Em: https://www.igi-global.com/gateway/book/217361 Crowdsourcing: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications Information Resources Management Association (USA) Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 1677 ISBN13: 9781522583622|ISBN10: 1522583629|EISBN13: 9781522583639 DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8362-2 Cite Book Favorite With the growth of information technology, many new communication channels and platforms have emerged. This growth has advanced the work of crowdsourcing, allowing individuals and companies in various industries to coordinate efforts on different levels and in different areas. Providing new and unique sources of knowledge outside organizations enables innovation and shapes competitive advantage. Crowdsourcing: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications is a collection of innovative research on the methods and applications of crowdsourcing in business operations and management, science, healthcare, education, and politics. Highlighting a range of topics such as crowd computing, macrotasking, and observational crowdsourcing, this multi-volume book is ideally designed for business executives, professionals, policymakers, academicians, and researchers interested in all aspects of crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications
Networks for Cyberactivism and Their Implications for Policymaking in Brazil
Christiana Soares de Freitas
University of Brasilia, Brazil
Isabela Nascimento Ewerton
University of Brasilia, Brazil
Networks for cyberactivism have been developed in Brazil since the end of the 20th century. This chapter presents results of a three-year research about networks for digital political participation developed by civil society. The research analyzed 41 networks according to specific analytical categories to deepen the understanding about their potential to foster citizens’ engagement in political initiatives and strengthen democracy. Several mechanisms that considerably stimulate a culture of political participation were clearly observed. Possibilities for political acting through those networks tend to narrow the gap be- tween citizens’ claims and government actions but that is not always the case. There is a lack of synergy between citizens’ demands and strategic planning of public policies and other political outcomes. Some hypotheses are discussed to understand this context and reflect on the trends and challenges to digital democracy in the twenty-first century.
Brazil has experienced three decades of uninterrupted democracy. That context fostered the birth of specific political conceptions and practices. The notorious crisis of representativeness in the country also contributed to the emergence of specific and alternative ways of political activism using informa- tion and communication technologies as powerful allies to generate more outreach and penetrability of the organized actions. Non-government citizen networks, mainly from civil society, mobilize internet resources to achieve political goals. Those resources enable projects and practices that tend to offer more possibilities for citizens to engage in political mobilization, potentially contributing to strengthen and deepen participatory democratic practices (Bonsón, Royo & Ratkai, 2015).
In the mentioned historical period government strategies were adopted to stimulate citizens´ partici- pation in political processes through cyberspace (Freitas, 2016). Such strategies were adopted in digital governance practices implemented with the goal of deepening the relationship between public admin- istration representatives and citizens by improving political mechanisms for participation. However, research results have shown that government initiatives tend to have a limited range fostering effective citizens´ participation through cyber interactive channels of communication. The initiatives tend to guarantee institutional stability to the organizations rather than effectively promote citizens´ engagement and legitimize democratic processes (Freitas, Fiuza & Queiroz, 2015).
Civil society also plays a strategic role in that political scenario. This chapter will present the results of a research that aimed at investigating the conditions created by non-government actors to legitimize participatory democratic practices through different strategies in cyberspace. The research mapped and analyzed non-government networks that developed digital platforms alongside other initiatives to stimulate political activism and cyberactivism.
Digital democratic initiatives are usually implemented by non-government and in some cases non- institutional actors organized in social movements and political actions. They reveal a political environ- ment in which strategies to improve digital participatory democracy play a fundamental role. Digital democracy, in this sense, can be defined as the process of using devices, apps, digital communication artifacts and technologies in general to supplement, reinforce or improve aspects of social and political practices – coming from the State or the citizens – in the benefit of the democratic substance of political communities. (Gomes, 2011, p. 27).
Some indicators were developed to comprehend the possibilities offered by digital platforms for citizens´ engagement. It was crucial to understand how those resources offer effective mechanisms for participation in political processes. The best example was the set of digital environments that promote collaborative production of actions, projects, programs, politics and laws. Seven analytical categories were outlined with their respective indicators to analyze the scenario: legal and normative institutional- ization; coordination and resources; types of digital environment and strategies for the systematization of citizens´ demands; effects and implications of demands in formal political processes1; social capital; transparency and sustainability of the initiative.
This article presents the results of two analytical categories that are directly related to mechanisms developed to enable and stimulate digital democratic practices: the specific strategies for systematizing citizens´ demands in digital platforms as future outputs and possible implications of those demands in formal political processes. The research analyzed forty-one initiatives created and coordinated by non- government actors in Brazil for the period of three years. It also involved mapping thirty-seven initia- tives of the federal and state governments in the country, which are discussed in other articles (Freitas et al., 2015).
