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Jo Spiegel (2/2): "The elected official can no longer consider himself the alpha and omega of politics"

  • Thursday, November 12, 2020

  • Blog cover image

    Read the 1st part of the interview

    Jo Spiegel is one of the pioneers of participative democracy. Mayor of Kingersheim from 1989 to 2020, he was able to set up a real "democracy - construction " with its inhabitants. Dozens of initiatives, including the House of Citizenship, have transformed the city's democratic landscape.

    In "Les voix de la démocratie", he talks about the crucial role of local elected officials, his support for representative democracy, and his advice for re-enchanting it.

    The researcher Camille Morio evoked with us the "stato-centric positioning of power". How to culturally transform this "top down" hierarchy that freezes** the relationship between elected officials and citizens, but also the whole public organization?

    Photo of Jo Spiegel, pioneer of participatory democracy](Capture-d_e_cran-2020-11-12-a_-13.58.59x174x167x.png)

    Jo Spiegel

    The question of the humble relationship to power is decisive. To move from the conquest of power, to the sharing of power. From power "over" to power "with". The questions you ask are part of the "democratic unthinking", as if behind the most virtuous speeches could not hide the obsession of power, the ego, the incapacity to distance oneself from what one does.

    The elected official can no longer consider himself as the alpha and omega of politics. His role changes radically as soon as one changes the relationship to the election. He will always be the decision-maker in a representative democracy. It is the honor of the politician to decide and this requires courage. But he can no longer make decisions without being the animator, upstream, of the decision-making process. Politicians alone cannot change the world! In addition to being builders, constructors and providers of public services, they must have a capacity for distancing from themselves in order to encourage and support the power of action of citizens.

    This role will be crucial in the years to come.

    Elected officials can no longer consider themselves as the alpha and omega of politics. He must be the facilitator, upstream, of a decision-making process.


    Image illustrating the series "The voices of democracy" dedicated here to Arnaud de Champsavin, consultant in citizen participation

    Read: "Without a real culture of participation and its tools, digital technology could enslave democracy"


    You are traveling around France today to share your experience of participatory democracy. What are the questions and fears that come up most often?

    In Kingersheim, there is an interesting question about the filiation, to continue what has been put in place. I always answer that we have worked to ensure that the state of mind is installed in the town hall, with training for the new teams and via the employees. It is very important that the entire administration has this mindset.

    Continuous democracy is not "continuous" democracy, with endless palaver and no end in sight. It is a project approach, in democratic sequences.

    There is also the question of the change of scale that often comes up. How can we set up the same thing in a larger municipality? My answer is that we are in a project democracy. Nothing prevents us from thinking about a democratic sequence for any type of structuring project.

    I like this term "sequence". For me, continuous democracy is not continuous democracy, with endless palaver and no end in sight. It is a project approach, with dedicated democratic sequences, which have a beginning and an end. The end is when the participatory council is entrusted with the mission of studying the subject in depth. The representatives then come before the city council, whose session I am suspending, to make a recommendation on the basis of which the elected representatives will make a decision. This is what I call the "democratic continuum " between the decisive phase of consultation and co-construction, and the decision-making phase, which belongs to the elected representatives.

    There is no spontaneous generation of elected officials who know how to do participatory democracy.

    Another apprehension of elected officials: the fear of not being correctly equipped. Of not having the engineering - and I use this term advisedly, because there are engineers for all political activities, but too few for that which consists in creating collective intelligence. We need engineers of public debate. We are not trained for that.

    We also often forget the question of meaning. The elected official is often in a politico-technocratic or politico-political scheme, when in fact he is expected to deal with two issues: the meaning of projects and how to involve citizens.

    It's a long way to go. There is no spontaneous generation of elected officials who know how to do it. And yet, we sense the willingness to act in many of them.


    Visual showing an elected official to illustrate the series of articles "Voices of Democracy" by Fluicity](visualinterview_900-1030x1030x66x.png)

    Read: "It is essential that communities have the means to act!"


    How do you see the future of participatory democracy: in the short term (the next structuring actions that should be put in place) and in the long term (how far can it go)?

    In the short/medium term, I would like to see the creation of a democratic transition factory in each region, to train in the meaning of shared governance. This factory would be open to elected officials, but also to representatives of associations, unions, business leaders, etc. I have already been asked by liberated companies to draw inspiration from the democratic ecosystem implemented in Kingersheim. We could create places of exchange!

    If we want the general interest to progress in our country, elected officials must not only be the guarantors, but also the co-owners.

    The blockage of our country lies in the fact that we do not know how to put the different resources of sense, intelligence and commitment around the table. And without that, we cannot make dynamic compromises. We leave the floor to the extremes, who are content with "just do it", feeding the inhabitants with demagogy and exploiting fears. Instead of being in a democratic requirement which would be that of the collective intelligence and the compromises.

    In the long term, I think that we must move towards a 6th Republic, not only in terms of an electoral slogan. The change must go hand in hand with everything that is "relationship to the other". We need a school of cooperation and not a school of competition. We must ensure that children are confronted with otherness, complexity and conflict. Everything starts at school. We need to reconquer the civic spirit, to rebuild citizenship through different tools: citizens' days in the communes, the participative budget... Why not also generalize a civic service where each citizen would give 6 months of his life to the common good.

    We must rediscover the question of the common good! One of the causes of democratic disloyalty is the rise of private individualism. This is what pushed me, in 1998, to change the every man for himself. We are in an atomized and archipelagic France. If we want the general interest to progress in our country, the elected representatives must not only be the guarantors of it, but also the "co-owners".