Executive Summary.

With this proposal we are proposing a set of targeted activities by Kennisland, Centrum Cyfrowe and the Commons Network aimed at developing an alternative policy frame for digital policymaking (with a focus on access to information) in the European Union in collaboration with EU civil society organisations working on these issues. For the purpose of the proposal Kennisland will act as a consortium lead and coordinate the activities of the partners.

We are proposing these activities in the light of the upcoming elections for the European Parliament (in May 2019) and the subsequent development of a new EU Commission work programme (in the summer of 2019). Our advocacy activities in the context of the ongoing discussions about the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive are taking place within the "Digital Single Market" frame. This limits the policy space that we and other civil society organisations operate in. In order to allow us to better advocate for public interest concerns related to digital issues in the EU context, we propose to investigate our ability to develop an alternative frame that can provide us with a more favourable policy space in the future.

This proposal concerns a first phase in which we conduct research and then bring together civil society stakeholders in order to develop an alternative frame that is subsequently validated. We expect this phase to last a maximum of four months (june to september). The final deliverable will be a set of documents that outline an alternative policy frame and an implementation strategy. We will evaluate the frame with policymakers and other stakeholders from our networks. If we succeed in developing a shared frame that is supported by a wide coalition of groups then this process will need to be followed up by an implementation phase that runs from after the summer break until the EU elections in May 2019 (this implementation phase is not covered by this proposal).

Purpose of the grant.

e are submitting a proposal for project funding that builds on the existing activities of Kennisland and its partners in the field of EU copyright reform and digital policy more broadly. The funds will be used to develop an alternative policy frame for digital policymaking (with a focus on access to information) in the European Union in collaboration with EU civil society organisations working on these issues.

Our proposal deals with a first phase that is aimed at researching, developing and testing support for an alternative policy frame that could replace the existing Digital Single Market frame. We are doing this in light of the upcoming elections for the European Parliament (May 2019) and the subsequent development of a new EU Commission work programme (in the summer of 2019). We intend to conclude this initial phase of the effort to establish an alternative frame by end of September 2018. If our efforts result in an alternative frame that enjoys support of a broad coalition of civil society organisations, we will attempt to deploy this frame in a subsequent phase leading up to these events. This second phase is not covered by this proposal.

The current proposal does seek funding for research, a two-day workshop for about fifteen key civil society representatives, external expertise with regard to political frame setting, and an initial evaluation of the process with select policymakers. The outcome would be a policy narrative and a set of communication guidelines that can be used in the second phase.

Context.

A brief description of the nature of the challenges you are attempting to address with this grant. Please also comment on the political and cultural environment in which your organization operates, and specifically any external factors that may influence your organization's ability to conduct work and affect change. Factors to consider may include legislative and regulatory enactments or institutional shifts at the local, national or international level(s) that bear on the risk involved in working with the organization. Please also outline how your organization plans to mitigate or address these potential risks.

Today, most policy discussions related to digital rights (including copyright), Internet governance and data management in the EU take place within the framework established by the European Union's Digital Single Market initiative. Discussing digital policy questions within this framework reduces many of these issues to questions about the proper functioning of markets. It also isolates policymaking in the digital space from the existing traditions of policymaking for offline public spaces in the area of culture, education or civil infrastructure in general. And as such from growing social trends of online and offline cooperation in the areas of education, culture and science. Within this framework it is even difficult to discuss non-market externalities of markets. As a result, the current DSM strategy of the EU includes "cross-border parcel delivery" among the issues to be addressed but lacks priorities focussed on civil participation and non-market-driven collaboration.

Without undertaking more research it is difficult to assess whether the framing of policy making for the digital environment as a market issue is the result of a deliberate attempt to exclude concerns about civil participation and public interests, or if it is the consequence of the fact that the European Union lacks a clearly defined competence in this area and needs to rely on it's core ‘internal market competence[1].

In practice it does not matter much how we ended up with this framing, it is more important to realise that framing these issues in a market context is detrimental to our ability to advance public interest concerns related to digital issues in the EU context.

The exclusively market-based perception of this space ignores the fact that the online environment/Internet has become an important part of our societies and public sphere.

