An Evaluation of Structural Democratic Issues Raised Within European Scenario Workshops

copyright 1998 Richard E. Sclove, The Loka Institute <http://www.loka.org>


The following six pages offer some evidence concerning the extent to which participants in several European "scenario workshops" on sustainability have -- without making use of democratic design criteria -- been attentive to technologies' structural bearing on democracy. These pages presume some familiarity with the concept of using democratic design criteria as tools for evaluating technologies and also with the European scenario workshop method of participatory technology assessment (including the scenario narratives on sustainability that have been used in many European scenario workshops). These pages are excerpted from Richard E. Sclove, "Using Democratic Design Criteria in Participatory Technology Assessment," Loka Institute Working Paper, Amherst, MA, Dec. 1998, 34 pages:


1. Evaluating Scenario Workshop Deliberations

In an October 1998 Loka Institute Working Paper, I use the provisional democratic design criteria that I developed in Democracy and Technology to evaluate Morten Elle's (1993) scenario narratives on sustainability.[1] The criteria are reproduced in Figure 1, below. Ida Andersen of


Figure 1. A Provisional System of Design Criteria for Democratic TechnologiesFigure 1. A Provisional System of Design Criteria for Democratic Technologies[2]

by Richard E. Sclove, The Loka Institute <http://www.loka.org>


Toward DEMOCRATIC COMMUNITY:

A. Seek balance between communitarian, individual, and transcommunity technologies. Avoid technologies that establish authoritarian relationships.

Toward DEMOCRATIC WORK:

B. Seek creative, flexibly schedulable, technological practices. Avoid meaningless or debilitating technological practices.

Toward DEMOCRATIC KNOWLEDGE:

C. Seek technologies that support democratic knowledge production and dissemination. Avoid technologies that promote impoverished or ideologically distorted understanding.

Toward DEMOCRATIC POLITICS::

D. Seek technologies that enable disadvantaged people & groups to participate fully in social life. Avoid technologies that support illegitimate hierarchy between groups, organizations, or polities.

To help secure democratic self-governance:

E. Restrict the distribution of adverse consequences (e.g., environmental and social harms) to within local political jurisdictions.

F. Seek relative local economic self-reliance.

G. Seek technologies (including an architecture of public space) compatible with globally-aware, egalitarian political decentralization and federation.

To help perpetuate democracy:

H. Seek ecological sustainability.

I. Seek "local" technological flexibility and "global" technological pluralism.

J. Avoid technologies that are vulnerable to catastrophic sabotage and to the attendant risks of civil liberties abridgement.


the Danish Board of Technology, who has been a pioneer in developing and organizing scenario workshops in Denmark and in the European Union, has very kindly taken the time to review my evaluation of Elle's scenarios. She reports that most of the social issues I raised when using explicit democratic criteria were to some degree raised by Danish scenario workshop participants themselves in 1993.[3] They did this, of course, without any explicit instructions and certainly without making explicit use of democratic design criteria.

For instance, one of the democratic criteria I have proposed suggests that technological life should support mutual understanding, community life, and relatively equal social power relations (Figure 1, Criterion A). Danish scenario workshop participants raised related issues when they criticized fictional Knud Hansen's life (Elle 1993, Scenario 1) for being too solitary and cold. (This can be seen as touching also on Criterion G's concern that societies have adequate social spaces and practices supporting public life and political deliberation.) Participants were furthermore skeptical that Knud's materially comfortable high-tech lifestyle would be possible for everyone.

Criterion B in Figure 1 recommends "creative . . . technological practices" over "meaningless or debilitating" ones. Danish workshop participants raised this issue when they criticized fictional Hanne's life (Elle 1993, Scenario 2) for being physically too arduous and too time consuming in routine physical chores.

I acknowledge in Democracy and Technology (pp. 99, 156) that alternative democratic design criteria can sometimes come into conflict with one another. Workshop participants confronted this type of dilemma when they acknowledged that while Hanne's life was physically punishing, it was also the most satisfactory among the four Elle scenario's in achieving sustainability (which is another democratic good.)

Criterion D in Figure 1 suggests that we seek "technologies that enable disadvantaged people and groups to participate fully in social life." Danish workshop participants raised a related issue when they recognized that a shift to more environmentally sustainable household management practices would require new tasks of the Danish "home aides" who make assistive visits to people who are elderly or ill. Participants anticipated that these aides would need additional job training in sorting household waste for recycling and composting, and in managing household energy and water systems. They also considered that sometimes elderly people are less comfortable using new high technologies, and so reliance on high tech solutions to household sustainability problems could reduce the independence of such people.

Criterion F in Figure 1 recommends that communities seek a measure of economic self-reliance as a support to the possibility of effective community self-governance. Danish workshop participants addressed this theme when they debated the relative merits of using local facilities to generate energy for local use versus relying on larger regional energy plants and a large-scale electricity grid. They also favored local solutions to water supply problems.