Networks of contemporary societies transcend traditional boundaries and static conceptual divisions such as the notion of civil society. In the network society, practices, norms and identities are fluid and sometimes fragmented. Networks are understood as a web of relationships established among actors that work – collaboratively or not – to transform or maintain contexts, processes and practices. Networks are not restricted to an institutional space, but conform a dynamic set of interactions that can encompass diverse institutions and disperse individuals and groups not necessarily associated to an institutional context. Those networks – depending on their power, range, and legitimacy – tend to become transna- tional and to transcend jurisdictional frontiers and national conventions (Castells, 1996; Eisenstadt & Vincent, 1998; Wellman & Berkowitz, 1988; Wellman, Salaff & Gulia, 1996).
The network actors that structure and sustain digital environments for cyberactivism are diverse and can be considered part of the civil society but not exclusively. This research confirmed the same idea pointed out in previous studies. As said, there is an increasing difficulty to fix rigid frontiers between the State, market and civil society (Maia, 2011, p. 51). Instead, Maia considers the existence of a “hybrid terrain of power sharing and acting” where various interests, intentions and identities are intertwined. To make this scenario even more complex there is the increasing presence of transnational advocacy networks identified as fundamental actors defining political norms and practices in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Those networks can be defined as “transborder networks of activists distinguishable largely by the centrality of principled ideas or values in motivating their formation” (Mueller, 2013, p. 39).
Such principles are not necessarily present in government agendas. Some of the networks have as one of their principles not to establish any type of bond, connection or alliance with government representa- tives or agencies. According to Mueller,
transnational advocacy networks are linked to the concept of ‘global civil society’, which views interna- tional politics as driven not entirely by the security needs and self-interest of sovereign states, but also by internationally accepted norms and conceptions of the public good promoted by ‘sovereignty-free’ actors (Mueller, 2013, p. 39).
The basic goal of transnational advocacy networks is granting to powerless social groups the capac- ity to vocalize their demands in formal political processes within national and international contexts.By playing a fundamental role in countless actions, transnational advocacy networks tend to contribute to effective results that increase citizens´ engagement and improve political mechanisms of participation. Theoretical references associated to the analysis of political processes enabling digital participatory democracy were fundamental to analyze the research results. Cyberactivism and their implications to the public sphere were analyzed according to principles of Science and Technology Studies (Freitas, 2016; Coleman, 2017; Coleman & Sampaio, 2016; Gomes, 2011; Silva, 2011). That theoretical framework centers its analysis in subjective mechanisms observed in collective and connective actions, often not institutionalized, related to representations that guide established practices which reveal social charac- teristics that would not be possible to grasp just through the analysis of formalized and institutionalized norms and practices (Hoffman, Katzenbach & Gollatz, 2014; Epstein, Katzenbach & Musiani, 2016). The concepts of habitus and symbolic capital were also essential to understand those specific mechanisms not perceived in institutional environments or formal political outcomes but in strategies and sometimes informal actions with significant political potential to promote changes (Bourdieu, 2011).
By allowing the convergence of different media formats, facilitating interactive and dialogic com- munication and offering spaces for freedom of expression and political opinions, the internet contrib- utes to increase possibilities for political and collective action. As a result, individuals, networks, and organizations are progressively adopting specific methods of cooperation and collaborative production of content resulting in the production of commons (Freitas & Aranha, 2017; Silveira, 2017).
Political movements mobilizing these specific resources are usually developed as networks with a polycentric structure. When digital platforms are used independently from a hierarchical coordination distinct economic and political logics are observed (Coleman, 2017, p. 19). Actors responsible for this environment tend to focus on organizing without organizations, not relying on traditional leaderships (Bennett & Segerberg, 2013). Such process suggests new meanings of being politically engaged and characteristics that can indicate specific tendencies guiding citizens´ engagement, political movements and democratic practices in Brazil.
Coleman highlights a fundamental tension related to the limits of connective action that is central for understanding the purpose of this article. On one hand, connective networks have significant penetration in social movements´ actions and attract the younger population because of their versatility, agility and independence from traditional organizations. They are able to coordinate decentralized, fluid, dispersed and polycentric networks of individuals and groups. On the other hand, their maintenance, sustainability and penetrability pose a challenge.
That challenge encompasses two different possibilities: it can provide the conditions to enable short term mobilizations or to generate a specific political scope for policy development in the long run. That aspect differentiates one cyber activist network from another. While most cyber activist networks provide spaces for complaints, few of them offer a long term project for citizens to engage in discussions that will lead to proposals for policies or law enforcement. That difference has been crucial for the analysis of the results here presented.