This public space is increasingly undermined by the commercialisation and centralisation through dominant positions of large corporate players, as well as the increasing trend of stricter copyright regulations and filtering of the net. The governance and design of infrastructures has great implications for the management of our personal data and the commodification of users’ online activity.

This poses important questions about how we choose to organise and regulate our digital societies, and how the Internet and knowledge governance models can be developed and implemented to ensure fair and democratic participation.

Reframing digital issues

With the next EU elections taking place in a little more than a year from now we are quickly moving towards the next EU policy cycle. The Digital Single Market has been high on the agenda of the sitting Commission, although many of the issues included in the initiative remain unresolved. This provides an opportunity to think about alternative ways for framing digital policy issues in the EU that take a more comprehensive societal approach.

If successfully established, such a frame could both be useful in the direct context of the upcoming elections (frame media narratives and make candidates and parties position themselves in relation to the frame), and in the context of drawing up the next Commission's work programme in the fall of 2019 which will guide the Commission's policy initiatives for the subsequent five years.

There is currently a wide variety of civil society groups working on issues related to the digital space. These range from groups that address digital issues within a range of broader issues (such as the Commons Network or BEUC), civil society groups with a specific focus on digital rights issues (such as COMMUNIA and EDRi), and sector organisations that are strongly affected by digital issues (such as library organisations). A common frame for digital policy issues would need to work for organisations across this entire spectrum.

After initial discussions it seems that such a frame would need to emphasise the need for public infrastructures and spaces in the digital environment that are governed by and structured according to the needs of citizens (including the democratisation and decentralisation of Internet infrastructures). This framing is especially relevant to the current debate about digital platforms – the concept of publicly or collectively managed platforms is being raised in public debates as one of the solutions to the dysfunctions of current platforms that serve as commercial substitutes to public communication spaces.

We propose to further investigate our ability to develop an alternative frame that would allow us to better advocate for public interest concerns related to digital issues in the EU context.

Core objectives, outcomes and activities.

Developing an alternative frame

In order to develop an alternative frame we propose the following process. In the light of the timing of the elections this process would need to be concluded before the end of September 2018. If we succeed in developing a shared frame that is supported by a wide coalition of groups then this process will need to be followed up by an implementation phase that runs from after the summer break until the EU elections in May 2019 (this implementation phase is not covered by this proposal).

  • Step 1: Desk research aimed at (a) developing a better understanding of the creation of the Digital Single Market frame and (b) mapping the key digital policy issues of civil society organisations currently active on the EU level.
  • Step 2: Desk research and interviews with experts aimed at understanding how new policy frames can be introduced into the European policy debate; and how such frames can be employed to shape in particular policy debates during election campaigns.
  • We expect steps 1 and 2 to run in parallel and take about a month to conclude. In parallel with this we will prepare for the workshop (step 3) that could take place about 1,5 months after the kick off of the project).
  • Step 3: A two-day workshop with individuals in charge of policy development from key civil society organisations active in this field. This workshop should be supported by one or more external experts with experience related to framing policies on the EU level.
  • Step 4: Consolidate the outcomes of the workshop into a draft frame/communication strategy (with support from external exports).
  • Step 5: Validate the result with select policymakers (MEPs) and fine-tune based on the input received.
  • Step 6: [If steps 1-5 have produced a viable outcome]: Seek commitment from civil society organisations to work towards establishing this frame in their activities related to the 2019 elections.

We would expect steps 3-6 to be concluded by the end of September 2018.

Evaluation.

The evaluation is part of the process described in the preceding section. This project will be successful if it results in an alternative frame for digital policy issues that is used by a strong coalition for civil society organisations that work on these issues. A frame that results in a more public-interest-driven policy perspective on our digital sphere, moving away from the market logic lens, and which is also attractive for civil society outside of the immediate policymaking environment. The key metric for this is the commitment from these organisations in step 6. Another important indicator of success will be the feedback from policymakers obtained in stage 5. For an alternative frame to gain traction it needs to be seen by these policymakers as viable.


  1. Competence refers to the rules that establish in which policy areas the EU has been authorised by the member states to make policy. For internal market issues the EU enjoys a mix of exclusive competence (the member states cannot make policy) and shared competence (the member states cannot make policy unless there is no EU policy). For an overview of EU competences see wikipedia. ↩︎