I participated in a useful workshop on issues of e-democracy, which my colleagues and I helped organize under the title ‘Democracy in a Network Society‘. It was held at the Castle (Schloss) Dagstuhl’s Leibniz Centre for Information Science. This and other Dagstuhl workshops are held over a period of one week in a relatively isolated location, with a manageable number of colleagues — enabling the group to develop a collaborative set of perspectives during the course of the meeting. This group pulled together computer scientists and engineers, primarily within the areas of securing and cryptography, and political scientists, primarily interested in e-democracy issues, such as e-voting or consultations, along with my own interests in the Fifth Estate.
The conference was organized by David Chaum at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium; Miroslaw Kutylowski, at Wroclaw University of Technology, Poland; Tracy Westen, at the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, and myself, at the OII. We had a core of participants that stayed through the entire week, plus about an equal number who could only stay for 2-3 days during the week. They created a continuity but also provided a way to change the chemistry of the group in interesting ways through the week. The most interesting aspect of the conference, from my perspective, was the co-creation of our notes, which I will post on this blog when they are completed. Essentially, from the first day of the meetings, we developed a Googledoc that was edited jointly by all of the participants. In the last days of the meeting, there were sessions, such as late into the night on Thursday, when we sat around the table co-producing our findings, managing contributions in real time. At the conclusion of the meeting, we sent a note to all the participants, giving each one week to review and comment on the final draft. We then plan to have one final editorial pass through the jointly authored manuscript before posting for broader public access. We’ve entitled the document ‘Machiavelli Confronts 21st Century Technology: Notes from the Daghstuhl Workshop on Democracy in a Network Society’.
The central theme was the degree to which discussion about the design of systems to support democracy, such as electronic voting, are caught up in a highly charged political context. While I might argue that all information and communication technologies can reconfigure the relative communicative power of different actors, this is most apparent and immediate in the case of applications designed to support democratic institutions and processes. All of the participants would value comments on our notes from the discussion.