In both cases, the ability to control infrastructural systems from the local level was a discussion topic, as was the cost efficacy of local versus translocal infrastructural systems.

Of course, Figure 1's Criteria E and H--which both raise environmental concerns--were touched on extensively within the Danish scenario workshops on Urban Ecology, because advancing environmental sustainability was the central workshop goal.

Thus whereas I have previously used democratic design criteria as a tool for evaluating and refining scenario narratives,[4] Andersen has now shown that democratic criteria can be used as one tool for evaluating the substance of the deliberations and decisions taken during an actual implementation of a scenario workshop.

2. Do Scenario Workshops "Naturally" Provoke Reflection About a Society's Democratic Structure?

Andersen's discovery that Danish scenario workshop participants addressed quite a number of themes that bear on the structure of a democratic society is, in itself, an interesting and significant result. It parallels a finding that I made earlier within the context of participatory design of technologies. In the latter case I was pleasantly surprised to discover that non-expert participants in diverse participatory design settings exhibit some incipient tendency to consider--and indeed pursue--design solutions that are compatible with one or more of my proposed democratic design criteria. In contrast, conventional expert design processes have normally slighted these same criteria.[5]

If Danish scenario workshop participants considered democratically salient themes within their deliberations, did they actually incorporate these themes strongly into their action recommendations? At present I can't reach an unequivocal judgment on this point. There is extensive documentation of the deliberations and results of the workshops, but it is all in Danish, which I do not read. However, the staff of the Danish Board of Technology subsequently synthesized the action recommendations from the various local Danish scenario workshops on Urban Ecology into a proposed national action plan.[6] That plan appears to have a number of elements that bear constructively on the prospects for ensuring a sustainably democratic future.

For instance, in addition to the expected thrust toward environmental responsibility, the proposed national plan recommends amending the legislation that governs local governmental planning to permit consideration of urban ecology goals on the same footing as traditional goals concerning housing, jobs, traffic, and so on. Such an expansion of local authority would be consistent with the democratic concern to decentralize power in the interest of community self-governance. The proposed national plan also recommends broad citizen representation on new local urban ecology committees, stimulation of extensive local debate on the values and goals pertinent to advancing sustainability, popular education and training concerning environmental themes and practices, and support for ecological job creation. All of these steps are congruent with the development of democratic citizenship and politics, as articulated in Figure 1's proposed democratic design criteria.

I had found previously that participatory design exercises frequently address one or two democratic design criteria that one wouldn't expect to see addressed in conventional expert design projects.[7] The Danish scenario workshops on Urban Ecology went further, in touching on many democratic design criteria within a single integrated participatory project.

The fact that the Danish scenario workshops on Urban Ecology spontaneously evoked a reasonable amount of deliberation pertinent to a society's democratic structure raises the question: Why? Does the scenario workshop methodology naturally tend to do this, regardless of the topic, the specific content of the scenarios, or the national setting in which it takes place? Or might there be something about the topic of sustainable cities, or the particular content of the scenarios developed by Morten Elle, or the common Danish cultural background of the participants, that contributed to the attentiveness in this case to democratic concerns?

I can't give a definitive answer, but it is possible to make an educated guess. First, as implemented by the Danish Board of Technology, the four scenario narratives in a workshop always include at least one that is market oriented (in which residents act as independent consumers and workers, and private businesses are also key actors), one in which local government authorities are the dominant actors, and one in which collectively self-organized residents (i.e., citizen groups or "civil society") are the most important actors.[8] The clear contrast between these three paradigmatic systems of social agency seems quite apt to provoke participants to consider democracy-pertinent questions of citizen participation, community life, institutional design and operation, governmental efficacy, economic structure, and so on.

Second, scenarios are consciously locally focused, in order to attract the involvement of various local participants, and to help them think about constructive actions that can potentially be taken from the local community level. Now it happens that the normative model of democracy that I used in deriving the criteria in Figure 1, above, reflects a conviction that community life and community self-governance are important features of a robust democracy.[9] Hence the local focus of scenarios contributes further to provoking reflection and deliberation that will be particularly pertinent to this specific normative democratic model.

Third, the diverse backgrounds of the participants invited to a scenario workshop (e.g., government authorities, residents, businesspeople, and technical experts)-- and the fact that scenario narratives depict diverse social roles and facets of daily life (e.g., home life, work life, community and political life, leisure time, and transportation) -- also contributes to provoking reflection on many different aspects of community organization as seen from many different points of view. That, too, increases the odds that many of the themes embodied in the different criteria shown in Figure 1 will be touched upon.

