A few lines on a doctoral thesis

Last week we managed to overcome -finally!- one of the main obstacles that hampered the creation of the Kyopol System: my own PhD.

The research for the thesis was initiated in 2005 with a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This grant allowed me to spend one year in Fortaleza (Brazil), investigating the needs and capabilities of urban citizens’ movements and other municipal actors, towards the use Technology to enhance citizen participation.

Quite soon I realized that a “standard doctoral thesis”, which would combine a bit of field work, a few statistics and some public policy analysis… would not achieve a real influence in the electronic participation field, its knowledge and, more importantly, its practice.

I wanted, however, that my research made a useful contribution and provided ‘actionable knowledge’. I decided that my research would provide guidance to create an advanced platform for participation adapted to the needs of Europe and Latin America. I therefore founded the Symbiotic Cities Association and started  my research in Guatemala, with the aim to tightly articulate science with praxis.

It was not until the end of 2012 that my thesis “Creating the ‘Symbiotic City’: a proposal for the interdisciplinary co-design and co-creation of Civic Software Systems” was approved by the University of Alcalá. As the tradition dictates for such events, the solemn ceremony included a big dosis of theatricality and some parts of hypocrisy.

Acto defensa tesisNow that everything finished I have to admit that probably the whole PhD mess was a mistake. An error of mine, in the first place, as I naively believed that creativity and science could be combined without much difficulty. But it is also an error from contemporary academia which, locked in its ivory tower, has failed to accompany the progress of the emerging “network society”, and is still governed by criteria and mental patterns that are “sooo… last century.”

In the beginning of the Industrial Revolution universities played a marginal role and thus it was the curiosity of the “tinkers” and “inventors” from the time that turned the world upside down. Something similar is currently happening: universities seem unable to lead our particular e-Democratic (r)evolution. It’s rather the hackers, the ‘pirates’ and all kind of ‘indignants’ who, nowadays, are better positioned to innovate the ways in which Information Technologies influence and get integrated with our political processes and democratic institutions.

I tried to combine both the innovative and academic ways… and failed. If I had radically opted for the creative path -researching, indeed, but in a more applied way, placing the emphasis on prototypes that integrate the incremental learning- now we would probably have a 0.9 version of Kyopol, which would be used by citizens and municipal governments in a few Spanish cities.

What we have, instead, is a blue-covered book that presents a number of ideas and models, raises a number of valuable critics -irreverent and quite reasoned- and cites hundreds of previous scientific works. Oh, and we also have a doctoral degree! 🙂

I’m not saying this is something ugly, but it is not worth seven years. The opportunity cost that was paid is very high, since in that time we could have cultivate something much more valuable.

Now that a new period is starting, I wanted to administer me the same medicine that I prescribed for others all the time: a committed criticism. Thus, I’m telling myself: “Wrong wrong wrong very wrong… little Peter. Let’s hope you learn from this and wise up!”

PhD defenseSince I have got the PhD, I will try to take advantage of it now, and look for a “postdoc” research position that allows me -this time, indeed- to steadily penetrate into the ‘innovative and creative territory’, and thus help to create that new “Web Science” -radically connected with praxis and with its social contexts of application- which I am sure is the one that will contribute more to the maturing of our species.

So now… let’s go back to work!!

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