens. Indeed, according to the bi-annual e-Government survey of the United Nations, South Korea ranks first in the world in terms of e-government readiness and citizen participation (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2012).

Case Study 2: Political Formation in Rural Guatemala

While conventional definitions of e-government are centered on the transmission of government services, the concept is increasingly being applied to include citizen participation withingovernment. Examining the role of ICTs supporting rural Mayan communities in the Western highlands of Guatemala, for example, Garcia-Ruano et al. (2013), demonstrate that the capacity of technology to facilitate political formation in not limited to urban communities. As the study’s authors explain: ICTs can be leveraged against resource differentials, including knowledge gaps and political persecution.

Despite the fact that communities may start out with traditional community assemblies and community radio, there is the potential now to incorporate ICTs in successive stages in support of “information sharing, civic journalism, and collective actions” (p. 1879). In their struggle to resist oil companies in Guatemala, rural Mayan communities have been able to use ICTs to augment their political impact. Indeed, Garcia-Ruano et al. (2013) found that the effective incorporation of ICTs as part of an integrated communication toolbox helped to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and influence decision-making in the country. As the researchers concluded, there are in fact several policy implications rooted in the experiences of the use of ICTs by civil society groups in shaping and facilitating community action. They explain:

First, organizers of the movement recognize the value of ICTs to improve membership, increase collective efficacy, and strengthen networks of support. This recognition of the relevance of digital communication enhances the meaningfulness and ownership of its usage. This is a key feature that has been highlighted by scholars of networked mobilization (e.g., Castells, 2007a; Juris, 2008) and communication for social change (Gularte et al., 2009; Gumucio-Dagron, 2003). These writers emphasize that access to technology or a new communication medium represents a real opportunity for development and power mobilization only if these platforms become genuinely relevant to people and empower them to achieve their goals (italics added).

Second, this study found that networked communication has dual effects when applied to mobilization: strong and highly effective in the mobilization inside the movement, but weak and limited in its effects on policies and political decision-making processes outside the movement. Networked communication proved highly effective inside the movement by enhancing group cohesion, collective efficacy, and social capital. Nonetheless, structural exclusion, ineffective political dialogue, and blatant persecution against indigenous leaders hinders the movement’s potential to effectively influence elites´ decision-making, resulting in increasing conflict and violence. Despite these limitations, the movement has reached some intermediate goals, such as influence on the media agenda, changes in corporate policies, and some modifications to public policy.

Finally, this study suggests that research on the effects of networked communication for mobilization needs to address not only its impact on public policies and elites’ decisions but also—and more importantly—its impact on civic participation and sociopolitical organization norms. In general, networked communication—spontaneously developed, resonating with cultural values, and promoting inclusive forms of governance—may help to defeat marginalization in a definitive and sustained manner.

As the researchers demonstrate, the value of ICTs for developing and sustaining political formation and citizen engagement is not reserved for cities alone. Indeed, the capacity of ICTs to leverage social agency largely depends “on whether or not [ICTs] trigger certain communicative characteristics that enhance mobilization, such as civic engagement, cultural resonance, reinforcing patterns, and collective efficacy” (p.vii). What seems clear is that the material conditions for the formation, circulation, and utilization of “social capital” in political engagement are highly impacted by the affordances of ICT networks.

Information has become the vital element in a “new” politics and economy that both links and transforms space, knowledge and capital. However, Castells (2000) reminds us that the central issue for leveraging change across institutions and communities today – even in an age of networks – remains that of power. And, as indicated in the findings concerning the use of ICTs by civil society groups in Guatemala, the utility of ICTs for promoting social change is limited unless civil groups are able to confront with organized political force the institutional and political structures that embody repression.

ICT and the Role of the Citizen

One of the main goals of the FLOK project is social and economic transformation through policy intervention. Based on the premise of Open Government in the context of commons-based knowledge production, the FLOK project rejects any standard of government that ignores the democratic participation of citizens. Linking the notion of Open Government to smart cities, we advocate experiments in new forms of democracy using ICTs and the application of technological innovation as tools for civic engagement and political empowerment.

