Distributed, privacy-enhancing technologies in the 2017 Catalan referendum on independence: New tactics and models of participatory democracy

My paper on how civic groups leveraged distributed technologies in the 2017 Catalan referendum on independence is now available at First Monday.



This paper examines new civic engagement practices unfolding during the 2017 referendum on independence in Catalonia. These practices constitute one of the first signs of some emerging trends in the use of the Internet for civic and political action: the adoption of horizontal, distributed, and privacy-enhancing technologies that rely on P2P networks and advanced cryptographic tools.

01.10.2017_Referendum_1-OCT_(5) (1)

2017 Catalan referendum on independence, by HazteOir

In this regard, the case of the 2017 Catalan referendum, framed within conflicting political dynamics, can be considered a first-of-its-kind in participatory democracy. The case also offers an opportunity to reflect on an interesting paradox that twenty-first-century activism will face: the more it will rely on private-friendly, secured, and encrypted networks, the more open, inclusive, ethical, and transparent it will need to be.

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Assigning Creative Commons Licenses to Research Metadata: Issues and Cases

Check out our new book chapter discussing licensing options for research metadata:


Pre-print available here: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1609.05700.pdf


This paper discusses the problem of lack of clear licensing and transparency of usage terms and conditions for research metadata.
2000px-Cc-by_new.svg_ Making research data connected, discoverable and reusable are the key enablers of the new data revolution in research. We discuss how the lack of transparency hinders discovery of research data and make it disconnected from the publication and other trusted research outcomes. In addition, we discuss the application of Creative Commons licenses for research metadata, and provide some examples of the applicability of this approach to internationally known data infrastructures.

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A Research Graph dataset for connecting research data repositories using RD-Switchboard

Check out our paper at Scientific Data on Research Graph, an open-access graph connecting and visualising research data for discovery.



This paper describes the open access graph dataset that shows the connections between Dryad, CERN, ANDS and other international data repositories to publications and grants across multiple research data infrastructures. sdata201899-f1 The graph dataset was created using the Research Graph data model and the Research Data Switchboard (RD-Switchboard), a collaborative project by the Research Data Alliance DDRI Working Group (DDRI WG) with the aim to discover and connect the related research datasets based on publication co-authorship or jointly funded grants. The graph dataset allows researchers to trace and follow the paths to understanding a body of work. By mapping the links between research datasets and related resources, the graph dataset improves both their discovery and visibility, while avoiding duplicate efforts in data creation. Ultimately, the linked datasets may spur novel ideas, facilitate reproducibility and re-use in new applications, stimulate combinatorial creativity, and foster collaborations across institutions.

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Inside Catalonia’s Cypherpunk Referendum

The referendum for independence in Catalonia on 1 October opens up an uncertain era for both Catalonia and Spain — a new period that may also impact the future of the European Union.

Read the full piece here: https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=54133

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Democracy Models and Civic Technologies: Tensions, Trilemmas, and Trade-offs

Check out my pre-print with Enric Plaza at https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.09015


This paper aims at connecting democratic theory with civic technologies in order to highlight the links between some theoretical tensions and trilemmas and design trade-offs. First, it reviews some tensions and trilemmas raised by political philosophers and democratic theorists. Second, it considers both the role and the limitations of civic technologies in mitigating these tensions and trilemmas. Third, it proposes to adopt a meso-level approach, in between the macro-level of democratic theories and the micro-level of tools, to situate the interplay between people, digital technologies, and data.


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Microtasking: Redefining crowdsourcing practices in emergency management

Check out my paper with Mari Fitzpatrick on crowdsourcing practices in emergency management at https://search.informit.com.au/fullText;dn=815917622185255;res=IELHSS


This paper examines the roles, types and forms of virtual microtasking for emergency information management in order to better understand collective intelligence mechanisms and the potential for logistics response. Using three case studies this paper reviews the emerging body of knowledge in microtasking practices in emergency management to demonstrate how crowd-sourced information is captured and processed during emergency events to provide critical intelligence throughout the emergency cycle. It also considers the impact of virtual information collection, collation and management on traditional humanitarian operations and relief efforts.

Based on the case studies the emergent forms of microtasking for emergency information management were identified. Opportunities for continuities, adaptations and innovations are explained. The contribution of virtual microtasking extends to all supply chain strategic domains to help maximise resource use and optimise service delivery response.

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What are the benefits of sharing grant data openly?

Australasian Open Access Strategy Group

Marta Poblet and Amir Aryani talk about the importance of open sharing of grant data – a topic not often brought into the OA debate

Contacts on twitter: @mpoblet @amir_at_ands

Every year, the Australian Commonwealth and the State governments spend billions of dollars in grants to individuals, small business, communities, not-for-profits, universities, corporations, etc. Philanthropy organisations, nearly 5,000 in Australia, are giving approximately an extra billion dollars in grants.