In democratic processes, inputs and outputs are usually results of political engagement. While inputs – as Coleman pointed out – are “the expression of political demands” in a broader sense, outputs “refer to the decisions and actions of political authorities: the policies that are implemented and the social ef- fects that are realized” (Coleman, 2017, p. 21). Most importantly, the democratic quality of outputs is best evaluated in terms of the extent to which they reflect public inputs. A political system that encourages public input into the policy process but ignores such input when it comes to producing outputs lacks democratic legitimacy (Coleman, 2017, p. 21).
To what extent do cyber activist networks in fact contribute to legitimate democracy in Brazil? This is the main inquiry of the research that has been carried out. As pointed out, one of the fundamental goals was to analyze the possibilities of different levels of interaction in the digital platforms. It was verified how those levels can restrict or enable the penetrability and range of citizens´ demands (inputs) in government instances responsible for decision-making processes and the formulation of government actions, projects or public policies (outputs).
A website created by a research group at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV/SP) was the first reference to map the networks responsible for the digital platforms (Cunha, Guise & Teixeira, 2015). Other networks – more or less directly related to the previous ones – were also identified. A third step of this mapping process was the verification of the existence and continuity of each platform. The result was forty-one active initiatives that constituted the research sample2.
Virtual ethnography was essential for collecting secondary data (Hine, 2000; Segata, 2015). The gathered data included institutional documents related to their networks´ creation and constitution. Information about formal and informal rules, coordination, structuring, and functioning of the digital platforms were also collected. Each platform was observed through a period of ninety days to identify their dynamics and actions. Daily reports of activities were produced to understand the process of or- ganizing citizens´ demands and the strategies used afterwards to maximize their political implications. Primary data were obtained by semi-structured interviews conducted with coordinators of the initia- tives that stood out as spaces for effective participation checked by their penetrability, range and innova- tive features. The explicit intention of the initiative to present a process of systematizing demands and its capacity of generating effective repercussions in formal political processes were the basic criteria pplied to select coordinators of seven specific digital platforms.
The results of the research are presented in a perspective that points out the importance of communi- cational practices and technologies as determinant means of structuring and exercising power nowadays. The various modes of communication and manifestation of political willingness – promoted by digital environments – entail different possibilities of citizens´ engagement through spaces in which the creation and systematization of demands (inputs) are possible. Those spaces, however, vary significantly. Some are closer to offering possibilities of effectively transforming those demands into political actions and proposals that will be considered by government instances and may become outputs. It means that the design of a digital environment may favor – in various degrees – the transformation of inputs into outputs and may significantly interfere in future political scenarios.
Two main analytical categories were adopted to analyze the process of gathering and organizing citizens´ demands (inputs) in digital platforms and also to understand their influence in the elaboration of government actions, public policies and other possible outputs.
STRATEGIES TO PRODUCE INPUTS AND POSSIBLE OUTPUTS IN DIGITAL PLATFORMS FOR CYBERACTIVISM
Indicators were developed to evaluate the strategies used by each network fostering its digital platform. The research conducted by Silva was particularly important for the methodological framework here suggested even though its focus was on government initiatives. The author explores three possibilities of government digital platforms´ configuration.
The first one would be publicity, when there is the explicit intention of government instances to make public or transparent their conceptions, actions and practices. The main characteristic of this require- ment is that it is a space for publicization with information generated from government organizations to citizens (G2C). The second possibility of configuration – responsivity – emphasizes a more deepened relationship between government representatives and citizens, conforming a dialogic communication.
The State becomes more responsive to citizens´ demands. The last one – porosity – implies the possibility of intense citizens´ participation in decision-making processes (Silva, 2011, p. 137). In this analytical category, the set of demands generated by citizens (inputs) tends to be heard and incorporated into formal political processes thus becoming outputs.
Based on that theoretical framework, digital platforms developed by citizens to citizens (C2C) were analyzed to identify different levels of interaction that vary according to the mobilization strategies adopted. Depending on the strategies adopted they can collaborate – in a more or less intense way – to an effective citizen` participation in formal political processes (Coleman, 2017).
In the scope of publicity – or publicization – we identified initiatives in which citizens can publish or publicize complaints, opinions and reports. Those platforms can offer information to citizens, sometimes encouraging their engagement in several topics. They are also a means of collecting data, impressions and general information about a certain theme without promoting interaction. There is usually no feedback nor interaction related to what is posted by individuals and groups. Communication is unidirectional and not related to an action plan or any other strategy to change the unwanted scenario. However, outputs can be an unpredictable result of the initiative´s existence.
