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desirs d'avenir - the democratic revolution

The 11th February will be an important stage in the election campaign where Segolene Royal will propose her manifesto, co produced by both citizens and the activists.

The participative process of listening to the everyday needs of citizens, debating the critical challenges and scaling up innovative ideas and experiences to inform the manifesto was essential with the democratic and political crisis France is exposed to. The process has also been both refreshing and exhausting, honest and risky, in short an everyday democratic revolution.

There are 2.5 million unique visitors who scan the various debates on the site, sharing insights, concerns, experiences and ideas. The 135 thousand unique contributors of the site are then encouraged to vote on each contribution on a score of 1-5. This fairly basic self-evaluation was since revised and the frequency of debate around each post is also taken into account.

Collective intelligence for an inclusive politics: To nourish this collective intelligence, what some might call the wisdom of the crowds, all this knowledge needs to be managed and translated into policy proposals. Each of these are then reviewed and synthesized into policy proposals to inform Ségolène during the campaign for the primaries and now the Socialist Party for the actual presidential campaign.

Peer to Peer co-produced policy making: This was initially carried out by the Desirs d'Avenir team – a personnel of only 45 people, but increasingly contributors both on the web and in the cafes have been playing a role in the policy proposal process. In fact, the team has since invited those contributors to contribute to a “participative synthesis” of the theme they have contributed to. This long tail strategy encourages collaboration in the consultation between the contributors and co-production in the policy process between the most active users and the Desirs d'Avenir team. Segolene herself regularly posts her views on recent ideas in the different thematic debates.

Devolving participation, scaling up proposals: Since the website is now the platform for the Socialist Party’s local participative debates, which have generalised the Desirs d'Avenir concept across the country, these contributors have now transformed into facilitating these neighbourhood debates, around 6000 participative debates bringing together over 600 thousand people in the space of just over 100 days.

All political parties in democracies are faced with declining trust and increasing criticism by their citizens of not listening enough to them. But is there such a thing as too much listening? This has been the criticism levelled at both Ségolène Royal and David Cameron. However, while the former has provided the tools for the citizens to debate and propose and the process to ensure their contributions inform policy, the latter has set up policy commissions led by Tory grandees and political hasbeens where nothing is heard from them until the publication of their reviews.

The spotlight's on you:
The value of Desirs d'Avenir, has been to turn spectators of the democratic and political process into actors of the debate, the election but more importantly actors and authors of their everyday lives, their everyday social democracy.

If the PS do enter government, Desirs d'Avenir has a unique opportunity to inspire a transformation of not only the French political culture, but the wider civic fabric of society. Either it can remain an internal tool for the party to mobilize democratic participation, or it can reach out to the wider population and develop a participatory democracy, like it is doing in regions run by the PS (Poitou Charentes: participatory budgeting) and proposes to do in the Socialist manifesto.

What can the Labour learn from this - the eternal French rival? It needs to tap into the diversity and wealth of its networks, listen and scale up the ideas and proposals from progressive organisations, whether affiliated or not. Likewise those organisations need to be more visible, more activist - like the Fabians and Compass are already. It also needs to engage its members, its supporter networks, its website users not only in a way they feel they can influence the decision-making, such as rare policy commissions and yes/no let's talk debates, but in a way which encourages collaboration between the party and its supporters and between its supporters - whether members or not. I would echo Harriet Harman's words of Labour needing to "drop its guard so as to genuinely listen and make people feel involved".



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