One of the key challenges confronting the development of both Open Government and smart cities is ‘top down’ design. The idea of smart cities has been widely criticized as being essentially neo-liberal-driven urban spaces and for putting an excessive weight on economic values as the sole driver of urban development. Indeed, Lipman (2009) calls attention to the ways in which neo-liberal policies have used cities to concentrate and manage capital accumulation. As she observes, cities have become “concentrated expressions of the dynamics of extreme inequality, marginality, and centrality that characterize the global economy as a whole” (p. 242). Harvey (1973: 16) has suggested that the world’s cities mirror systemic social stratification, as a “vantage point from which to capture some salient features operating in society as a whole”. This includes social hierarchies of race and class in structuring urban spaces. Closely linked to this critique is the fact that much of the planning and design of smart city systems, including the technology to be deployed, is owned and controlled by multinational corporations with little understanding or investment in the idea of open and democratically structured systems.

The question that arises is whether the design and development of smart cities can avoid the central problem of class stratification and inequity that afflicts so many cities around the world. In Ecuador, for example, the city of Yachay or “City of Knowledge” is now under development in San Miguel de Urcuquí, in northern Ecuador. Designed as a key knowledge hub in Latin America, Yachay is modeled on Songdo in South Korea, and envisioned as a smart city for Ecuador’s knowledge economy. In conjunction with Ecuador’s broader national innovation planning, Yachay is envisioned as a means to leverage academic and scientific research in support of technological innovation. Despite its promising potential as an incubator for commercial innovation however, the question now confronting Yachay – and other similar urban experiments – is whether it has the capacity to incubate inclusive and empowering democratic institutions and practices.

Policy Recommendations

Given the above issues and concerns, the basic principles for sustaining and amplifying smart communities in conjunction with Open Government include the following:

Universal Internet Access

The growing importance of broadband infrastructure suggests that the Internet as a platform for participatory citizenship is not merely a market-driven luxury, but a necessary right of citizenship in the digital age. Indeed, resolving the digital divide between wealthy and poor citizens is now becoming critical to maintaining a functional democracy. Government should continue to develop policies and programs that expand the ability of citizens to access the Internet. The government’s promotion of Community Information Centres across Ecuador is one excellent example of such a policy (see Section Two case study below).

Open Data

It is becoming increasingly common for governments around the world to “open” their databases to the public. Open data is becoming a critical platform for gauging open governance practices and enabling citizens to access public services. More than simply providing transparency, open data is enabling public and private service providers to integrate and distribute this data in new and experimental ways. Programs that link raw government data to visualization tools, for example, can give citizens more comprehensive information about their communities and should be promoted by the government.

Open Data Libraries and Application Development

Open Data provided in raw form enables interested users to perform their own analysis on public data, or utilize public data to develop new and innovative applications (apps). Data provided by one government ministry can be independently combined with data from other sources to provide scalable information systems that builds on the civic commons. Machine-readable access to open data libraries, for example, enables citizens to retrieve and utilize data through third-party computer applications. This in turn provides incentives for local software developers to augment public resources. The development of such open data libraries, along with the applications to use them, should be a priority for government.

Legal Reform

Opening government also means transforming the legal structures that might impede Open Government data. This includes explicit licensing that permits public use and re-use of government data without restriction. This also means ensuring free access to government-held information in the context of freedom of information. Legal reforms supporting open data can offer citizens an opportunity to provide useful feedback and offer input that drives improvements in governance itself. Indeed, a review oflegislation and public polies thatwork against Open Government as outlined here should be undertaken and where necessary, reformed.

ICT Driven Public Services

The growing capabilities of ICT platforms and applications are making possible an expanded horizon of possibilities for improving public services. Much as the private sector has been developing user-centric models of service delivery for some time, governments are now being challenged to identify and respond to gaps in public service systems. Data-driven analysis of services used by citizens (data analytics) can assist governments in managing resource allocation and provide more personalized public services. Government should undertake a careful study of how ministries currently manage public access to ministry data and identify specific policies and procedures that promote ICT platforms and applications that facilitate public access to ministry data and which link and cross reference data from one ministry to that of others.

