Could digital tools be an answer to: democracy’s woes?

The dig­i­tal world offer many oppor­tu­ni­ties in terms of cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion and local democ­ra­cy. An ever-increas­ing num­ber of dig­i­tal tools enables cit­i­zens to take part more eas­i­ly in pub­lic debates. Inter­ac­tions invites its read­ers to dis­cov­er the work of Clé­ment Mabi, a lec­tur­er-cum-research sci­en­tist at UTC, focused on this essen­tial ques­tion for the city dweller we are 

As the world around us is increas­ing­ly engulfed by dig­i­tal tech­niques and col­lab­o­ra­tive work­ing, the ques­tion of cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion has to be recon­sid­ered. First­ly, the expres­sion cov­ers a whole set of tools. Indeed, as of 2018, over 74 dig­i­tal cit­i­zen local par­tic­i­pa­tion tools were inven­to­ried. This gave plen­ty of food for thought to Clé­ment Mabi, senior lec­tur­er-cum-research sci­en­tist in ICTs at the UTC-Costech lab­o­ra­to­ry. His research work focus­es on ‘on line” polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion and how cit­i­zens actu­al­ly use dig­i­tal tools. Recent­ly, he ana­lyzed var­i­ous top­ics such as the open­ing of access to pub­lic data (Open Data), and use made of dig­i­tal tools in con­cer­ta­tion, in the devel­op­ment of Open Gov­ern­ment and “civic tech”. “The dig­i­tal tools enable so-called “col­lec­tive intel­li­gence” to oper­ate as a source for inno­v­a­tive solu­tions, as hap­pens in par­tic­i­pa­tive financ­ing. We can observe a wide diver­si­fi­ca­tion of the tools, with mobile “apps”, and a diver­si­fi­ca­tion of resources, such as local peti­tions. Local author­i­ties are no longer alone. Oth­er actors such as pro­vide tools direct­ly on line top cit­i­zens. The next phase will be to break down the ‘walls’ between insti­tu­tion­al and non-insti­tu­tion­al prac­tice. For the time being, what we see is a form of hybridiza­tion”, explains Clé­ment Mabi.

“Civic tech”

The new dig­i­tal tools for cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion are also called civic tech, des­ig­nat­ing a wide range of “apps” and plat­forms to enable use to be made of col­lec­tive intel­li­gence pro­to­cols and to rein­force the demo­c­ra­t­ic links among cit­i­zens, local author­i­ties and the State. It there­fore comes as no sur­prise that civic com­mit­ments and cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion have become a favourite play­ground for dig­i­tal world entre­pre­neurs. Also, we now see a num­ber of insti­tu­tions rely­ing on cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion to reha­bil­i­tate pub­lic life and to gen­er­ate a “new demo­c­ra­t­ic spir­it”. “What we can observe, nonethe­less, is that the offer to par­tic­i­pate large­ly tends to defend a “change noth­ing” stance and to democ­ra­tize inequal­i­ties as it devel­ops by favour­ing cer­tain social groups to the detri­ment of oth­ers”, adds Clé­ment Mabi, who goes on to warn us that: “dig­i­tal par­tic­i­pa­tive tools favour inclu­sion of cer­tain pub­lic cat­e­gories whilst exclud­ing oth­ers. A key fac­tor and chal­lenge here is to avoid recre­at­ing a “dig­i­tal frac­ture” if we wish to see cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion suc­ceed”. Let is not for­get that the over­ar­ch­ing ambi­tion of these tools is to trans­form the ways in which democ­ra­cy works, to improve effi­cien­cy and orga­ni­za­tion thanks to renewed forms of cit­i­zen commitments.


Twit­ter® tends to inten­si­fy con­tro­ver­sies by enhanc­ing their prop­a­ga­tion and cir­cu­la­tion. Vir­ginie Jul­liard has been study­ing tweets that make ref­er­ence to “gen­der the­o­ry” and “mar­riage for all”. She observes these new forms of expres­sion trans­formed into tor­rents of hatred. Vir­ginie Jul­liard is a senior lec­tur­er at UTC, appoint­ed to the UTC-Costech Lab and to the research team EPIN (acronym in French for ‘Writ­ings: prac­tices and dig­i­tal interactions”.

She ana­lyzes how con­tro­ver­sies spread via Twit­ter®, notably when it comes to soci­etal debates on top­ics like “gen­der the­o­ry” or “mar­riage for all”. “Bas­ing my work on the case study of “gen­der the­o­ry”, I present an ana­lyt­i­cal method that com­bines a qual­i­ty approach (such as semi­otics) with a more quan­ti­ta­tive approach of the cor­pus to see how a con­tro­ver­sy spreads in this unique dig­i­tal form of writ­ing”., explains our research sci­en­tist Jul­liard, whose work focus­es on pub­lic debate, media pro­duc­tion and dig­i­tal forms of writ­ing. “To do so, we ana­lyzed 107 209 tweets col­lect­ed between Oct.5, 2014 and July 17, 2017, fol­low­ing a pro­to­col you could call “tool-aid­ed semi­otics”. The tool I devel­oped takes into account some hith­er­to unex­ploit­ed data col­lec­tion func­tions among those that exist in the Twit­ter ana­lyt­i­cal world. I was notably able to col­lect images attached to the Tweets and to recov­er exchanges in which the tweets were tak­ing place. In this man­ner, I observed how the exchanges could take con­flict­ual sub­jects on board and that the sub­se­quent ‘shar­ing’ of the images enables iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties who are not exact­ly in phase, polit­i­cal­ly speak­ing, but who nev­er­the­less share the same stance in the ongo­ing debate”, under­lines Vir­ginie Jul­liard, who also authored a book, enti­tled “De la presse à Inter­net : la par­ité en ques­tion [From the Press to the Inter­net; par­i­ty called to ques­tion], Ed. Her­mès-Lavoisi­er, 2012.

Le magazine

Avril 2024 - N°62

Faire face aux enjeux environnementaux

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram