This article is available only in English.

Accountability in Greece Should Not Stop at Elections

By Stefanos Loukopoulos, Executive director at Vouliwatch – [email protected]

Greeks woke up to a vastly altered political landscape this morning following Sunday’s national elections, which swept the anti-austerity Syriza party into power. It’s the first time an anti-austerity party has taken power and upends the two-party establishment that has dominated Greek politics for decades.

This was Greece’s second national election in two years, held amid sky-high unemployment, stagnant wages, and an exodus of young people seeking better opportunities abroad. The crisis has left Greeks skeptical of their political institutions, a disillusionment that’s giving rise to right-wing extremist parties like Golden Dawn, which took third place in the elections.

The electorate’s growing sense of alienation from the democratic process is palpable. Nearly 40 percent of voters abstained despite the high stakes of the elections. Winning back these people’s trust, and re-establishing the bond between citizens and their representatives, is a critical yet often overlooked element of Greece’s recovery.

Vouliwatch (“vouli” is the word for parliament in Greek) was created a little less than a year ago for that very reason. The website features profiles of all the Greek members of parliament (MPs), monitors their voting behaviors, explains the political process and Greek constitution in simple terms, and most importantly, offers citizens the opportunity to ask direct questions to MPs, which are then uploaded to the politician’s profile. Each MP can then answer their constituents’ questions on the site. The platform also gives users the chance to influence political debate and highlight issues that they believe are not being discussed widely enough.

Through Vouliwatch, citizens can also share their ideas and experiences and make direct proposals for parliamentary action. The community can then comment on and rate those proposals. A Google Maps application depicts all the submitted data and allows users to filter it by issue. Every two months, all this submitted data is summarized in a report and sent to Greece’s MPs by our team. Vouliwatch then publishes and promotes any resulting parliamentary reaction.

Following the announcement of the snap elections, we at Vouliwatch created some additional election tools to help inform Greek voters. For instance, Policy Monitor allows the user to compare the various party positions on specific issues, such as education, the economy, or human rights. The second application is Candidate Watch, in which candidates add their profiles to our database by answering a set of questions designed by the Vouliwatch team.

At Vouliwatch, we believe that the true value of democracy lies in an open dialogue between citizens and those they elect. Voting in national elections is not enough to create and maintain a relationship of trust and a culture of accountability. If politicians are to be held accountable for their promises and actions, ordinary people must actively take part in the political process. Likewise, the political establishment must take steps to allow and to encourage wider participation, as well as to increase the transparency of the political and legislative processes.

Vouliwatch stands for more accountability, transparency, and bottom-up participation. Our team is committed to advancing these values as a solid step towards a better tomorrow for Greece.

Crowdpolicy is Vouliwatch’s innovation & technology consultant.

Source: Open Society Foundations 26.1.2015

This article is available only in English.

Circular economy and technology

Antonis Mavropoulos –

Circular economy and technology from Antonis Mavropoulos Blog

This is the third post regarding circular economy. In my first one (see here) I argued that before discussing the details we have to deal with the concept of circular economy and I put some conceptual questions. In my second one (see here) I discussed circular economy and economic growth and my conclusion was that circular economy can’t resolve (or it can only partially resolve) the conflict between environmental impacts and economic activity, even if it is 100% adopted worldwide because there are planetary, natural limits to growth. I finished this post writing that “Circular economy approaches are helpful and useful, but they are limited (and at the same time stimulated) by limits to growth.”

In this third post, I will deal with the relation between circular economy and technology development, or to put it in another way to study the dynamics between technology development and resource management.

We all know that any naturally or physically growing system can be understood in terms of stocks, flows and feedback. Stocks are accumulations of things that change over time through the interaction between inflows and outflows. Feedback occurs when changes in the size or composition of a stock affect the rates of inflows and/or outflows (feedback maybe positive or negative). As it has been proven, in a bounded natural environment, the balance between inflows and outflows is determined by different principles for renewable and non-renewable resources (for more see G. Turner “A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality”, Global Environmental Change 18 (2008) 397– 411 here).

Consider non-renewable resources like oil, rare metals, phosphorus etc. I think that if we use the example of oil, we can better understand the role of technology from a systemic point of view, exactly as it has been discussed by Donella Meadows at her masterpiece “Thinking in Systems – a Primer” (for more see here).

So, when a new oilfield is exploited, part of the profits gained is invested in establishing new additional oil wells, something that results to additional oil extraction. This leads to more profits and extra investment in oil wells. This is a typical positive (or reinforcing) feedback and the economics work in such a way that the easiest (and less costly) oil resources are firstly depleted. In any case, there is a time where extraction will become more difficult and costly, so the expected benefits will be lower than the costs involved for oilfield exploitation and this will reduce the investments in new oil wells. This is a typical negative feedback or a balancing one. But this will also make oil scarcer, so its prices will rise and so more money will be available for investments in difficult and costly oilfields. This description outlines how different types of feedback determine the system’s behavior for short or long periods. Studying the history of oil exploitation certainly demonstrates the political, social and economic importance of those feedbacks (for more on this topic I strongly suggest Sonia Shah’s book “Crude: The story of oil”, see here).

Source: New York Tines here

Nonetheless, what is the final result? As Meadows has shown and Sonia Shah demonstrated a. the potential lifetime of a newly discovered oil field (under the initial conditions and scale of operations) is substantially reduced as a result of the system dynamics b. oil companies invest for new fields in some of the most impoverished and unstable areas of the world and c. new technological advances (e.g. deep water drilling) are making new, very difficult and costly oil fields available but with substantial environmental and health risks.

In this point, I think it is useful to mention one of the key-conclusions made by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling in its report “Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Spill and the Future of Offshore Drilling,” Report to the President, January 2011 (for a summary see here).

“Scientific understanding of environmental conditions in sensitive environments in deep Gulf waters, along the region’s coastal habitats, and in areas proposed for more drilling, such as the Arctic, is inadequate. The same is true of the human and natural impacts of oil spills.”

It does seem to me that the concept of natural limits to growth is here again and technology can’t overcome it, no matter how advanced it will be. And the reason for that is that as our technologies become ever more advanced and complex, they try to resolve problems in much more complex and less understood conditions. The consequence of this exponentially increasing complexity is that “complex systems fail in complex ways”, which are not predictable!

From a resource point of view, further more advanced and efficient technologies make new oil fields available (e.g. fracking and its impact in US economy). So this provides more oil and maybe it expands the time where oil will be available, with a certain environmental cost (for details see here). Nevertheless, the big picture is that those technological advances are making the depletion of oil resources faster!

Source: here

It is not so difficult to prove that the role of technological advances is similar to renewable resources too; the main difference is that renewable resources like fish population are controlled by the balance between inflows and outflows and not but stock availability (scientifically we say that they are flow limited, while non-renewable are stock limited).

I believe the example of oil highlights the role of technology from a resource point of view. Technology developments can’t overcome limits to growth and at the same time they accelerate the process of depletion of non-renewable resources because stocks are finally limited, despite the temporal system dynamics and pricing. And certainly, as technology complexity grows, environmental and health risks are becoming more and more difficult to be managed.

The term “throughput” is frequently used to describe the flow of energy and matter from ecological resources through the economy and back to ecological sinks. At this point, I will use the phrasing from the article “A systems and thermodynamics perspective on technology in the circular economy” (written by Ramelt & Chrisp, available at Real World Economics Review, issue 68, see here).

“For industrial systems, a low throughput of matter and energy implies a smaller ecological footprint and greater life expectancy and durability of goods and infrastructure; a high throughput implies more depletion of resources that will need to be renewed and more waste that will need to be disposed of (Meadows and Wright 2008). System dynamics and thermodynamics tell us that a tolerable rate of throughput and entropic transformation is ultimately dictated by the natural system, not by economics or engineering.

