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desirs d'avenir

A lot of people asked about what we could learn from Desirs d'Avenir and the PS - both the "sucess stories" and the "harsh moments of truth". This is a summary of the different episodes - the story has just started we hope!

The membership Campaign

When the PS launched its online membership campaign with a special offer of €20 the annual membership, its membership grew by 85000 in the space of two months – and overall space of three years, it has trebled.

Who are the new members? A recent study showed that since the membership campaign, there are more young, female and metropolitan members. The new members are also more likely to be active in their communities, even if 90% of them had never joined a political party before. Indeed, when the PS were at their ebb low with 120 000 members, a third of these were elected representatives (that’s what happens when you have neighbourhood governance!) or party officials! Now, they only account for around 15%, their direct influence having halved.

What is Désirs d'Avenir ?

Désirs d’Avenir aims to bring together all those who believe that to build the good society, we need to build it together and the tools to build it – getting informed, inspired and involved. It was formed around Ségolène Royal’s political and social networks – people who have already worked and campaigned with it, who know her and share her values and vision of politics.

It acts as much as a campaigning organisation, the candidate’s website, a citizen thinktank, a research project as a hub for exploring public service reform in the PS run regions.

Decentralised, participative and dynamic

How is it financed?

For most people, Désirs d’Avenir and the Ségolène Royal campaign are one and the same. Indeed, it was the platform used to showcase her campaign. Nevertheless, in terms of actual activities, it is funded as a 1901 association, like MoveOn is in the US – and cannot organise official PS activities. This is why her campaign for the primaries was three-dimensional gaining support.

With a budget three times less than the UMP, it is self-funded through its members who can join DDA without having to join the Socialist Party. This means that those who don’t support or want to join the PS but are keen to use the participative and democratic tools that the network provides can join this network. This was indeed a risk considering the membership campaign already underway at the Socialist Party, but as we have seen, the leap of members has not been dented – on the contrary, most of the “new members” voted for Ségolène in the primaries and many were probably also members of DDA.

As a result, it favoured a three-dimensional strategy
o Proposing free website platforms for official members blogs which are visibly branded and public facing – the three candidates also used this strategy
o Promoting organisations explicitly affiliated to the PS: Désirs d’Avenir, A Gauche en Europe, Socialisme and Democratie
o Benefiting from independent individuals/organisations implicitly supporting the party

How can I participate, how can I influence?

How can it become more than just the sum of individual ideas and opinions?

Many critics believe that the DDA is a political gimmick – that like the BCC, its mission is to inform and entertain and does the latter much better than the first. The reality is quite the opposite. There are 20,000 contributions each month to the various debates on the site, sharing insights, concerns, experiences and ideas. The 50000 users 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 initially taken into account. This, influenced by the Dean campaign actually reinforces people's lack of trust in being able to influence policy.

Peer-to-peer policy development

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 then the PS for the actual presidential campaign.

This was initially carried out by the DDA team – a personnel of only 45 people, but increasingly DDA members have been playing a role in the policy proposal process. In fact, the team invites those contributors whose ideas have been the voted the best, or debated the most, to contribute to a “participative synthesis” of the theme they have contributed to. This long tail strategy encourages collaboration in the consultation between the users and co-production in the policy process between the most active users and the DDA team. In fact, since the website is now the platform for the Socialist Party’s local participative debates, which have generalized the DDC concept across the country, local coordinators are responsible for this process.

Why is it different to the focus group and opinion poll dependency which has pervaded Blair’s New Labour and Cameron’s Conservatives?

What Segolene Royal has been criticised for is obeying the law of the polls, but what seems clearer is that is that she is listening to the collective wisdom of the crowds that participate in Desirs d'Avenir. The tension probably lies more in what level of influence they have on policy proposals in relation to PS activists and the manifesto they voted for last year. Given that many of the DDA activists are also PS activists and even more since the DDA is now the platform for the PS' participative debates, it is at best challenging to guess who is more influential. However, the fact the presidential candidate personalises the party manifesto is not new and in fact given that the party has doubled in membership since the manifesto was agreed, it is legitimate to scale up the influence of the "new members".

How can you listen to me, gain my trust and show leadership? Incentive-driven active citizenship

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 leveled 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 has-beens where nothing is heard from them until the publication of their reviews.

The question actually revolves around the value of incentive-driven active citizenship. Those who understand that the more you participate, the more influence you gain, the more your ideas are rewarded. In this case, the DDA debates are rewarded with greater influence on the decision-making process. The value of the DDA, like all political organisations, will be turning the spectators of its activities into its actors. It is probably too soon to answer how successfully the DDA has achieved this, but already over 10000 members of the PS have signed up to become “web activists”.

What about those who don’t have or can access the internet? What about those who don’t have time? What about those who don’t understand the debates or don’t know how to contribute?

What is participative democracy?

Some may ask,can democracy be anything other than participative? One person told me, the only time we get to participate in the process of choosing policies is during elections. However, with participatory democracy, the added value isn’t so much choosing a policy as helping define and shape it. How can our citizens participate in our democracy between two elections?

While representative democracy is delegated and direct democracy is individual, both are ultimately sporadic. Although the vote – whatever type of election - is the most accountable means of being able to influence decision-making, it is not appropriate for the everyday interaction that needs to take place between government and its citizens. Participative democracy provides the capacity for the citizens to participate in the everyday work of government.

Are we looking then at a minority of enlightened and active citizens who are being treated as experts? Indeed, providing the resources for democratic participation doesn’t necessarily produce participative democracy. We might get the politicians we deserve, but we also get the citizens we deserve.

Participative democracy, community activism and DDA

Reaching out, joining up and joining in

One of her main messages to the activists on the campaign strategy “tout se tient” (in this context means “everything joins up”). Tasking activists to link up ideas, proposals and campaigning.

It also embodies the conceptualisation of the movement as a living network, an ecosystem and its no surprise that the youth network of Désirs d’Avenir was called Ségosphère.


Campaigners are trying every trick in the book, and when it runs out, they throw it away and start writing new rules. In line with its proposals for mainstreaming open source methods and internet ethics - the PS has enabled its activists to be innovative and ethical in spreading the socialist narrative across the web. Innovative, by beating spin doctors at their own game using their everyday experiences and insights to personalise their message to targeted audiences. Ethical, by introducing a "net ethique" to discourage dirty campaigning.

In fact, mobilising support through the internet avoids relying on the sound bite strategy and yet feeds back into traditional media as many journalists scan the internet to feel the political pulse. The relationship between the media and the candidate becomes more interactive and messy. In the image-driven world, video sharing has become one of the easiest and most visible means of spreading the message. The videos from activists also showcase what's going on locally. As we saw in the States with a youtube video playing a determining role in the defeat of a Republican candidate in a marginal seat, the intensity of the campaign will be personified in the dissemination of videos. In fact, the role of one of the groups of the PS web activists has been to trace potentially damaging videos to react to them just-in-time.

User-generated media, such as YouTube, played a prominent role in the last US elections. It has an even greater role in elections in countries like France and the UK where it is illegal to buy “political airtime” on traditional media. Activists in the French elections have ensured no online stone is left unturned, learning critical lessons from previous campaigns. Indeed, in 2005 political parties were blinded by the lights of the grassroots campaign against the referendum, just as they were by the flash mobbing preceding the Spanish elections.

DDA learns many of the lessons from participative in governance highlighted in this Demos report: "The key factor influencing levels of participation in governance was the existing pattern of 'linking' social capital: those already well-connected tend to get better connected. Potential participants are often put off by the experience, or the perception, of feeling excluded by the way that community participation arrangements work. Rather than expect everyone to participate in formal governance equally, we should try to make more people's everyday civic engagement count, by designing the formal structures of governance in a way that taps into the informal, routine spaces of community life, such as the school gate, places of worship or local post office."

o What about the role of the representatives and those activists who engage in more traditional political activity?
o What difference will an online discussion or a coffeehouse debate have in mobilizing support for the party?

Swing voters and spin doctors

We have discussed the merits of participating in these debates and the potential influence on the decision making processes you might gain, but at the end of the day, what difference does democratic participation make in a swing voter democracy. In 2002, the Socialists played the traditional swing voter approach and many of its supporters dispersed to peripheral left-wing parties, while many of its traditional working class electorate strayed to the National Front. In 2004, the Democrats played a similar approach and failed to mobilize enough of its supporters to go out and vote.

Whereas we have the rational vote and the demographic voter, we also have the emergence of the social voter, modern citizens do not make decisions in a social vacuum. Who we know influences what we know and how we feel about it. However, using the social networks created on the internet has its shortcomings as the Dean campaign witnessed, flying out activists recruited on the net to travel across the States to target areas. Local social networks are far more effective and this is where the decentralised DDA approach is more effective, using the net in a participative but also localised way, enabling DDA activists to organise local networks/websites and participative debates.

The Ségosphère: strategic, adaptive and targeted

What's interesting in the Ségosphère is the division of work within the blogs. As well as the local branches of DDA, there are blogs which are dedicated to specific tasks: all press commentary about Segolene Royal, all polls, all TV appearances, even internet tools for blogs. At the same time, there are community blogs, for example a DDA for the elderly, one for the young, one for women, etc. By optimising maximum impact on the net the segosphere aims to be present on every blog debate, every article, every event.