In the responsivity level there are digital environments where citizens can communicate with public authorities and the published content can become concrete action plans. In those spaces citizens are usually encouraged to express their opinions and demands. Dialogic communication is observed but the possibilities for interaction are limited. There is no explicit intention of coproducing a possible output such as proposals for a draft bill or a public policy. Coordinators of the initiatives implement campaigns to solve specific problems. Projects and actions linked to mobilizations are developed from citizens´ demands (inputs) without necessarily having confirmed effects in political formal processes.
A few initiatives that promote political actions were identified in the responsivity level. Usually fo- cused on a specific topic or fact, they do not show the explicit intention of being a space for collaborative production of proposals to transform the political scenario in the long term. There is no deliberate action or strategy to stimulate citizens to being part of a broader policymaking process even though that could eventually happen. Nevertheless, there is an effort from coordinators to provide the ones that join the networks with information about the consequences of their cyber activist practices.
One example is the platform Votenaweb – a digital platform developed to monitor draft bills in prog- ress in the Brazilian Parliament. Citizens can vote for or against a bill. That creates a map of acceptance and rejection of each proposal that can be very relevant for a member of the Parliament. Draft bills are publicized and open for public scrutiny and control. Besides, citizens can also read all the proposals and send messages to the members of Parliament. In this digital environment it is possible to see clearly a feedback of citizens´ actions and demands.
The third possibility – designated as porosity – is related to the digital platforms´ configuration that enables the penetrability of citizens´ demands in policymaking processes. In those spaces citizens effec- tively join processes destined to elaborate collaboratively a draft bill, a specific political action, a political program or a public policy. The explicit intention of the initiative is to gather inputs and transform them into outputs in formal political processes. The networks that create those spaces offer a wide range of possibilities for engagement and empowerment. Citizens feel as part of a web that truly offers a means of consolidating participatory democratic practices. Citizens´ empowerment happens because there is the
transfer of influence, control, proposition and policy formulation that happens based on the desire of citizens; there are mobilizing actions that use technological tools, means of mass communication and also the development of offline actions such as awareness campaigns (Araújo, Penteado & Santos, 2015, p.1607).
Those platforms offer expanded possibilities for citizens to interfere in political decision-making processes. Their main characteristic is to foster a clearly defined space for collaborative production of proposals that can become outputs in formal political processes. It is also possible to find spaces to ex- press complaints and start a specific protest or claim. So in the digital platforms that promote effective penetrability of citizens´ demands there are also spaces for other political activities.
Cidade Democrática is an initiative that represents this type of digital platform. It offers the pos- sibility of exposing a problem, proposing solutions for it and debating them with others that join the network. The initiative organizes contests to give more visibility to the proposals considered to be more interesting and more related to the majority´s will. There are several different spaces to interact and propose actions and policies.
Results of the conducted research show that the majority aims at creating environments to allow citizens to post complaints, claims and reports. Thus the publicity type of configuration represents 61% of the initiatives studied. The ones that develop spaces where there is a clear interaction with citizens´ demands – stimulating responsivity and dialogic communication – represent 22% of the total3. Digital platforms aiming at developing porosity environments – where inputs are deliberately gathered to become part of policymaking processes – are 17% of the studied sample4.
REPERCUSSIONS OF DEMANDS IN FORMAL POLITICAL PROCESSES
The other central analytical category aimed at identifying the implications of citizens´ demands after they were systematized in the digital platforms. A research carried out by Araújo, Penteado and Santos (2015) has also been important for the elaboration of this methodological framework. The authors ana- lyzed digital platforms coordinated by several organizations in São Paulo. The main goal of the research was to understand how web activism influences the cycle of public policy development. In other words, the goal was to understand “how civil society is making use of internet resources to promote citizens´ participation and to transform the process of public policy development” (Araújo, Penteado & Santos, 2015, p. 1606).
In order to analyze the relation between policy development and cyber activism the authors developed a methodological tool called Index for Political Participation and Influence (IPPI). The index was built in five levels. The focal point of this work will be on the ones related to mobilization strategies and the implications of citizens´ actions for public policies (Araújo et al., 2015, p. 1607).
A different perspective concerning the concept of public policy development led this research to a distinct approach. According to our perspective, the traditional notion that establishes a cycle of public policy development is not an efficient analytical tool. Policymaking processes are not developed in a sequential and ordered way as it is often introduced by that traditional theoretical conception. Authors such as Surel and Muller (2012) state that the traditional approach can mask issues and phenomena that are not necessarily associated to each stage of the mentioned cycle (Surel & Muller, 2002). In this sense non-linear dynamics responsible for public policies´ constitution could be left out of the traditional analysis and that could restrict studies´ reach and depth (Lindblom, 1980).