A possible task for engineering, within limits, would be to maximise the durability of stocks by minimising inflows of low entropy natural resources and by minimising outflows of high entropy waste and emissions. The role that industrial societies have assigned to technology is, however, much more Herculean. We have asked it to simultaneously and boundlessly minimise environmental impacts and maximise economic growth.”.

The direct consequence of this analysis is that as long as we maintain high throughput, as long as we keep high material and energy consumption patterns (as nations, industries and citizens too) we can’t expect technology to manage the existing biophysical limits of the planet, independently of how circular we will make the economy. And the waste generation will keep growing because waste is the product of a high throughput and technologies can only accelerate its generation.

This article is available only in English.

Open Data Big Bang


The concept and the impact of Open Data are already visible in science and business fields in the construction of a new civil society.

Etymogically the term Data is derived from the Latin dare meaning ‘to give’. In this sense as suggested Rob Kitchin, data refer to those elements that are taken and extracted in order to define or observe a specific phenomenon.

Strictly speaking, the data are seen as a series of ‘units of truth ‘or ‘unit of knowledge’ for this reason, it represents a complex socio-technical assemblage.

The spirit of Open Data movement consists of the idea that data should be freely available to everyone, regardless of who they are or how they want to use it without restrictions from copyright and other mechanisms of control.

The digital information given by Open Data about a determinate topic for example transport, education, legislation or business permit people to use it, re-use it and redistribute it including intermixing with other datasets and distributing the results.

Generally, the key aspects of Open Data can be summarized in three points: availability and access, re-use and redistribution and universal participation to data.

However, in order to use the data in this modality, it has to be released in a format that will allow people to share it and combine it with other data to use it in their own applications. This is why transparency isn’t just about access to data, but also making sure that it is released in an open, reusable format.

In business, big data are providing a new means to manage in an efficient and dynamic way all the aspects of a company’s activities and to leverage additional profit through enhanced productivity and market knowledge.

Gradually, several Governments are sharing information with international partners and are exchanging knowledge on respective national open data policies.

Openness about what the government does and how it spends the public resources, is absolutely crucial to the proper functioning of an open and democratic society.

It’s important for the government to release data it holds, such as information on where money is spent and how well public services are performing. Not only does this let people hold government to account, but it can also help to improve efficiency, give people choice in using public services and contribute to economic growth.

In addition, citizens and non-government organizations through the examination of open datasets can draw their own conclusions and create an alternative vision of how society should be organized and managed.

Italy promoted a number of open data activities both at national and local level and collected it in the ‘Italian Action Plan’. In June 2013, the Plan was drafted by Department for Public Administration in cooperation with the Agency for Digital Italy (AGID) in order to share the information about the quality and efficiency of public services and national policies making government`s decisions more transparent.

In this type of activity are involved at a local level the public administration of several Italian Regions and various civil society groups such as ‘Spaghettiopendata’ (a vivid community debating the status of initiatives around open data in Italy and occasionally organizing events); the Italian Association for Open Government; Linked Open Data Italy3, Stati Generali dell’innovazione4, Wikitalia (which is also committed to raising funds and tutoring local administrations for civic hacking projects).

At the moment, from the legal point of view the article 9 of the decree-law no 179/2012 defines the legislative framework that enhances access to and reuse of Public Sector Information (PSI).

Apart from their political uses, in the immigration field open available data are provided online by the Italian Institute of Statistics. Officials statistics on migration flows are based on the administrative sources and include information on the main socio-demographic characteristics of migrants and draft the number of asylum and citizenship applicants.

The consultation of these Open Data could be useful for planning actions, monitoring and evaluating programmers in order to harmonize common immigration policies and estimate the future trends of migrant movements in Italy.

Moreover, an interesting Open Data initiatives are promoted by the National Archives of New York City regarding the immigration field in order to help ancestry and genealogical researches on Italian immigrants in USA during the period 1820- 1957. Indeed, the site contains an extensive searchable database of Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York and provides information including age, sex, literacy, occupation, country of origin, port of embarkation, date of arrival into the city and ship`s name.

Paola Deepa Spagnulo

Intern – Digital Innovation at Immigration