Yet, to date the total, combined value of grants from the Commonwealth, the States, and the philanthropy sector can only be estimated. In 2014, the Australian National Audit Office noted that “the precise number and value of grants made by the Commonwealth Government in any one year is difficult to establish as details are contained in individual entity documents”. It also warned that  “the Commonwealth may be providing very significant subsidies for particular services or outcomes without a good understanding of the…

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Give me location data, and I will move the world

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Behind the success of the new wave of location based mobile apps taking hold around the world is digital mapping. Location data is core to popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, but also to companies such as Amazon or Domino’s Pizza, which are testing drones for faster deliveries.

Last year, German delivery firm DHL launched its first “parcelcopter” to send medication to the island of Juist in the Northern Sea. In the humanitarian domain, drones are also being tested for disaster relief operations.

Better maps can help app-led companies gain a competitive edge, but it’s hard to produce them at a global scale. A few select players have engaged in a fierce mapping competition. Google leads the race so far, but others are trying to catch up fast. Apple has enlarged its mapping team and renewed its licensing agreement with TomTom. TomTom has plans to 3D map European and North American freeways by next year.

DHL’s prototype ‘parcelcopter’ is a modified microdrone that costs US$54,900 and can carry packages up to 1.2kg. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

In Europe, German carmakers Audi, BMW and Mercedes agreed to buy Here, Nokia’s mapping business. The company had been coveted by Uber, which has gained mapping skills by acquiring deCarta and part of Microsoft Bing.

Further signs of the fever for maps are startups such as Mapbox, Mapsense, CartoDB, Mapillary, or Mapzen. The new mapping services are cloud-based, mobile-friendly and, in most cases, community-driven.

A flagship base map for the past ten years has been OpenStreetMap (OSM), also known as the “Wikipedia of mapping”. With more than two million registered users, OpenStreetMap aims to create a free map of the world. OSM volunteers have been particularly active in mapping disaster-affected areas such as Haiti, the Philippines or Nepal. A recent study reports how humanitarian response has been a driver of OSM’s evolution, “in part because open data and participatory ideals align with humanitarian work, but also because disasters are catalysts for organizational innovation”.

A map for the commons?

While global coverage remains uneven, companies such as Foursquare, Flickr, or Apple, among others, rely on OSM free data. The commercial uses of OSM primary data, though, do not come without ongoing debate among the community about license-related issues.

The steering wheel is seen resting in the middle of the dashboard inside a Rinspeed Budii self-driving electric city car in Geneva. Ard Wiegmann/Reuters

Intense competition for digital maps also flags the start of the self-driving car race. Google is already testing its prototypes outside Silicon Valley and Apple has been rumoured to work on a secret car project code named Titan.

Uber has partnered with Carnegie Mellon and Arizona Universities to work on vehicle safety and cheaper laser mapping systems. Tesla is also planning to make its electric cars self-driving.

The ultimate goal

Are we humans ready for this brave new world? Research suggests young people in North America, Australia and much of Europe are increasingly becoming less likely to hold a driver’s license (or, if they do, to drive less).

But even if a new generation of consumers were ready to jump in, challenges remain huge. Navigation systems will need to flawlessly process, in real time, position data streams of buildings, road signs, traffic lights, lane markings, or potholes. And all this seamlessly combined with ongoing sensing of traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, road works, or weather conditions. Smart mapping at its best.


Legal and ethical challenges are not to be underestimated either. Most countries impose strict limits on testing self-driving cars on public roads. Similar limitations apply to the use of civilian drones. And the ethics of fully autonomous cars is still in its infancy. Autonomous cars probably won’t be caught texting, but they will still be confronted with tough decisions when trying to avoid potential accidents. Current research engages engineers and philosophers to work on how to assist cars when making split-second decisions that can raise ethical dilemmas.

But the future of digital maps is not just on the go. Location-based service revenues are forecast to grow to €34.8 billion in 2020. The position data deluge of the upcoming geomobile revolution gives maps a new frontier: big data analytics. As Mapsense CEO Erez Cohen notes:

“the industry is much larger than the traditional GIS industry. It’s actually growing at a massive rate, and there are a massive number of new companies that need the services of mapping analytics because they’re generating all this location data.”

Digital mapping technology promises to unveil our routines, preferences, and consumer behaviour in an unprecedented scale. Staggering amounts of location data will populate our digital traces and identities. The impact on our lives, organisations, and businesses is yet to be fully understood, but one thing is sure: the geomobile revolution will be mapped.

The ConversationMarta Poblet

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El moment constitucional

Catalunya viu un moment constitucional sense precedents, derivat d’un procés polític inèdit i transitat d’incògnites. Un temps únic d’efervescència d’iniciatives, projectes i debats sobre allò que s’esdevé, potser, una vegada (o menys) per generació: com fer una nova constitució.


Arreu, els moments constitucionals reflecteixen el present d’un país i en projecten el futur. A Catalunya, el moment constitucional emergeix des de la ciutadania de forma horitzontal i heterogènia. Les iniciatives recents se solapen en el temps i conflueixen en l’objectiu d’accionar una etapa constituent a partir de propostes i esborranys de constitucions.

El gener de 2015 es van presentar a Barcelona dues iniciatives per a una nova constitució: constitució.cat i unanovaconstitucio.cat. Hi ha alguns precedents de propostes de constitució elaborades per organitzacions polítiques, però el que caracteritza les dues noves iniciatives, elaborades en ambdós casos per un grup reduït de juristes, és l’ús de plataformes digitals per a difondre la proposta, i sobretot, per obrir-la a la participació dels ciutadans a través de comentaris, esmenes i vots.


