The methodological dimension is a significant core of the Citizens’ Assemblies. In this section, analyses and other elements to deal with tools and methods which may serve Assemblies at any time are available. Such elements rely on methodological experience of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World. These will be gradually enhanced and enriched by the experiences achieved in the Citizens’ Assemblies.
The Citizens’ Assembly web site portal was launched during the first week of February 2009. The first comments and reactions are positive. As with all web creations, the site combines a set of information technologies, creation criterion and an editorial project, all in the service of the following strategy :
- To promote a joint vision of the concepts and ideas common to the assemblies, by providing access to the various contexts and languages,
- To account for the advance of the initiatives until 2010 and onwards.
The different web tools on the site come from free access tools licensed by BSD or GPL.
- Server : a LAMP server (Linux-Debian, Apache, MySQL, PhpMyAdmin) administered by Open Computación SA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- A web content CMS editor well-known by product developers, though not as popular in Latin America: SPIP (version 1.9.3)
- PIWIK, a statistical tool (newly born and in Beta version)
- Theora, Vorbis and MP4 audio and video codification (patented format) through a (free) x264 codification library
- Links with the Dailymotion video servers (free servers; however, most multimedia technologies are owned)
- SYMPA list engines and electronic forums (installed in another LAMP server) which constitutes a complementary tool to the site
Three website names have been opened and are administered by OVH in France: www.citizens-assemblies.net, www.assemblees-citoyens.net, www.asambleas-ciudadanos.net
2. Content and editorial
The first documents published in three languages pick up from the texts edited for the Coordinators’ meeting in June 2008 as well as from several articles describing the assemblies’ foundations, challenges, history and perspectives. These texts are site “invariables” and will be made more enjoyable with chronicles and news related to how the assemblies are moving forward. About twenty videos have also been placed on-line, (over 2 hours total) filmed in Paris in June 2008 and subtitled in 3 languages. Audio Internet phone recordings will also be progressively added. Since the quality of the phone recordings administered by Skype is not very good (low frequency), a conversation recording test is being carried out through a “separate” sound intake. Many of the translations were done by a team of translators from the School of Humanities and Educational Sciences of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata because of the attractive price/quality relation offered. After a complex and startled beginning due to the amount and the characteristics of the first translations (subtitles of long videos and lengthy texts), collective team learning took place which has led to a commitment to continue with this project.
3. Creation criteria and advance
The structure of the site is relatively simple. Images have a central position when it comes to graphic representation. Rather than isolating images within a scarcely visible and isolated area, they have been constantly associated with textual elements. This undoubtedly brings about a sensitive and expressive reading which provides a complementary dimension to the reading of the contents (according to internet surfers’ accounts). Navigation is relatively intuitive and fluid. It was also sometimes considered complex by some. It is articulated by general information areas about the assemblies and five areas connected with each regional dynamic. Aside from the possibility to re-edit the site contents, its structure is always – of course – developing and adapting to the possibility of source code intervention. Thematic navigation, for example from key words, is a future development perspective, as is the inclusion of the portal inside the COREDEM or the citizens’ initiatives portal.
The site’s programming was carried out by a team of programmers from Open Computación de Buenos Aires, who have been sensitive not only to free IT tools but also to a great deal of the ideas promoted by the assemblies. This development evidently benefited from the use of free tools by Open Computación; however, its implementation was quite burdensome and took longer than expected.
4. At the service of a strategy
The portal challenges and functions bear no ambiguities:
- to offer a joint vision,
- to follow the advance of the assemblies,
- to share a mass of information and references common to the assemblies and their participants.
Clear though the aims may seem, each will bear a diffuse relationship with the site. This site may be seen as created by an external structure towards which a hyperlink is simply created, or it may be considered as an effective communication tool which can be easily appropriated and where the latest edited documents wish to be published. This proves that the tool is part of a wider cooperation context, a context of participation in a common project and of construction of a collective actor, the context of the set of regional citizens’ assemblies. Thus, the portal is more than just a website : it will be a driving force and, at the same time, a result from the collective cooperation and learning built between the different assemblies. We are also planning to edit a monthly or bimonthly newsletter, whose first edition is expected in March 2009.