The preceding three considerations suggest that so long as scenario workshops adhere to the methodological guidelines developed by the Danish Board of Technology, we might expect them to inspire a good deal of discussion that will prove pertinent to developing institutions and technologies structurally compatible with democracy. (In fact, not all European implementations of the scenario workshop methodology have adhered closely to the original procedures. For instance, a three-day workshop in Bilbao, Spain restricted the participants to architects and urban planners.)[10] And this result should be at least somewhat independent of the specific topic under consideration and the national/cultural setting.

On the other hand, insofar as two of the design criteria in Figure 1 directly involve environmental considerations (Criteria E and H), a scenario workshop addressed to the specific goal of sustainability will especially be certain to evoke ample discussion pertinent to those particular criteria.

It is also conceivable that Danish participants might be more prone than people from other cultures to discuss issues pertinent to the democratic design criteria in Figure 1. Denmark has a modern tradition of strong local community and civic life, and of concern with popular participation in various kinds of social decisions.

However, my inclination is not to put undue weight on "Danish culture" as an explanatory factor. Ida Andersen has attended several subsequent emulations of the Danish Urban Ecology scenario workshops in other European cities. She reports that, as in Denmark, the workshop discussions raised a number of themes bearing on the design criteria in Figure 1. And while she judges that the discussion in the non-Danish emulations was generally less rich and detailed--on all issues, not just on those pertinent to democratic structure--she attributes this less to national cultural variations than to alterations in the organization of the scenario workshop procedure.

For instance, the original Danish scenario workshops began by organizing a series of one day workshops that each mixed together participants selected from four different cities. The same participants subsequently gathered for follow-on one-day workshops in their home cities. In the interval between these two events, the staff of the Board of Technology had time to summarize the results of the first series of one-day workshops so that they could be taken up effectively during the second series.

In contrast, subsequent emulations in other European nations have each included participants selected from just one city at a time, who meet together on two successive days. Thus Andersen attributes the somewhat diminished richness of the participant discussions less to cultural differences between Denmark and other European nations than to the loss of opportunity for direct deliberation among participants from different locations, and to the lack of intervening time after Day One for staff to prepare careful summaries for use on Day Two.[11]

There is some independent basis for ascertaining whether indeed non-Danes will be prone to raise various democratically salient issues of social, economic and political structure. For instance, among the 40-plus European cities that have now experimented with the scenario workshop methodology, there is relatively good documentation in English of the deliberations and decisions taken during a workshop on Urban Ecology organized in Corfu, Greece in May 1994.[12]

The town of Corfu (population 37,000 in 1991) is situated on the island of Corfu in the southern Adriatic Sea, only 3 km from Albania. In climate, culture, and history this is far from Denmark. Nonetheless, a review of the documented discussion and recommendations arrived at during the Corfu scenario workshop reveals repeated attention to democratic themes embodied in the design criteria of Figure 1.

For instance, participants exhibited great interest in increasing and enhancing public spaces -- cleaning up beaches and creating one new one; planting trees; expanding public transit and reducing the number of cars in the town center; and building new parks, squares, playgrounds and an athletic center; this bears directly on Figure 1, Criteria A and G. They also were quite concerned to preserve the town's distinctive cultural and historical character, for example by rehabilitating the historical town center, ensuring that new buildings would be constructed in a traditional style, and creating a new cultural and historical exhibition area (all of which relates to Criterion I's concern to maintain cultural and technological pluralism).

There was some discussion bearing on community economic self-reliance (Criterion F)--albeit in some cases supporting it, in others reducing it. Tending to support greater economic self-reliance was a concern among participating technical experts to identify a local market for locally recycled materials, and among residents for diversifying the local economic base beyond tourism to include expanded production of traditional crops (e.g., olives) and handicrafts, such as pottery and silver-gold jewelry making. Potentially weakening local economic self-reliance (and possibly violating also Criterion E's concern with not exporting environmental harm) was a proposal from the technical experts to seek a regional toxic waste landfill somewhere off the island. Participating businessmen also proposed establishing a new exhibition center to support marketing of both local and other Greek, Albanian, and Italian products.

Many participants were interested in enhancing local capabilities in managing environmentally sustainable infrastructural systems. This would be consistent with Criterion G's concern with political decentralization and local self-governance. There were differences, though, in the specific approaches recommended. For example, participating technical experts and businesspeople both wanted to increase the competence and authority of local government. At one stage the technical experts reasoned that:

"The less citizens are involved with the technical aspects of environmental technology, the better, as they would gain more spare time for recreational and cultural activities . . . . The cooperation of the citizens is crucial mainly in the separation of recyclable reusable materials." [13]

Representative Corfu residents, on the other hand, felt that:

"Environmental problems [should] be solved at a level somewhere between the individual household and the local authority. Time for organizing, for cooperation . . . is vital." [14]

In other words, the participating residents indicated that they would actually want to spend some of their time working directly on environmental problems, rather than leaving as much as possible in the hands of the experts. The preceding, partly contrasting points of view, bear not only on Criterion G, but on Criteria A's and D's concern to seek relatively egalitarian social power relations. (This contrast between expert versus resident opinions in Corfu also exemplifies my contention in Democracy and Technology that experts, unlike laypeople, share a structural bias toward producing analyses and outcomes that preserve their privileged political status as experts.)[15]

A good bit of discussion centered on education and social awareness, including in a nonlocal context, thus invoking Criteria B and C as well as Criterion G's concern with developing nonprovincial outlooks. For instance, in the final plenary participants proposed creating an environmental information network among cities, a public information campaign to promote energy conservation, lifelong environmental education programs, and environmental education in schools and pre-schools.