That non-linear perspective suggests what was later developed by further science and technology studies: the premise that non-institutionalized, subjective and informal mechanisms also shape practices and norms of political and social reality. Those elements are deeply responsible for social dynamics, their characteristics and configurations (Epstein et al., 2016). Also the notion of outputs here adopted offers a broader analytical tool that allows the analysis of the whole set of implications of cyber political mobilizations. In this sense the notion of outputs can encompass several other political results such as draft bills and localized government actions.
The proposals analyzed were classified into two categories to understand the implications of citizens’ demands after being posted and systematized as specific proposals in digital platforms. The first category identified the proposals that were not considered as outputs. The second one identified the proposals incorporated into political processes as outputs or that offered data for future outputs. Figure 1 sum- marizes the methodological tools applied to analyze the studied networks and their digital platforms.
Figure 1. Analytical categories and indicators
The results reveal the capacity of each initiative to promote effective and legitimate participatory democratic practices. The implications of citizens´ demands were analyzed based on the monitoring of the proposals presented by the networks in order to verify the legitimacy of those democratic practices. Were inputs really being considered as outputs by government agencies or as part of formal political processes?
From the forty-one digital platforms analyzed nine of them presented some sort of output. Among those nine there were six initiatives configured according to the porosity type. It means that the platforms were already built with the explicit intention of producing outputs for formal political processes. It was observed that most of those environments – destined to formulate an action, a public policy or a draft bill – tend to generate outputs based on citizens´ demands5.
The digital platforms that were not created with that explicit intention can also produce outputs as an unpredictable effect. Two initiatives at the responsivity level6 and one at the publicity dimension7 produced outputs by establishing partnerships and offering their data to public administration. One ex- ample is the digital platform Chega de Fiu Fiu. Even though its initial goals were not directly related to the elaboration of outputs, Chega de Fiu Fiu ended up doing that. The initiative was created by the NGO Olga to collect testimonials and statements from women victims of sexual harassment. Interesting to note that the platform works with crowdsourcing strategies. All data are inserted by the users´ platform. The Public Ministry of São Paulo established a partnership with the NGO Olga responsible for its creation. The idea was to systematize data collected through the digital platform and produce awareness campaigns for the population involved with sexual harassment against women. So the initiative now generates clear repercussions in formal political processes without that being established in its beginning. One network responsible for the production of several outputs was Nossas. It is a non-profit associa- tion characterized as a laboratory for activism and mobilization projects. The association coordinates a network of networks composed by different groups of citizens in each town of the country that has already joined the movement called “our cities” or Rede Nossas Cidades.
Each town is represented by its specific network that develops a digital platform. In the digital en- vironment they publicize – among other topics – the goals achieved by several organized actions that interfered in political processes and changed that particular locality. Twenty-three achievements – or outputs – of the initiatives were identified. An example was the attempt of the government of Rio de Janeiro to destroy a public school in order to build a parking lot. With the support of thousands of citi- zens, the organized movement prevented the action to be carried out.
From all the studied initiatives only 9 of them – or 22% of the total – submitted proposals that were incorporated into formal political processes. The results obtained are still few when the quantity and complexity of all the existing initiatives are considered. Even so some interference in political processes inspiring actions and projects of government agencies was observed.
NETWORKS FOR DIGITAL POLITICAL PARTICIPATION: IMPLICATIONS AND UNPREDICTABLE EFFECTS
It is interesting to point out that demands represented by broad questions and topics – such as transpar- ency, social control over public expenditure or electoral processes – tend to change political practices and culture in the long term but not in a clear and verifiable way. The majority of initiatives with this characteristic aims only at publicizing complaints and reporting situations that violate basic democratic and human rights. Nevertheless, their results can be used by government organizations since they pro- duce unpredictable effects or externalities. That tends to happen with initiatives not created with the explicit intention of interfering in political processes – the ones at the responsivity and publicity levels. An example is the initiative mentioned before – Chega de Fiu Fiu and the other two that produced out- puts – Mapa do Acolhimento e A Voz do Cidadão.
Therefore, the initiatives that were not created with the intention of producing outputs may contribute to the elaboration of new government actions or public policies in the long term. They can also gener- ate unpredictable effects and collaborate to the emergence of alternative political practices and specific symbolic capital. In some cases, the digital platforms themselves can be considered as a political outcome or a political intervention.