Screenshot 2015-07-09 09.44.30





L’ús de plataformes digitals en el procés d’elaboració de constitucions es va iniciar a principis d’aquesta dècada. A Europa, el cas paradigmàtic és Islàndia, on els progressos diaris del Consell Constitucional es podien consultar en una web que, alhora, permetia comentaris dels ciutadans a traves de les xarxes socials. A la resta del món, simultàniament, es van desenvolupar iniciatives similars. Aquesta crida a la ciutadania a participar al procés constituent a través de les xarxes socials es coneix en anglès com a “constitutional crowdsourcing” (per crowd—multitud, gernació— més outsourcing, externalització).

Tot i els precedents medievals que es citen en una de les iniciatives, les propostes de gener de 2015 s’allunyen radicalment de les constitucions paccionades de la tradició de dret públic català. Es tracta, mes aviat, de constitucions gernaccionades, textos que volen posar en marxa una etapa constituent a partir de la participació d’una gernació o multitud indeterminada de ciutadans.

El constitucionalisme democràtic del segle XXI, com afirmen els signants de la Convenció Constitucional, aspira a ser “participatiu des de l’origen fins al final” per tal d’expandir la legitimitat social del procés constituent. Les eines tecnològiques que els ciutadans tenen al seu abast faciliten mecanismes de participació fins ara no explorats. No es tracta només de poder comentar propostes d’articles en fòrums o xarxes socials, sinó d’escriure el propi text. De manera limitada, i a més de votar articles, unanovaconstitucio.cat permet fer un màxim de cinc esmenes per usuari. Si s’estableixen els procediments adequats, no hi ha cap raó que impedeixi que, via esmena o proposta, milers de persones (fins i tot centenars de milers) s’involucrin activament en la redacció d’un esborrany de constitució.

Els reptes, alhora, són considerables. Com incentivar una participació a gran escala? Com assegurar la rellevància i la qualitat de la participació? Com assegurar la coherència, la precisió i la consistència d’un text escrit per una gernació? Quin ha de ser el rol dels experts al llarg del procés? Com canalitzar, en definitiva, la intel·ligència col·lectiva i la saviesa de les multituds? Jon Elster va afirmar una vegada que “si hi ha una tasca per a la qual la saviesa sembla altament desitjable, aquesta és la d’escriure una constitució”. És el moment de la saviesa col.lectiva.

Marta Poblet

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We the crowd? Constitution making 2.0

This is an update of the post I wrote on crowdsourced constitutional reform in 2011. Constitution-making can be broadly defined as a set of activities intended to produce a constitution, the highest law of a state. To the UN Rule of Law, constitution-making “covers both the process of drafting and substance of a new constitution, or reforms of an existing constitution”.

Over the last five years, crowdsourced constitution making initiatives have been deployed in 15 countries across the world: Iceland, Kenya, Ghana, Somalia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Malawi, Zambia, Yemen, Nepal, Fiji, Ecuador, and Bolivia (see the USIP Report on “New Technologies for Constitution Making”). The Chilean government has just announced its plan to launch in September 2015 “a new, citizens-driven process to create a new constitution”.

Screenshot 2015-04-29 13.01.04

Crowdsourced constitution making processes (2010-2015)

To be sure, these participatory processes are not new in constitution making. South Africa or Uganda, among other countries, launched participatory campaigns to collect public input for their new constitutions in the 1990s.

So what is in between of these two decades of participatory constitution making? The rapid, unprecedented adoption of mobile technologies and social media. In the effort to make constitution making as participatory as possible, this new wave of crowdsourced initiatives have all taped on social media (and, wherever Internet connections were fragile, e-mail and text messages) to collect comments from the public. In most cases, and regardless of the final number of participants, thousands of comments were posted and eventually collected.

Crowdsourced constitution making allows people to comment, “like” or vote articles in a constitutional draft. The processes typically rely on online deliberation over a draft that is elaborated elsewhere, usually by a constitutional commission. But the impact of such deliberative processes on the final outcome is yet to be fully understood and requires a case-by-case analysis.

An alternative to crowdsourcing the deliberation process could be microtasking the constitution itself. Microtasking is a process consisting of defining a relatively complex task and dividing it into smaller and independent micro-tasks. When it comes to constitutions, this process could be relatively straightforward since they are already divided into sections and articles. People could take these articles and amend, modify, or rewrite them at their will. In this paper we propose a task-oriented approach to crowdsource the drafting of a constitution and we consider some of the challenges that such a process would face. But further research would also require to tackle substantive issues on how to coordinate the crowd itself: (i) motivation; (ii) incentives to participate; (ii) relevance and quality of the contributions; (iii) monitoring spam and sabotage attempts, etc. The ultimate challenge is how to engage the crowds’ collective wisdom in drafting such a high-impact legal document as a national constitution.


Posted in Law, political crowdsourcing, social media | Tagged , | 1 Comment