The interviews aimed at eliciting fine-grained aspects of communicative and collaborative activities within the Constituent Assembly (CoA). Particularly, we sought insights into the participants’ use of digital tools and technologies, and how they are appropriated in the interplay between malleable social boundaries and the temporality of collaborative routines and practices. Next, we will describe the emergent themes from the semi-structured interviews. Our findings are organized in the following sections along five binary distinctions: 1) Informal and Formal, 2) Novice and Expert, 3) Private and Public, 4) Advertence and Multiplicity, and 5) Instruments and Environments. These binary distinctions are guided by the notion of boundaries, which we use as a sensitising concept. However, we need to stress that it is a post-hoc analytical construction, and boundaries (in a general sense) were not explicitly discussed with the interviewees, although the term is nevertheless occasionally mentioned by them.
4.1 Informal and Formal
Reflections about the use of digital collaborative/communicative tools often led to associations whether the tool, or its intended usage, was ‘informal’ or ‘formal’. This boundary, and its perception, can be attributed to the well-established and normative nature of political customs and protocols (in democratic societies), which in turn are the manifestation of the dichotomy between “what is visible” and “what happens backstage” (cf. ).
The members of the CoA work asynchronously, part-time, and remotely, with less possibilities for frequent collocated meetings – “we are like the ‘militia’, we live our normal lives and do our normal jobs, but we also contribute to the constitution” (P09). As a consequence, our participants unanimously affirmed that e-mails are the accepted channel for formal and official communication. They afford for lengthy and complete information exchange with multiple stakeholders, while allowing for the transfer of documents and links (also observed by [7, 26]). However, the use of e-mail does not necessarily guarantee a reply from the recipient (P05, P09, P10). Furthermore, the use of multiple e-mail accounts and the “Reply All” feature often floods the inboxes, and sometimes important e-mails are marked as spam (P12), which in-turn leads to messages getting lost and overwhelming its users (P08, P09, P11). P11 referred to this phenomenon as the “e-mail ping-pong” which “requires a lot of effort to remain up-to-date”.
On the other hand, WhatsApp was referred to as a lighter, informal, and rapid alternative to e-mails (as reflected by P03, P05, P08, P09, P11, and P12), which affords for approachability –since it is mostly used on a phone and people generally carry it with them– and the push notifications increase the likelihood that messages are seen. The participants, however, added that WhatsApp is not an ideal channel for deep and meaningful conversations unlike telephone calls or e-mails (P03, P12), and sending short messages might lead to misunderstandings (P09). Also, push notifications were reported as “intruding in private life, where the boundary between politics and home is blurred” (P05, P08, P09, P14; cf. ). Moreover, the membership to a high number of WhatsApp groups and the numerous messages received on a daily basis, overwhelmed the participants and caused a “catching-up” fatigue (P07, P14). In addition, the lack of a functionality to search old messages/conversations (unlike e-mail) complicates the process of navigating amongst old messages (P03, P05). Finally, Facebook’s ownership of WhatsApp was also reported as disadvantageous in terms of privacy concerns. However, a lack of a popular alternative gives WhatsApp a competitive advantage. P09 expressed this by noting that “It’s again the classical freedom versus convenience dilemma”.
Contrary to the use of WhatsApp, phone calls were reported as another informal channel for discussions. Attributed with the qualities of enabling a clear medium and facilitating elaboration of ones’ ideas or concerns, which assist in swift attainment of conversational agreement, phone calls were reported as affording “a large space for discussion in uncertain situations or with people who are not proficient with digital tools” (P09, P10). However, it requires prior synchronization and planning to set-up the call (which was also referred to as “messy” by P09), and at the end of a long call there is no tangible trace of what was discussed (P06, P12).
With regards to collaborative activities, such as the co-creation, modification, and review of documents, participants preemptively and collectively formalized the rules of engagement. Google Docs was reported as the popular choice for co-creation by our participants, especially for the ongoing work within the different commissions. P05 and P09 noted that they collectively organized a workshop for their colleagues to familiarize them with Google Docs, especially the elderly members who had never used Google Docs before (see also Sect. 4.2). Specific rules for fair usage (or best-practices) of these tools were explicitly pre-defined (“Please do not delete others’ comments or work!”, “Be respectful to others and their contributions”, etc.), and roles were assigned to individuals who were responsible for resolving conflicts and preparing the final version of the documents.
These findings underline a tension between the “formal” and the “exceptional” use of collaborative tools – in particular, how this boundary is intentionally constructed to enable better coordination and fair collaboration practices while creating documents. On the other hand, this boundary is shifted, or even temporarily deconstructed, to resolve immediate urgent concerns over WhatsApp and phone calls.
4.2 Novice and Expert
Before the commencement of work on the constitution, a working procedure for solving routine tasks had been negotiated within the Constituent Assembly (CoA), including an implicit agreement (which was open to future adaptations) on the use of different collaborative and communicative tools. Additionally, such negotiations about the choice of appropriate digital tools happened within different political groups. However, the specific level of knowledge regarding different tools varies for each participant – they belong to different age groups and have varied professional backgrounds. During the interviews, we asked participants to self-assess themselves on a scale from “physical” to “digital” (spontaneously, some of them used a scale from 1 to 10). Cumulative results of responses to this question are displayed in Fig. 1. Still, it should be noted that the distribution of participants is approximate, since their understanding of the scale reflects two concurrent conceptions of being digital or non-digital. On the one hand, it pertains to knowledge and familiarity with various collaboration/communication tools, on the other hand, there is the aspect of usage preferences, and related attempts to intentionally limit the digitality of their lives (for example, putting their phone into flight mode while at home [P09]).