Conceptions and practices of citizens involved with the creation and continuity of the analyzed networks point out the tendency of expanding possible ways of political actions and mobilizations. The diversity of possibilities are developed in a context characterized by the fragmentation of decision- making processes; the loss of centrality of traditional political institutions; and the reconfiguration and restructuring of democratic control practices.
Other common features conform the networks built from citizens to citizens. One of them is the strategy observed of creating specific digital tools to organize their political acts. The use of those tools provides means of mobilizing citizens in more direct ways. Nossas, for instance, uses two digital tools that effectively collaborate to enable the penetrability of citizens´ demands. The first one is called Panela de Pressão. It provides citizens with the possibility of “creating their own campaigns and mobilizing supporters of their causes to directly apply political pressure to decision makers (through emails and messages in social networks)8”. Another platform developed by the network is called Legislando. The tool allows citizens to post proposals of draft bills and to suggest changes in other proposals posted by citizens. In the platform it is also possible for a member of Parliament to adopt a proposed bill and try to transform it into law. After some negotiations, Nossas decided to adopt another platform and abandon Legislando. They started using the app Mudamos which has the same goals of the former initiative.
Mudamos was launched in 2014 by researchers of the Institute of Technology and Society (ITS) in Rio de Janeiro. The initiative also received the Google Impact Challenge Award in 2016 and is financially supported exclusively by those resources. An interesting trend observed is the clustering of successful networks. That tends to strengthen even more their initiatives and the political movement usually related to a specific cause. The gathering helps to create favorable conditions for the sustainability and continu- ity of these networks – a major challenge for all of them.
The networks studied tend to be totally independent from government organizations. They sustain their actions only by crowdfunding supported by citizens and non-government organizations. Joining political parties or traditional organizations is not a goal for the networks´ cyber activists. This charac- teristic suggests a particular conception of doing politics implemented through specific ways of acting on movements and campaigns in Brazil nowadays.
Also observed as a characteristic of the studied networks was the activists´ perception related to their capacity to change. According to that perspective, political change is not seen as something to be planned and implemented in the future by abstract entities such as government agencies but it must happen through citizens´ activism and political engagement.
The constant negotiation with all citizens involved in political proposals is an example of that perspective. Citizens are always invited to join the whole process of political mobilization – from the initial proposal to the final decision with representatives. There is a clear process of constant negotiation established to define strategies and plans of action. One of the coordinators who were interviewed explained a recent negotiation that took place in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The founder of Minha Porto Alegre explained how that dynamics usually works:
citizens are the main political player; we act in partnership with other groups and associations. We are constantly consulting them. For example, we are trying to build an office in order that all the NGOs / Aids can work in a common place. So we define strategies with the involved actors; we join the com- mission of health that takes care of this issue and also the mortality committee; we had a hearing with the Secretary of Health. We made a proposal, he made a counter proposal and now we will take that to the community (groups and associations) to decide whether they accept it or not. Because it´s their protagonism. The decisions have to be their decisions. The idea is to make people feel that they are the major players that conduct the city´s paths (C. Soares, personal communication, July 24, 2017).
Some activists do volunteer work. When asked about why one of the coordinators was working voluntarily for the network, she told us that she herself couldn´t understand or explain. In her statement there is a clear sense of civic duty conducing her practices:
you know… for me it is a natural thing… so natural that I cannot do differently any more… I cannot not do what I do… after realizing that I could do something to change my city… I can – we can – promote micro-revolutions, you know… I can do small things that cause impacts on a place… (A. Helena, per- sonal communication, July 26, 2017).
Besides the sense of civic duty there is also the acquisition of power and recognition by the individual involved in those political arrangements. Even though the sense of civic duty can be observed, the sym- bolic capital acquired with the conducted activities also guides and motivates the activists´ practices.
Another characteristic pointed out by the research results was the activists´ perception of misrepre- sentation associated to the players of the formal political system. That tends to produce a certain detach- ment of political activists´ practices from the formal political processes. On the one hand, this scenario can reveal innovative practices that enable the production of democratic actions and conceptions that appear as completely different and revolutionary. On the other hand, it can limit the reach of inputs from citizens thus hindering the possibilities of promoting effective change by turning those inputs into projects, programs and actions (outputs) in the formal political scenario. Reinforcing the idea presented earlier, the willingness of political activists to negotiate with this formal system is fundamental for the effectiveness and repercussions of their actions and proposals (Castells, 2013).
