Accepted Paper:

An "open" and/or "centralized" public service ? Digital-common "Openfisca" case study  


Sebastien Shulz (IFRIS, Université Paris-Est)

Paper short abstract:

This paper, through the Openfisca case study, will analyse the tensions emerging when an online public service is converted to become a «digital-common» (Fuster Morell, M. 2010) in a democratic experiment perspective, and the way actors try to solve those tensions.

Paper long abstract:

Openfisca is an open micro-simulator of tax-benefit system providing a public service. It is used both by administrations as a prospective tool to simulate impacts of reforms and by citizens to calculate their numerous taxes and social benefits. It was developed in 2011 as a free software by two public official economists and is now supported by Etalab, a French administration in charge of "open government" policy. Since 2016, Openfisca is declared as a «digital-common» by officials. However, members of the community develop a critical discourse: they consider its governance neither «open» nor «democratic» enough to be called so.

Openfisca is one of the first examples of a state-developed "digital-common". Thus, it can be regarded as a novel democratic experimentation led by the public sector. Yet, it has been empirically studied to date to a limited extent. This study, which is part of a Ph. D. thesis on public/digital commons partnerships, aims to fill that lack. It focuses on the tension between the open and democratic dimensions of Openfisca and the fact that it is supported by a centralized administration. How actors deal with that tension in their discourses, collaborative practices and technological choices?

The empirical data is based on semi-directive interviews with members of Openfisca, observations of work meetings and digital traces of online activity of the community. The methodological framework is a combination of ethnography of free software communities (Coleman E. 2005) and a political sociology of this socio-technical system in a Deweyen (1927) democratic experiment perspective.

Panel E09
Experiments in democracy