Smart Systems and Social Welfare Policy

Linking the need for new social public policy to the emerging possibilities of technology-mediated community, we argue that that the discourse on smart cities must now begin to explore new models of social welfare policy (Kanter & Litow, 2009). This includes higher spending on social welfare programs in the context of a social knowledge economy but it also means enhancing citizen engagement by digitally augmenting social welfare services. It also includes experimenting with new ways of supporting basic needs such as education, healthcare, and childcare through new electronic government services.

Citizen Participation

The ideal of participatory democracy today is about far more than simple representation. The possibility for citizens to co-produce and partner with government is becoming a reality. In the age of social networks and peer-to-peer practices, governments are increasingly expected to develop institutional frameworks that provide citizens with a means to develop and augment public services and even co-produce services rendered on their behalf. This includes both user-driven e-services and the introduction of community tools and resources that can provide citizens with a means to have their voices heard. Indeed, the challenge for Open Government today is less about finding new solutions to the transmission of government services, and more about empowering citizens to become agents in their own governance. This key question of the need to democratize public services is further explored in the companion papers “Public Policy for a Social Economy” and “Public Policy for a Partner State”. [3]The government should undertake a study to examine in what ways ICTs could become a tool for the co-production of public goods and services in collaboration with civil society organizations. The study should including the identification of specific public services that may be tested as pilots for this purpose.

Empowering Civil Society

Government accountability and critical feedback are now central to continuous government improvement. As key agents in shaping social and political mobilization, civil society organizations (CSOs) and nongovernmental organization (NGOs) have been foundational to the Citizens’ Revolution (La Revolución Ciudadana) that is reshaping Ecuador. Building on this momentum, political changes introduced by the Correa administration have been aimed at expanding social and democratic goals outlined in the National Plan. This should be amplified through the use of ICT platforms supporting user-driven networks and e-government platforms. ICT platforms offer new opportunities for civil society input by linking CSOs more closely with decision-making in co-producing governance.

9. Safeguarding Rights to Privacy

The development of ICTs for purposes of e-government and the introduction of “smart city” systems have now become a kind of gold standard for promoting more open and efficient government. However without adequate safeguards, and given the current dominant role of private corporations in the design, development, and application of these systems, the implementation of ICT on such a comprehensive scale also invites serious abuses of the right to privacy and freedom from surveillance for citizens. The technology that makes possible such a comprehensive centralized accumulation of data is the same technology that enables the surveillance of even the most minute and intimate aspects of the lives of individuals.

For these reasons, we propose that the use of ICTs for the development of “smart cities” and other forms of data collection through centralized control systems not be implemented without the inclusion of comprehensive and rigorous encryption protocols to prevent the unwarranted monitoring and surveillance of citizens.

These protocols should include:

  • The availability of end-to-end encryption to private individuals (not only government) for private internet and wifi communications;
  • Elimination of “back-door” access to software and hardware technologies used in Ecuador;
  • The restriction of data a accumulation only to specified uses and only with the explicit authorization of the individual concerned;
  • The prevention of the general and unauthorized sharing of data on individuals by government departments, and officials.

In addition, the following recommendations draw on the ‘International Principles’ and on ‘Tshwane Principles,” Principle 10E. [4]

The State should:

  • Publish sufficient information to enable individuals to fully comprehend the scope, nature and application of the laws permitting communications surveillance.
  • Authorize communications service providers to publish the procedures they apply when dealing with surveillance, adhere to those procedures, and publish records of State communications surveillance.
  • Publish, at a minimum, aggregate information on the number of requests for communications surveillance approved and rejected, and a disaggregation of the requests by service provider and by investigation type and purpose.
  • Establish independent oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability of surveillance. Oversight mechanisms should have the authority to access all potentially relevant information about surveillance, to assess whether it is conducted lawfully, and to evaluate whether the State has been transparently and accurately publishing information about the use and scope of communications surveillance techniques and powers. The independent oversight mechanism should publish periodic reports on its findings.

For law enforcement agencies, the operational implications of this include the need to

  • Review police information security measures in the light of new technologies and techniques to ensure they remain robust.
  • Submit new or expanded surveillance techniques or technologies to the scrutiny of the judiciary or other democratic oversight mechanism to ascertain whether it falls into the realm of complies with constitutional protections and international human rights standards.

Section Two – Information Technologies and Institutional Innovation

Most societies work with a collection of information and technologies that are more or less concentrated and segmented in terms of production, access and application. This section explores the use and potential of the Internet in relation to its contribution to social innovation in rural sectors.

Public Goods and Technology

The Ecuadorian constitution states that knowledge is a public good and that "its development benefits society as a whole, beyond its individual or private profit."[5]Similarly, public goods are the basis for social coexistence open to a future of social innovation intended for the enhancement and reproduction of life. In this sense, democratization refers to the expansion of endogenous knowledge and of knowledge that constitutes the patrimony of humanity so that it may become part of the experience for all of Ecuadorian society through recognition, generation and appropriation of this common social inheritance. In accordance with the ideals of Buen Vivir, the challenge of developing public goods today is to migrate from a vertical and hierarchical pattern of producer-user relations toward a model in which everyone may contribute to the creation and dissemination of knowledge in an open and plural manner.

From a practical standpoint however, the distinction between the local and urban/global spheres is essential to understanding the political processes under discussion. Consequently, it is necessary to have an overview of state policy and the evolution of democratic practice in the recent past and to understand the relations between institutional changes, ICTs, and the state’s relations with the broader civil society.

Objective 4.1 of the National Plan for Good Living promotes a reciprocal relationship between education, the productive sector, and scientific and technological research for the transformation of the productive matrix and the satisfaction of human needs. Objective 11.3 of the Plan promotes democratization in the provision of public telecommunication services, as well as information and communication technologies (ICT), including radio, television and radio-electric broadcast, as well as furthering their universal access. Under this regulatory umbrella, joint access and work is to be guaranteed for all. [6]

During the nineties the traditional developmentalvision was linked to the idea of technology transfer which operated through a decentralized system and was connected with the work of national and international NGOs. [7]In turn, rural development has been a pillar for Andean governments and has always been associated with economic development (Escobar: 1996). Similarly, while many perceive the Internet as a growing social and economic opportunity, the relative benefits are tempered by more immediate concerns about local access to vaccination, food and electricity (Global Information Society Watch, 2008). Thus, the digital-gap concept included a series of indicators that went beyond connectivity in each region to include the financial, political and cultural viability of making the Internet truly accessible.

In the Latin American case, the technology transfer issue was a key rationale to justify development objectives from early on. Similarly, there are those who warn against the generalized technological optimism that is often present in this literature.

Ecuadorian Framework: From Development policies to local empowerment – The regional politics of technology and development

As of year 2000, state reports and regional policies have emphasized the need to homogenize and spread technology because – despite the fact that every developing country confronts challenges that are defined by its cultural, political and economic conditions – there are common issues and approaches that are shared by countries that have been successful at implementing development strategies.

The majority of strategies that have successfully fought the lack of infrastructure for rural communication entail some type of public, community-based access rather than individual access to the Internet. Lastly, while foreign investment has played a central role in the rise of successful technological companies, this is quite apart from ICT use for addressing social issues such as improving health and education, promoting citizen empowerment, improving gender equality, or addressing human rights and enhancing political participation, which have now become the focus of discourse and included in the final objectives of such plans. These social attributes of ICT use are the main objects of this analysis.

The fundamental basis for this process is rooted in three arguments that have predominated the development discourse since the nineties. The first one links ICTs with technological capability and value development and their impact on society with the need for global connectivity and the provision of infrastructure that allows it. The second one strengthens traditional educational systems providing a framework through a technological model, and deals with the institutional frameworks established to pursue an efficient model of electronic government.Lastly, there is the possibility of the use of ICT’s to promote a more equitable co-operative and commons-based economic system.[8]

Community info-centers and their action networks can actually challenge traditional patronage models, as they have become a new space for the development of citizenship and political participation through digital-literacy programs and the expanded use of the Internet.There is no question about the fact that the Internet has given a new voice to actors who had no access to services in the past and were not even recognized as citizens.The expectation that technology will shift towards progressive social and political organization goes hand in hand with community empowerment, the promotion of citizen values, and the development of a national conscience. Family members of migrants use chat, e-mail and videoconference to communicate with their loved ones. The youth of the community take advantage of the centers to meet, talk, play, and chat with other young people online. Teachers benefit from having Internet access in order to prepare for their classes and to update their teaching methods.