Concerning personal growth and quality of life (see Criterion B), a small group discussion of "Living in Corfu 2010" proposed:

"Restoration of the old rhythm of life in order to be closer to the rhythms of nature through the cultivation of small or large gardens." [16]

In short, the evidence from Corfu is that some consideration of issues bearing on the structural character of democracy is indeed built into the scenario workshop methodology, and thus not specific to the Danish cultural setting in which the methodology originated.

***

As we have seen, European scenario workshop participants already take into account a number of considerations that are pertinent to maintaining or enhancing the democratic structure of a society. However, it is also true that they do this only in a rather haphazard and incomplete way. For instance, participants in Corfu raised issues that would affect their town's degree of economic self-reliance. But they never came close to examining systematically the opportunities for, obstacles to, and implications of self-reliance vis--vis all the alternative energy, water, and waste management systems that were under consideration. In particular, they never directly considered the potential relationship between economic self-reliance and democratic self-governance.

This suggests that to take seriously my argument in Democracy and Technology that the structural implications for democracy should be a first-order concern within technological politics and decisions, further refinements in the scenario workshop methodology are needed.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This work has been made possible with the financial support of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF Award No. SBR-981003), the Danish Board of Technology, the Dept. of Technology & Social Science at the Danish Technical University, the European Awareness Scenario Workshop program, and thanks to general support to the Loka Institute from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Albert A. List Foundation, the Menemsha Fund, and the generosity of individual Loka Institute donors.


ENDNOTES

1. My October 1998 working draft is Richard E. Sclove, "Notes on Encouraging Deliberation about Social & Political Repercussions Within Participatory Technology Assessment," Loka Institute Working Paper, Amherst, MA, October 1998, 42 pages; Richard E. Sclove, Democracy and Technology <http://www.loka.org/pubs/demtech.htm> (New York and London: Guilford Press, 1995); Morton Elle, Urban Ecology of the Future, trans. Rob Bilderbeek (Copenhagen: Danish Board of Technology, 1993). [Return to text.]

2. The criteria in Figure 1, above, are adapted from Richard E. Sclove, "The Nuts and Bolts of Democracy: Democratic Theory and Technological Design," in Langdon Winner, ed., Democracy in a Technological Society (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992), pp. 139-157; and Sclove, Democracy and Technology (note [1] above), p. 98. [Return to text.]

3. Ida Andersen, of the Danish Board of Technology (personal communication, Sept. 8, 1998). [Return to text.]

4. Sclove, "Notes on Encouraging Deliberation" (note [1], above); and Richard E. Sclove, "The Challenge of Scenario Workshops on Information & Communications Technology Within the Fleximodo Project," Loka Institute Working Paper, Amherst, MA, November 1998, 25 pages. [Return to text.]

5. Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note [1], above), p. 192; and see also pp. 50-52. [Return to text.]

6. Barriers to Urban Ecology, Project Publication No. 2/1993 (Copenhagen: TeknologiNaevnet [Danish Board of Technology], 1993). [Return to text.]

7. Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note [1], above), p. 192. [Return to text.]

8. Sclove, "Notes on Encouraging Deliberation" (note [1], above), Figure 2. [Return to text.]

9. Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note [1], above), chaps. 3, 4 and 7. [Return to text.]

10. European Awareness Scenario Workshops: First Meeting of the National Monitors, 23rd of May 1997, Luxembourg (Luxembourg: European Commission Directorate General, 1997). [Return to text.]

11. Ida Andersen (personal communication, Sept. 8 and 11, 1998). [Return to text.]

12. UNECIA Ltd./The CIRCA Group Europe, ScientificCoordination of the European Awareness Initiative in the Framework of Value II Interface II & III and Organisation of the Related Events: Final Report (Sheffield, UK: UNECIA Ltd., November 1994), pp. 48-76. [Return to text.]

13. Ibid., pp. 62-63. [Return to text.]

14. Ibid., p. 61. [Return to text.]

15. Sclove, Democracy and Technology, (note [1], above), pp. 50-52. [Return to text.]

16. UNECIA Ltd./The CIRCA Group Europe, ScientificCoordination, (note [12], above), p. 70. [Return to text.]