Grand Challenges Towards Reengineering or Even Reinventing Democracy

1.2.1 Challenge #1: Identify and Engage the Right Stakeholders

The first challenge demands that everybody who is a stakeholder in a situation must have the right to participate in any dialogue, deliberation, or decision on matters that are of concern to him or her. Indeed, the science of structured dialogic design predicts “the capacity of a community of stakeholders to implement a plan of action effectively depends strongly on the true engagement of all whose lives might be affected” (Flanagan and Christakis 2009; Laouris et al. 2008). Disregarding their participation is not only unethical, but also any plans made are bound to fail (Laouris et al. 2008). We therefore need to develop systems that guarantee the authentic involvement of those whose lives might be influenced by any decisions taken. In the era of globalization and hyper-connectivity, these are not trivial problems. Should Europeans (or any others) have a say in what happens in Africa? Are the citizens of one European member state stakeholders in decisions regarding the management of the economy of another member state? Current political, economic and environmental deadlocks have challenged previously widely accepted notions of who the stakeholders in a particular situation are. Even if we admit that stakeholders might extend outside previously well-defined defined geographical boundaries, how do we design systems in which their voting power is somehow weighted in ways that are fair and just for everybody? Furthermore, what if decisions affect the “lives” of entities without a voice (living or non-living)? How do we secure their “participation” in a dialogue (May 2011; Wasilewski 2007) that “concerns” them?

1.2.2 Challenge #2: Voting Leads to Fair and Wise Results

Decision making based on majority voting has been the prevailing and unquestionable model of democracy for centuries. We know that the majority's opinion is neither always just for everybody nor always right. Many societies, including the European Union, as well as the company law, have developed policies and mechanisms to protect the rights of minorities. However, now that today's technology theoretically allows everybody to vote any time on any issue, we face a new threat: that of creating chaos. Interestingly, according to Özbekhan, Jantsch, and Christakis, who conceptualized the original prospectus of the Club of Rome titled “The Predicament of Mankind”(Christakis 2006), the premature selection of corrective actions to problems (i.e., premature voting) based on popular vote leads to an extrapolated future, which differs significantly from an ideal vision. This is because we fail to capture and to address the inter-relations, inter-connections and interactions between individual aspects (sub-problems) of the problematic situation, which we are trying to improve. Popular voting on complex issues often results in erroneous priorities (“EPE: The Erroneous Priorities Effect: (Dye and Conaway 1999)). However, with no better model at hand, questioning the validity of popular voting opens Pandora's box. Nevertheless, the hyper-connectivity era encourages us to reconsider concepts like those of fairness and equality and to reengineer the concept of democracy.

Democracy has its roots in ancient Athens. Contrary to general belief, that model was not entirely based on popular voting. Athenians of the Golden Age were engaged collectively in searching and carefully examining meanings and alternatives together through a process they called “deliberation.” They aimed to fully understand the underlying problems, clarify the debatable situation and achieve consensus. They justified the correctness of their decision because they trusted their collective wisdom. The collectively agreed course of action was backed up by all and it was considered unthinkable or even unethical to go against it, not because it was a decision eventually ordered by their king, but a decision taken democratically and shared by the great majority of those considered stakeholders. This model was workable because the number of citizens participating was relatively small.

More than two millenniums later, we need to reinvent democracy in ways that millions can participate effectively. To achieve this we must guarantee that the individual has access to all relevant information, alternatives, and arguments necessary for him to her to vote responsibly. Courses of action should be chosen based on their capacity to facilitate change towards a collectively defined and agreed desired ideal future state. In sum, votes should not only be weighted in some way, to engage all relevant stakeholders fairly; moreover the process that precedes voting should capitalize on what we call collective wisdom.

Scientists now associated with the Institute of twenty-first century Agoras have been developing methodologies (“Interactive Management”; (Alexander 2003; Warfield and Cárdenas 1994)), Interpretive Structural Modeling algorithms (Warfield 1982) and software (Christakis 2000; Warfield 1994) for almost 30 years. The use of special software is critical in freeing participants from focusing on logistics, serving real-time documentation and more importantly taking decisions regarding the optimal choice of questions to deal with in order to minimize the time of engagement to produce meaningful results (Christakis and Dye 2008). The Digital Futures Task Force of the European Commission has also recently launched one of the most ambitious ever, online engines, inviting large-scale public consultation called FUTURIUM (Digital Futures Task Force 2012) (see policies below).

1.2.3 Challenge #3: Protecting Anonymity and Authenticity of Opinions

It is common experience that workshop or dialogue reporters are not only unable to record everything that is being said, but even worse, they more often than not distort the meaning and/or the intention of the proposer, therefore contributing to the feeling that one's ideas are not appreciated (Laouris 2012). Technology allows high fidelity and high-resolution conservation of the exact words, sounds, videos, but also of the semantic meanings of what is said. Once digitalized, ideas can be processed in many ways. Innovations in the digitalization of ideas will probably lead to a new revolution in our struggle to exploit our collective intelligence. In a very similar way, even though voting is presumed to be confidential and a matter of individual choice, especially in small communities, political parties can estimate who voted what by re-constructing simple puzzles comprised of peoples' networks, public statements and personal interests. In the era of digital hyper-connectivity and with digital privacy disappearing, there will be greater need to protect one's thoughts, opinions, judgments and eventually choices and decisions.

1.2.4 Challenge #4: Achieve True and Not Elusive Equality

Three words, liberté, égalité, fraternité (French for liberty, equality, fraternitybrotherhood), captured the essence of the French Revolution. Those who sacrificed their lives dreaming for a better world have not done so in the name of an abstract

meaning of democracy, but for a concrete vision of real freedom, authentic equality and true brotherhood between all people. More than two centuries have passed and one would be barely justified to claim freedom, equality and brotherhood among twenty-first century citizens. The millennium hype that the emergence of information technologies would serve to close economic, educational, democratic, digital, and social gaps on our planet was not confirmed (Laouris and Laouri 2008). Alvin Toffler's (Toffler and Toffler 1995) transition to the Information Age, defined as the point when “progress depends more on the mind than on the muscle,” happened long time ago, but people still work either a lot more than 8 h a day or they remain hopelessly unemployed. Likewise, Marx's dream for a stateless, classless society he called communism, where everyone can have what he or she needs, disappeared with the Berlin Wall.

Our digital futures challenge not only concepts such as human/technology relationships, presence, friendship, responsibility, agency, liability and capability, but also basic concepts of our existence such as freedom, equality, mortality (see next section) and even purpose. What does it mean to be free, or to be equal in the digital era? Achieving true freedom and equality are enormous challenges that unless addressed within the context of the 2020 horizon, our world will have no future. Designing technologies and implementing policies to safeguard the true individual human rights and freedoms constitute probably the greatest challenges for our future societies.

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