Case Study: Community Info- centers, Institutional innovation and Access to Information Technologies

Public services and policies on telecommunications have been an essential element in the Executive power's political vision. Pursuant to the legal mandate in the new law of communication, the state is responsible for the provision of public services and for guaranteeing that in their provision, they respond to mandatory, general, consistency, efficiency, responsibility, universality, accessibility, regularity, continuity and quality principles. The state shall ensure “that public-service prices and fees are equitable, and it shall set forth their control and regulation." (Art.314). With the creation of the Ministry of Telecommunication, connectivity became a primary objective.

Within civil society, political action groups are among the many associations that establish contact at an information center as a key component of their political work and to put pressure and/or adapt to the actions and objectives of the State.

This type of engagement at the local level is now an essential feature of how civil society organizations expand and deepen the organizational potential of civil society as a whole. This kind of political process via the Internet also entails practices that are independent of the direct control of the State. And this too, is inherent in the autonomous character of civil society organizations. [9]The interaction that is facilitated through electronic communication is part of a change pattern in the political process, starting from the dynamics that comprise economic development in rural areas.

The new technology-based solutions now open possibilities that did not exist ten years ago, therefore, in this year's Report on Information Economics the potential influence of ICTs is taken into account for the creation of new employment and in the increase in productivity and entrepreneurial activities that are relevant to rural communities.In this context, the structure of political action among civil society organizations in rural communities increases the complexity of their political processes and the relations among political actors.[10]From the local standpoint we can identify three types of actors: A) State-Community Info-centers – Mobile Classrooms/NGO- Beacon of Citizen Knowledge; B) Civil Society – Internet-service users by community actors in A; C) Local Authorities – county (parish) Boards and Mayors.

The Community Information Centers seek political counterparts within the township authorities and have developed community facilitators, with successful results. Consequently, the richness and diversity of organizational processes, and the availability of new communication spaces developed in the locality, have proved to be fertile soil for generating ICT use and providing access to information and the dissemination of knowledge. This in turn, is transforming these centers into spaces for the dissemination of local information and communication.

Past experiences and research demonstrate that these tools in the hands of organizations and projects that are rooted in local experience and relationships have far better chances to contribute to community wellbeing and development. In this way, access centers (Public- Semi-public) have become spaces for further contact and sharing, innovation, creation and entrepreneurship, and micro enterprises (Burch: 2007). Examples of these are the local enterprises fostered from the Infocentros. This is the case of San Placido, Manabi, with candy production or Dulcinea in the province of Bolivar. Chocolates from San José del Tambo and the jam factory from Infocentro Valle Hermoso, in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas with peanut-based products. Members of various associations using the Infocentroto sell their products and market them through social networks. [11]Therefore, this new generation of micro entrepreneurs achieve economic independence from their families and stimulate the local economy in each of their communities/parishes as an essential part of the productive transformation of the country.

The Canchagua Infocentro from Cotopaxi, and the leaders of the women's organization "Hope for the future" are developing projects to improve the lives of their families. Within the organization activities are implemented to enhance agricultural and livestock production in order to foster sustainability for families in the area. All the programs set in place are done within the use of ICTs and by their own initiative they have been working jointly with the Ministry of Agriculture, to develop the Horticultural Gardens Project with organic vegetables to market them in the surrounding communities.[12]

Policy Recommendations: Communitarian empowerment through ICT

Leadership and Institutional Change

In the context of ICT, the goal of democratization entails that priority is given to the promotion and dissemination of knowledge for the purpose of solving peoples' problems, addressing their needs, and securing the natural patrimony. But in addition, democratization in the context of Buen Vivir Plan also entails the promotion of ICT as a support for the empowerment and autonomous self-development of civil society as an indispensable foundation of democratic political life as a whole.

