The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights hosts monthly webinars on topics from the field of Digital Rights to disseminate city members’ ongoing work and create a space of discussion and collaboration where cities and organizations can learn from each other.
On October 28th 2021, Democratic Society hosted a webinar on the Citizen Voices for Digital Rights (CVDR) project report, where they explained its main takeaways and engaged attendees from the cities of London, Stockholm, Austin, Leeds, Montreal, LA, Amsterdam, San Antonio, Toronto, Rotterdam and Barcelona in an interactive session. Participants were able to share the challenges and innovative approaches of their cities in the field of public participation regarding digitalisation.
Paola Pierri, Head of Design and Research, Marian Cramers, Director of Development, and Paul Goguel Masson, Head of Communications, presented this 12-months project that involved the cities of Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Milan and Tirana. The project aimed at finding innovative and participatory governance solutions to advance digital rights while leaving no-one behind, and highlighted the importance of citizen participation in digitalisation processes as a potential way to reform democracy, advance digital rights and protect digital public space.
Public participation and engagement are at the centre of digitalisation processes to ensure strategies are developed in ways that advance digital rights. Nonetheless to achieve that municipalities are fundamental actors when it comes to provide the necessary digital literacy, access and empowerment. Although digitalisation is not fully within municipal governments’ competence, citizens possess 'lived experience' to better understand the implications of digitisation in cities, the concerns and priorities of residents, and insights on how cities could advance digital rights. Whether as experts of their own experience, educators or advocates for themselves and their own communities, or innovators who can use technology in more ethical and participatory ways, citizens are key to the democratisation of decision-making in this new urban infrastructure. Therefore, municipalities must not only raise awareness of what digital rights are, but build better capacity, more confidence and skills within the municipality administration, more visibility, more privacy.
From this research, Democratic Society drew some insights on the lessons learnt that might be interesting for other cities that aim to engage citizens and public participation within the advancement of digital processes. During the webinar, Paola Pierri highlighted the following concrete proposals:
- Replicate the Citizens Voice in Digital Rights´ model in other cities. Due to the pandemic, the findings could not be shared to other cities as much as desired, but they offer an example of the different opportunities for cities to act.
- Extend the scope of this research and reach out to under-represented groups to address new issues such as digital poverty and digital inequalities.
- Providing Support to local governments. Citizens believe that local institutions, such as local councils, have the capacity to raise awareness. But to do so, they need their support to be substantially increased.
- Providing Critical Digital Education. To further opportunities for Digital skills, which has emerged as key civic skills that are necessary to be able to access public services in the civic space, as well as community-led digital education, where participants also talked about younger people or students tutoring those with lower digital skills.
Municipalities are fundamental actors when it comes to provide the necessary digital literacy, access, and empowerment in this rapid-changing process. Although, as discussed, the proposals have a long way to go to be implemented, it is thanks to the cooperation of these projects and seminars that spaces are created to improve the active participation of citizens in data collection, data governance and knowledge creation. It´s by the used of digital tools that we see how, if used effectively and if peoples’ voices were involved in the whole digitalisation cycle, this would potentially help to achieve positive impact on other areas as well.
Read more on the CVDR Report: