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“The future of participatory politics lies in the creation of citizen coalitions – unconventional alliances among different communities within society that are capable of establishing priorities for the public agenda, raising awareness, influencing political decision-making and, ultimately, triggering social change.” This was one of the key points conveyed by Alberto Alemanno, Professor at HEC Paris and the New York University School of Law, at a session entitled “Citizen Lobbying: New Forms of Participatory Politics”, held at ESADE Madrid and organised by ESADE in collaboration with KREAB as part of their joint programme “Public Agenda: Power and Counter-Power”. Ángel Saz-Carranza, Director of ESADEgeo and Academic Co-director of the “Public Agenda” programme, moderated the session.
Actors or spectators?
“We are living in paradoxical times: the members of our societies are becoming better informed, yet they feel more powerless than ever when it comes to defending their causes or generating a social impact,” commented Prof. Alemanno. “Citizen trust in institutions – whether governments, media or companies – is in decline,” he explained, in part because “political power is distributed very unequally”. At the same time, he noted, in the age of digitalisation, “the forms of political engagement used by citizens have become more limited, and although they are easily accessible – a click, a signature on an online petition – they also don’t go very far”.
A few years ago, “social networks emerged as a useful tool that gave hope for democracy,” Prof. Alemanno commented. “The Arab Spring was held up as an example of how individual voices can rise up on the Internet and generate a greater social movement.” However, he noted, “what we’re learned is that the Internet tends to act as a force of exclusion”. We mustn’t forget, he argued, that “this new forum for public debate – social media – is basically managed by an oligopoly; just a handful of companies currently control the governance of the Internet and the social networks, and their economic model is not necessarily aligned with the interests of most citizens.” Prof. Alemanno added: “Their algorithms, which are designed on the basis of business models, end up favouring certain sectors of the population, such that they crystallise and even exacerbate certain biases that exist in our society.” Therefore, he argued, “compensatory forces are needed to counteract these tendencies”, hence the idea of ”citizen lobbying”.
“Elected officials must never forget that sovereignty – delegated to them by the electors for a certain period of time – belongs to the citizens they represent,” observed Prof. Alemanno. “Democracy needs citizen lobbying, because it is about giving a voice to the needs and concerns of citizens; it’s about political representatives, who are responsible for decision-making, meeting with members of civil society, who, in turn, can transmit their messages at the appropriate time, within the legislative process, so that they can be heard and taken into account.”