As a result, a progressive and pro-active state must strive to relate ICT policy to guaranteeing universal access for civic participation in government decisions (Open Government), to promote civic engagement through e-government practices, and to foster economic empowerment as well as economic innovation. These guarantees require the existence of information exchange spaces (info-centers) so that families – as well as institutions, NGOs and local governments – can utilize them as a crosscutting service for their own transactions and as a center of development in their communities.

Digital competences as a basis for community relationships

In addition to the citizen and community-building potential of ICT use, the creation of transferable knowledge from the experience of local producers also entails many possibilities. In farming communities, tacit or implicit knowledge exists in the productive processes of the individual and/or family. With the use of ICTs, farmers in rural areas have begun a new process of articulating this knowledge which allows for the collective sharing and construction of new forms of knowledge for both individual and collective benefit. ICT becomes a tool that greatly facilitates the knowledge sharing process.

From the standpoint of actual utility, one type of technology is not prioritized over another for its age or novelty, but is valued instead for its effectiveness in promoting the sharing of knowledge with respect to set goals and the solving of concrete problems. Participants recognized the necessity of learning about these different means for applying ICTs according to specific needs and objectives. In this way, ICTs are adapted to suit local situations and to identify the mechanisms that allow for a "friendly" encounter between these technologies and the communities in which they are embedded.

In the case of the women’s organization in Cangahua , information and communication technologies have allowed the group to generate material useful for project management, for seeking financial support, and for pursuing marketing strategies for their products. This experience shows not only how ICTs are being incorporated into rural life, but also how communities adapt ICT models and discover new applications for their own benefit. The use of these new technologies in the communities is a tangible reality. [13]

Individualization Of Learning And Individual Empowerment

Despite these examples, experience also shows that these technologies do not reach everyone – in the sense that not everyone has the same skills to make use of them. There is a gender-generational dynamic around the use of ICTs and it extends to the barriers regarding the specific role of women in the community and has in turn led to a change in attitude in this regard. Solidarity economy projects had already bloomed prior to the adoption of ICT as means of production, but mainly because ICT fosters the individual’s capacity to initiate actions. This has strengthened and improved the capacities of small enterprises and promoted the betterment of public institutions.[14] ICTs have facilitated greater social inclusion for populations with few resources and, for target users such as migrants and their families, they are fulfilling the mission for which the info-centers were created. However, the benefit is not found within the ICTs as such, but rather in their potential to create powerful institutional networks, as well as to build social and economic capacity.

The success of the info-centers, has improved local/global connectivity. Consequently, it is strategic to design proposals that furnish these mediators with better tools and to support small entrepreneurs so that they have better economic, technologic and pedagogic resources. In addition, it is important to accelerate the pace of these social/solidarity economy experiences and provide resources that favour communication, exchange and alliances among cyber-cafes, information centers, schools, universities, and libraries. Finally, there is confirmation that information centers have become a key service, for collecting, valuing and diffusing local memories and stories.

ICT, Social Innovation and Social Capital

While it is clear that ICT has a key role to play in the ways a community accesses knowledge for the advancement of its social and economic goals, it is also clear that the ways in which members of a community relate to each other through social institutions is also a factor in whether knowledge is used as a social good and the degree to which ICT is used in the pursuit of social aims.

As indicated in recent research on the role of social capital in the sharing of knowledge, howthis knowledge is created and diffused is greatly influenced by the quality of the relationships that exist among actors in a given community, and the levels of social capital that exist. For example, the more that producers or other actors engaged in local production activities are linked to their peers through networks characterized by sharing and mutual trust, the more knowledge is accessed, shared, and combined to create new solutions for common problems. Social innovation through the use of knowledge as a commons is directly related to social capital and its effect on knowledge access, diffusion, and practical application.

