Guerilla Gardening for Participatory Democracy

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Guerilla gardening for participatory democracy[1]

Guerilla gardening for participatory democracy is the practice of growing a participatory democracy from small instances (seedlings) that are deliberately planted in open forums. The guerrilla gardeners join existing threads/conversations where they employ the techniques of discussion refit. Their immediate purpose is to introduce democratic tools into a single thread, and to engage the participants in moving the issue of the thread toward action. Their wider purpose is to achieve a sustained instance of participatory democracy that involves many participants across multiple threads and forums, all working on a common issue.[2]

Seedlings of participatory democracy

Small progressive steps toward a participatory democracy have never succeeded in the past.[3] Guerilla gardening offers a different approach. Instead of taking small steps toward the goal, it begins with a small instance of participatory democracy that is already achieved. The instance is therefore like a seedling — it is already complete in form and function, it only has to grow. The required form and function for a participatory democracy are roughly defined by C. W. Mills in his distinction between a public and a mass:[4]

In a public, as we may understand the term, (1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them. (2) Public commununications are so organized that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion (3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against - if necessary - the prevailing system of authority. And (4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operation.

In a mass, (1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them; for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media. (2) The communications that prevail are so organized that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect. (3) The realization of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organize and control the channels of such action. (4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorized institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion.

The seedling must be qualitatively complete in respect of all four criteria, above. It must be quantitatively complete in all but the third, namely the degree of effective action. This necessarily depends on the level of participation. More precisely, it depends on the extent of the largest consensus among the participants, measured across all forums. Consensus is therefore the axis of growth, and the extent of the largest consensus is taken as the measure of seedling size. The ultimate goal is a mature size that approaches a substantial fraction of the general population. Long before that, however, effective action may be expected in one form or another.

P2P and Guerilla Gardening

The concept of "public" above corresponds to the P2P Network, a group of self-identified individuals organized for a common purpose. At the point where the group can create an artifact that is the agreement of the group to work towards a commons the group satisfies (3) above and becomes a Commons Based P2P Network. The process of achieving (3) requires that the group use and establish their own version of P2P Protocol in some form or fashion.

One of the many salient aspects of Guerilla Gardening for P2P Networks is that a mass could choose to engage in the process and come out the other side as a Commons Based P2P Network in a very natural curve. GG is a form of P2P Protocol and using it means that a group can develop some familiarity and develop additional agreements building on what they learn together.

Examples of using Guerilla Gardening for Participatory Democracy as P2P Protocol can be found in the Guerilla Gardening Protocol.

Connecting knowledge and practice

This section [which needs work] is inspired by the observation that people discussing the technology tend to be talking about solutions without reference to problems; while those discussing the politics are talking about problems without reference to solutions.[5]

We switch metaphors now, and think of participatory democracy as a structural arch. It has a knowledge span on one side, where the general tools and practices are built up as technology and methodology; and a practical span on the other, where ordinary people grapple with political issues in particular instances. Guerilla gardening may be seen as a method for emplacing the keystone that connects the otherwise disconnected spans of knowledge and practice.

On the side of knowledge, the disconnect reveals itself in the fact that the developers habitually discuss their general solutions — project X is developing this tool/practice, project Y is developing that tool/practice — but almost never do they discuss a problem of application. They promote solutions and debate the relative merits of them without reference to any actual problem of participatory democracy. So you almost never hear a developer say, for example, “We were doing a little bit of participatory democracy over there, and we ran into this problem...”

Meanwhile, on the side of practice, the grassroots folks who would come to grips with the political issues affecting them are instead engaged in discussing the problems they face — the government did this, a corporation did that, and this or that is wrong — without considering the possible solutions that might set things right. So you almost never hear a forum participant say, “I was thinking about this problem, and I came up with a possible solution...”

All of this is merely to reiterate, from two different perspectives, that participatory democracy is not a fact. But because guerrila gardening can supply that fact on both sides, in the instances of single seedlings, it may serve to coordinate knowledge and practice at these instances. Or at least that possibility may shed light on a general disconnect, that might not otherwise have been viewed as problematic.

See also

  • refit - the injection of technical links into an online discussion in order to make it serviceable for e-democracy.

Notes and references

  1. Guerilla Gardening for Participatory Democracy, reposted from
  2. The idea of guerrilla gardening was first floated in a Babble thread, with contributions from (in order of posting) JAnne Davies (Protrucio), 'epaulo13', 'trippie', Michael Allan and N. Beltov. See:
  3. The failure of the approach of taking small steps toward a participatory democracy was noted by 'trippie' in the post
  4. C. W. Mills. 1956. The Power Elite. New York. p. 303-304.
  5. The idea of guerrilla gardening as a keystone connector of knowledge and practice was originally discussed among (in order of posting) JAnne Davies, Michael Allan and Alex Rollin in the thread:

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