Does democratic participation through the internet not create a two-tier participatory democracy – those who use it and those who don’t? Democratic participation by definition creates a two-tier participative democracy – those who participate and those who don’t. The internet is a more democratic media channel than tv, press and radio as people can not only consume the content, they can produce their own.

The UMP sees and uses the internet as another media channel to sell its political product and market its services, like any other businesses. The PS sees and uses the internet as a different type of media channel which enables its users to produce as well as consume information. With the paradox increase in use of the internet and decline in trust in the internet, this could be the key - whereby producing information becomes more important than consuming it and how convincing the message is becomes more important than how times you have received it.

In fact, mobilising support through the internet avoids relying on the soundbite, photo-opps or press release strategies and yet feeds back into traditional media as many journalists scan the internet to feel the democratic and political pulse. The relationship between the media and the candidate becomes more interactive and messy. In the image-driven world, video sharing has become one of the easiest and most visible means of spreading the message. The videos from activists also showcase what's going on locally. As we saw in the States with the a youtube video playing a determining role in the defeat of a Republican candidate in a marginal seat, the intensity of the campaign will be personified in the dissemination of videos and some videos are probably being kept back waiting to be leaked at opportune moments. In fact, the role of one of the groups of the PS web activists will be to trace potentially damaging videos to react to them just-in-time. The candidates are well aware of the potential of their every word and move being filmed and the risk is that this will scare them into behaving in a very formatted and briefed way.

So will this mean an end to the « spin doctor age »?

The spin doctors are certainly present on the internet but they are now only one of the actors on the internet. In fact, it is an unlikely source that could play a key role in political campaiging : the dot.coms, with for example the most famous French blogger now responsible for providing the UMP’s web platform. On the Socialist side, it is the web activists that have substituted themselves into the spin doctor role with the added bonus that they can use their everyday experiences and perspectives to personalize their message to the diverse audiences on the net. But is this not symptomatic of a weakness of party activists, since the election will also be won on the ground, in the streets, in cafés.

Political debate on the TV is time-poor – it favours the soundbite and undermines the debate. Internet enables the party to explain their proposals and put them to the test. The internet lets the citizen choose what information it accesses and enables it to debate it. The debate on the EU Constitution highlighted the relative inefficiency of the traditional media to feel the pulse or at least highlight the balance of the debate, favouring the yes vote, while the internet showcased the diversity of opinions. So, did the internet kill the tv star?

The primaries and lessons for the deputy leadership campaign

What about the TV – the mass media by excellence – which churns day in day out the latest nuggets of information about election campaigns. A webtv, already used by the Young French Socialists, is planned to be launched by the PS in February. And for the first time in French history, a televised debate was organized for a primary election and moreover at a peak viewing time, albeit on a cable channel.

For supporters and non-supporters of the Party, the debates were a success.
o They were all united behind the Socialist manifesto, which given the nature of the campaign to be elected presidential candidate was both unique and some predicted impossible
o The candidates were honest about what they disagreed about, open in highlighting their ideological inspirations and constructive in their criticism of each other, leaving behind the punch and judy stereotype of political debates
o The programme didn’t go for the weakest link approach either

The value of the televised debates and the primaries in general is that both the members and the general public could evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and more importantly, the candidate eventually selected to represent the PS.

The value to the candidate eventually selected to represent the PS is that it builds their capacity to mobilize ideas and support, debate the issues effectively and communicate their values.

The primary elections weren’t only risky because they it had never been done before, but the previous internal party-wide debate, which also had never been done before, to decide on what position the PS should take on the EU Constitution, which resulted in 65% of its members in favour of the YES vote, returned against it in the national referendum, when many PS supporters contributed to the victory of the NO vote.

Indeed, the nature and history of the presidential election in France imply what de Gaulle used to call the “meeting between a man (and woman) and his people” where the party is more a tool for the candidate than the other way round.

Does DDA not create excessive expectations? The expectations are debated at the point of policy making not at the point of the delivery of the policy.

What next?

eactivist groups
o « canvassing » (scan opinion polls and post links and daily updates)
o “conversations” (debate daily updates and policies online)
o “personalisation” (personalise daily updates and policy briefs to your social, local and professional networks)
o “monitoring » (daily monitoring of online media)
o “advice and guidance” (advice on web campaigning)
o “development” (web designers and content producers – podcasts, videos, posters)
o “research” (research and link online archives of content)
o “networking" (link your networks with relevant contacts in their local area, community or workplace)
o “blogging” (create and link your blogs with other associated bloggers)

How many e-activists? Over 500000 (in comparison to 300000 party membership)

What will DDA become?

DDA 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.

What can Labour learn from Desirs d'Avenir?

The Labour Party 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".

When Gordon Brown talks about mobilising all the talents, across communities - this could be his inspiration.



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