Networks for cyberactivism tend to be non-partisan – maybe as a result of the crisis of representa- tiveness experienced not only in Brazil but in all Latin America. Therefore, the networks cannot receive financial or political support from government organizations, public companies or political parties. Their main support comes from crowdfunding strategies – citizens´ and other non-governmental organizations´ donations. This principle is seen as fundamental to guarantee the legitimacy of their way of exercising social and political control.
As an implication of this crisis most networks stablish a clear differentiation between the concept of “power” – associated to political and government representatives – and the concept of “strength” – that results from social and political movements organized by citizens. Power, according to what the network disseminates, is centralizing, concentrated and privatizing. That is why, according to their conception, it only exists if badly distributed. Power is represented by institutions, political parties, labor unions, members of Parliament, presidents and the militaries. Power is seen as built by “structures that exist to dominate individuals, limiting their potential to create, recreate and transform (M. Isabel, personal communication, July 25, 2017).
The term “strength”, on the other hand, suggests fluidity, distribution and decentralization. Strength is represented by mobilized and engaged citizens that create and share commons, that make institutions internalize continuous changes faced by society; strength only survives in this shared place, acting for collective solutions to social and political problems (M. Isabel, personal communication, July 25, 2017). Cyberactivism plays a major role in forming that singular conception of political action nowadays.
It is important to highlight that the protests and mobilizations that tend to really influence and change political processes – by contributing to the enforcement of democratic practices and enabling outputs
– are organized offline as well. Such conclusion was also reached in the research conducted by Araújo, Penteado and Santos – in 2013 – based on the analysis of the initiatives for cyberactivism developed by civil society in the city of São Paulo (Araújo et al., 2015).
Digital environments for political activism tend to be under-explored by networks. This is notorious in spaces created by some very active networks. They may have great influence in political processes but they do not encourage that such influence be materialized in actions, programs, projects, laws or public policies for the coproduction of outputs in their digital environments.
Some challenges tend to threaten the continuity and sustainability of the networks and their initiatives. Some of them are related to unequal distribution of gender-based power; prejudice against the activists’ age (usually between 20 and 25); lack of a regular financial support, which hinders planning in the long term and threatens the stability of goals´ and the implementations of actions. The occasional absence of financial remuneration for activists and coordinators of the networks also tends to create instability and high turnover of coordinators and other similar participants who play important roles in the networks.
The last characteristic observed is the tendency to use crowdsourcing strategies to develop and main- tain the digital platforms. The dynamic interaction between actors brings citizens´ participation as one of the main characteristics of the social and political arrangements observed nowadays. Collaborative production of political actions is increasingly perceived as a means of generating public value and guar- anteeing legitimacy to democratic processes. The possibility of directly engaging in the coproduction of a specific product or proposal can alter political processes and consolidate a tendency of implement- ing crowdsourcing practices in government and non-government networks. Practices are not limited to cooperative production to raise material resources – observed in crowdfunding practices – but also to acquire immaterial resources such as knowledge and information to develop proposals, content or artifacts (Freitas & Aranha, 2017).
Crowdsourcing – or the process of coproduction of ideas, content and artifacts – is significantly used nowadays as a means of organizing movements, political actions, and proposals. Internet is the main channel to enable that practice. It implies strategies of gathering information or other material or im- material resources that come from an undefined number of individuals who aim at achieving specific goals or implementing a certain project. There is usually an open call for everyone interested in joining the network – online or not. Crowdsourcing is a mechanism to gather resources that allows coordinated actions among individuals, organizations and networks. By being able to generate public value in the most diverse ways, crowdsourcing is becoming a very common practice in the public sphere.
Public administration has been using such strategy frequently to formulate public policies, laws and other political outputs. It has been regarded as an efficient means of improving public management. The Finnish parliament, for instance, issued a document in 2012 to determine the best practices of crowdsourc- ing in the world and to carry out a strategic plan for action. Some examples of public administration´s use of that strategy are the implementation of the participatory budget in Canada and the constitutional reform in Iceland (Aitamurto, 2012; Cepik & Canabarro, 2014; Pinho, 2008).
Eighteen (44%) of the forty-one digital platforms adopt crowdsourcing as a strategy to build their database. As seen, there are several goals that guide those initiatives. They can be designed to report violence against women or bad conditions of public transport; to monitor parliamentary activities, elec- toral processes or public expenditures.
Although government agencies may eventually use the collected information to formulate and imple- ment policies or actions, public administration lacks long term well-structured strategies to use them. The digital platforms provide politicians and public administrators with accurate and updated informa- tion directly related to citizens’ demands. If well applied by public administration those database may contribute to increase efficiency of administration management and policymaking processes. Besides they may bring government actions closer to citizens’ demands thus enhancing and amplifying legitimate democratic processes in Brazil.
The implications of cyberactivism can be understood as expressions of a historical period in which par- ticipatory democratic practices were highly stimulated in Brazil. Possibilities of improving the design of those practices were also observed. Even though only a few initiatives aim at enabling an effective citizens´ engagement, the existence of a significant number of sustainable networks reveals the trend to consolidate and expand the arena for political action and democratic deliberation.
It was observed that even the initiatives that are not explicitly designed to produce outputs are fundamental to strengthen citizenship by allowing political participation and awareness. In this sense, transformation means not only influencing formal political processes but also changing – in a broader sense – social and political mechanisms. Those digital platforms – not created to interfere directly in formal political processes – can eventually produce unpredictable effects especially because of the data produced which can be used to elaborate several outputs. Increasing the use of those outputs can also increase the legitimacy of democratic processes in Brazil.
Future research is necessary to deepen the analyses related to the outputs produced by each network studied. A typology will be developed to identify and explore possible outputs. That could support govern- ment agencies on the development of strategies for data gathering which could in turn collaborate for the elaboration of public policies and other more efficient outputs better coordinated with citizens´ demands.
The possibilities for participatory democratic practices studied can promote an increase in the diversity of actors engaged in public discussions. They can foster the development of a wide range of possibilities for minorities´ expectations to be considered and represented in the formal political system. Networks for cyberactivism – created from citizens to citizens – tend to consolidate and reinforce a democratic society. However, that goal is not always accomplished. As it was discussed here, those initiatives are instruments that can either legitimate democratic practices or not.
The expansion of those cyber activist networks – as well as the consolidation of other mechanisms of political participation – were the result of decades of democracy in the country. The continuity of the process encouraging those mechanisms will depend on the future political scenario which will guide the strategies to be adopted. The networks for cyberactivism tend to consolidate and strengthen democratic inclusive practices and encourage citizens towards a more effective participation in policymaking pro- cesses. The larger the penetration of social demands in the formal political spectrum the greater are the chances of securing that those initiatives effectively become legitimate instruments fostering democratic practices in Brazil.
This research was supported by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico
– CNPq, Brazil (grant number 456.347-2014-3).
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1 By formal political processes we understand the set of mechanisms responsible for the processes of formulating, implementing and evaluating politics in a broader sense. In this set there would be representatives of the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary Branches: legislators, executors, administrative staff and judges (Viana, 1996, p. 15).
2 The forty-one initiatives studied are: Adote um Distrital; Adote um vereador (SP); Atlas Político; A voz do Cidadão; Cansei de Ser Sardinha; Chega de Aperto; Chega de Fiu Fiu; Cidade Democrática; Colab.re; CTRL+X; Cuidando do meu Bairro; De Olho nas Emendas; De onde vem a água?; Escola de Dados; Escola que Queremos; Eu Voto Distrital; Ficha Limpa; Gastos Abertos; Lixo Político; Mapa do Acolhimento; Meu Município; Mobilize Brasil; Mudamos; Nossas Cidades; Onde fui Roubado; Orçamento ao seu Alcance; Para onde foi o meu dinheiro?; Política.me; Politize; Radar Parlamentar; Ranking Políticos; Rede Nossa São Paulo; Retrato da Violência Contra a Mulher no Rio Grande do Sul; Serenata de Amor; Sitransp-DF; Truco; Vamos Mudar; Você Fiscal; Vote na Web; Voto Legal; Voto x Veto.
3 Digital platforms considered at the responsivity level were A Voz do Cidadão; Adote um Vereador SP; Cuidando do meu Bairro; #EuVotoDistrital; Escola de Dados; Mapa do Acolhimento; Mobilize Brasil; Politica.me; Vote na Web.
4 Digital platforms considered at the porosity level were Colab.re; Cidade Democrática; Gastos Abertos; Rede Nossas; Mudamos; Rede Nossa São Paulo; Vamos Mudar.
5 The six platforms were Colab.re; Cidade Democrática; Gastos Abertos; Mudamos; Nossas; Rede Nossa SP.
6 The digital platforms were A voz do Cidadão e o Mapa do Acolhimento.
7 The one mentioned here is Chega de Fiu Fiu.
8 Information available at:
https://www.facebook.com/meurio/photos/a.459201504112427.108939.241897672509479/632769456755630/?type=3. Accessed on September 25, 2017.
This research was previously published in Optimizing E-Participation Initiatives Through Social Media edited by Laura Alcaide-Muñoz and Francisco José Alcaraz-Quiles, pages 155-175, copyright year 2018 by Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global).