In their study of the literature, Zhihong Li1 and Fang Luo (2010) surveyed the role that social capital plays in the development of organizational learning [15]and knowledge transfer within firms. What they found is that social capital plays a direct, and often decisive, role in the development of an organization’s capacity to create and adapt knowledge for purposes of competitive advantage and entrepreneurial innovation, and also for transferring knowledge both inside the firm and beyond. [16]Moreover, the evidence suggests that different types of social capital can have different effects on an organization’s use of knowledge.

Social capital that is characterized by direct relations of mutual trust between two individuals (dyadic trust) is most conducive to the exchange and sharing of new knowledge.[17]Social capital that is characterized by the common norms and expectations of a whole community (generalized trust) is especially effective for organizational learning that is geared toward innovation.[18]In both cases, social capital is a feature of networked relationships of trust and the stronger the bonds of trust that exist in a network the more these relationships can “create a platform and mechanism for careful and in-depth knowledge exchange and sharing within an organization, while promoting organizational exploitative learning.” [19

The central role of social capital as a component of successful entrepreneurial performance and of regional economic excellence has also been shown by the experience of the flexible manufacturing networks of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy. These localized networks of small and medium firms are characterized by high degrees of knowledge sharing and co-operation in the shared production of highly specialized, high value products for global markets. [20]

A culture of co-operation has been decisive in the success of this region. The use of both formal and informal networks to access and share knowledge, to promote research and development, to analyze and access markets, and to promote training and human development has made Emilia Romagna Italy’s top performing economic region. [21]With explicit reference to the impact of inter-firm co-operation and knowledge sharing, the region has become Italy’s most intensive user of research and development facilities and now leads the country in the number of new patents registered.[22]

What is true for the advancement of economic development through the use of co-operative networks by local enterprises is equally true for the development and expansion of human service organizations in the social economy. The rise of social co-operatives that specialize in the provision of a vast range of social services to Italians has been based in the formation of social networks that play a key role in the sharing of information and technology that are vital to the successful operation of these social enterprises. [23]There are now over 24,000 social co-ops that employ 280,000 people.

For a country like Ecuador, where low ICT levels still predominate and where digital access is among the lowest in Latin America (Paraguay and Bolivia are lower [24]an ICT policy that serves the aims of a social knowledge economy necessarily entails a careful consideration of how public policy can promote the development of those types of organizations and social institutions that are most suited to utilizing ICTs for these aims. The support and expansion of civil institutions that reinforce the generation of social capital are an essential component of progressive ICT policy.

Moreover, if ICTs are to be considered as tools for the realization of social, as oppose to purely private aims, there are implications for how ICTs are designed, managed, and deployed. As stated at the outset of this paper, one of the criticisms levelled against the concept of “smart cities” is the fact that these technologies are controlled by large corporate interests with little interest in those values and applications that seek to make information technology, and the knowledge they can access, common goods. The corporate control of ICTs and the privatization of knowledge are, after all, the foundation of contemporary cognitive capitalism.

By contrast, civil organizations – and indeed, the institutions of government – should have as their primary aim the production of social goods that are available to all. It would seem therefore, that for ICTs to be realistically deployed as instruments of social benefit and the promotion of a democratic polity, there needs to be a democratization also of these technologies, with a priority emphasis on the use of open standards and technologies.

In sum, there is an affinity between the values and aims of a social knowledge economy and those institutional structures that operate on those same principles of sharing, co-operation and social purpose that characterize a wide range of civil society organizations, and also of private and public enterprises that are networked to co-operate in the realization of mutual aims. It is these same co-operative and commons-based structures, both inside organizations and among them, that are best suited for accessing ICTs for common aims and the pursuit of those social goals that also characterize the aims of Buen Vivir.

Concluding Remarks

The cornerstone of the FLOK model is the free and open sharing of knowledge. Its founding philosophy is that knowledge and innovation are most efficiently developed in conditions of free and open collaboration. Far beyond neo-liberal conceptions of socioeconomic development, the FLOK Society promotes a vision of governance that centers on citizen – driven agency and citizen – driven institutions. In this policy paper we have advocated a strong linkage between the principles of Buen Vivir or Good Living and the operation of smart cities in the context of Open Government.

We have also explored the evolution of ICT use in Ecuador and the ways in which government policy has impacted the successful adoption of ICTs at the local level through progressive government initiatives such as the installation of Community Info Centres. These experiences highlight the social and educational components of successful ICT implementation strategies.

But the possibility of Open Government lays beyond conventional notions of representative democracy that largely focus on closed governmental institutions with citizens being largely excluded from playing a meaningful role in their operations. We have proposed instead, that the practice of Open Government (and the evolution of smart cities as one instance of this) must take place in the context of technologies that are designed not only to increase the efficacy of government, but even more importantly, to encourage and support new models of democratic practice. Open Government, Smart Cities, and the use of ICTs as empowering tools for Civil Society are essential aspects of a vision of social knowledge that both relies upon, and reinforces, those values of openness, sharing, co-operation, and democratic action in service of the common good that are the driving principles of Buen Vivir.


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[1]The concept of social capital refers to the prevalence in a community of civic networks that are based on trust and that facilitate co-operation for the pursuit of shared goals (see Robert Putnam, 1993, 2000)

[2]The ICT sector comprises several industries which support the production, processing, archiving and retrieving of information through computers, telecommunication and semiconductors (Low 2002: 21) and which, despite differences in specialized subsectors, are technologically related.

[3]Restakis, FLOK Society Project, IAEN, 2014

[4]Retrieved from: http://www.opengovguide.com/commitments/establish-safeguards-to-ensure-that-new-technologies-used-for-police-surveilence-respect-the-right-to-privacy/

[5]Article 16 of the National Constitution of Ecuador. 2008

[6]National Plan for Good Living 2009-2013.

[7]The history of the Netherlands IICD and Canada ICD need to be considered, as those institutions funded, for several decades, the digital inclusion and development process through the use of communication technologies.

[8]The Internet-based paradigm change, widely spread by Manuel Castells in La Galaxia Internet (2003), speaks about the possibility of looking at Internet use as part of a paradigmatic change in society. That means changing the concept of information transmission as unambiguous or message centered. Flow space transmits information swiftly and it is only the management of information that has changed the ways of constructing meaning. That vision was linked to the critical discourse about development policies based on information and communication technology transfer.

[9]By political processes we refer to those actions that comprise and mobilize the relation-building structures among informed citizens (organized civil society), and in which individuals take initiative as actors and citizens to influence the behaviour of the State.

[10]According to the COTAD. Territory organization law, the decentralized autonomous government (GAD) has, among other functions, the direct management of fund planning and execution.

[11]Success stories from the use of the community info-centers can be found at: http://www.infocentros.gob.ec/

[12]Success stories from the use of the community infocenters can be found at: http://www.infocentros.gob.ec/

[13]For other case studies along the region, refer to: Knowledge sharing for rural development: challenges, experiences and methods, ALAI, Quito, January 2007

[14]ibid, ALAI, Quito, January: 50-58. 2007 Speech promoted by the UNPD's (United Nations Program for Development) millennium objective, together with that of the United Nations’ programs for trade and development.

[15]Organizational learning is the development and expansion of existing knowledge and capacity in an organization to meet competitive demands and to apply this knowledge and ability to organizational action. Argyris and Schon , 1978

[16]Zhihong Li1, Fang Luo, The Influence Path of Social Capital on Knowledge Transfer Performance␣The Mediating Role of Organizational Learning, Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Electronic Commerce and Security Workshops (ISECS ’10) Guangzhou, P. R. China, 29-31,July 2010, pp. 179-183



[19]Leana, C.R., Buren, H. J. Organizational social capital and employment practices [J]. Academy of Management Review, 1999(24): 538-555

[20]Restakis, The Socialization of Capital, Humanizing the Economy – Co-operatives in the Age of Capital, 2010


[22]A. Bardi and S. Bertini, Dinamiche territoriali e nuova industria Dai distretti alle filiere, 2005

[23]Restakis, Social Co-ops and Social Care, Humanizing the Economy – Co-operatives in the Age of Capital, 2010

[24]ITU-UNCTAD Digital Opportunity Index (2007)

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