In organizing collaborative work in the CoA, general preference seems to be given to popular and widespread tools, apps, and devices. The process of selecting a tool for the group takes into account several factors: “You have to balance the interest between the time it takes to understand a new tool, make people use it, and what it can offer” (P12). It is also important to note that the decision does not happen only once, but it is often temporary, in the wait-and-see fashion. The need for a new tool can emerge in real time while working on specific tasks, as the same participant explains: “When we were working on the rules of the CoA, we were discussing between several parties on WhatsApp, and shortly after starting, we realized that we had to move to something like a Word document and share it if we wanted to get things done, or pick up the phone and talk to each other.” A possible explanation for the specific role of technology in policy-making in the CoA was provided by P15 – who has a prior political background unlike many of the elected members in the Assembly. Comparing his work at the CoA with his parallel duties at the Legislative Council, he noted that “there is a bit more technology use in the CoA than in the Legislative Council, because of a different and younger population ... On the contrary, in politics we are not educated about these tools”.
Thus, in some cases, in order to be able to collaborate with others smoothly within the Assembly, participants had to start using technologies that they did not know before. Several participants stated that their work in commissions heightened their familiarity with Google Drive (P04, P06, P08, and P14). They find it useful overall: “Being able to collectively interact on the same document at the same time is really time saving for us” (P08). On the other hand, working in a group of people with uneven knowledge of collaborative tools can also create an environment of “peer pressure” for more tech-savvy users, who are required to use means that they might not find very efficient or beneficial. P03 criticized her colleagues’ way of using Doodle: “they do not use the orange checkbox ... they just wait until everyone is there”. WhatsApp seems so ubiquitous that it almost appears as a necessity: “WhatsApp is not necessarily a group pressure, but it’s simply so well established in society that [communication] can’t be done without it” (P02). However, some participants pointed to certain negative aspects of this tool: “If the number of groups grows more, then it would lose its efficiency” (P08). In addition, “WhatsApp can be annoying when people are sending a lot of things about their holidays ... But you can always shut it down” (P06).
4.3 Private and Public
Participants reflected about the boundary between private and public in relation to the use of social networks (primarily Facebook). In particular, participants who are new to politics and relatively younger, used the platform in the campaigning phase before their election, which compelled them to add strangers and acquaintances to their network. This phenomenon was reported as causing a major shift in their perceptions and experiences with privacy. P08 reflected that “with Facebook the boundaries between what is private, and what is public are becoming thin, almost invisible”. Others (P01, P02, P09, P13, and P14) also reported having similar experiences where their private and public personas were perceived as indistinguishable by the outside world. Moreover, this influenced participants to put in place varied self-identified best practices. For example, P02 created a separate Facebook profile for her political objectives, whereas P08, P09, and P14 subjected their posts to extra scrutiny. P09 recollected an anecdote from his personal experience that “within the political context, [he] learned quickly that it is not wise to criticize or joke about another party on Facebook”, as the controversy led him to “exercise discretion” and treat every post since this incident “as a public statement you give to a journalist”. P08, on the other hand, “stopped adding [her] opinions along with the posts [she] shared”. P13 and P14 reported that their posting activity on Facebook has been significantly reduced since their election into the CoA, and they use the platform primarily to “follow and observe social opinions, concerns, and movements”.
Between the younger and the elder participants, we observed a disparity in the awareness about privacy aspects, and the means of effectively managing it. Amongst the elderly participants, P04 (who is over 70 years) expressed a feeling of pride that he has over 1500 members in his social network, and he frequently shares his ideas and opinions over Facebook. Furthermore, P05 recalled an incident involving an elderly colleague, whose post on the social network platform was regarded as incongruous with their political ideology. Consequently, other members of the party urgently demanded the responsible person to remove the post, and addressed the gaps in their colleague’s awareness about the potential risks with privacy on social networks. P05 further added that “these permeable boundaries between private and public on social network platforms are awareness blind-spots for people who are not knowledgeable about the risks”, and expressed a desire to “make this distinction more salient” by adopting the principles of ‘seamful design’  concerning privacy on social networks.
Few participants also expressed their concerns about the risks associated with Facebook’s use in light of the recent global scandals surrounding the platform. P01 stated that “... trust in politics and politicians has suffered as [Facebook] was used to influence elections. Consequently, the entanglement of politics and Facebook is not good as the trust is clearly lacking”. Furthermore, both P01 and P09 referred to Godwin’s LawFootnote 4 as a reason to avoid organizing discussions or canvassing opinions on the platform. P02 further noted that “seeking neutral and honest opinions on Facebook has a certain ‘tiredness’, and [she] would rather prefer to subscribe to several newspapers to inform [herself] about public concerns”. Finally, P07 informed us that the CoA has commissioned an ad-hoc and secure participatory tool that will enable the citizens to engage with the commissions and their work in the Assembly.
As discussed in the previous section, participants noted using Google Docs to collectively create, review, and edit documents. In response to a question whether participants perceived risks in using a commercial third-party platform, which can be subjected to malicious activities such as hacking, most replied “the nature of our work is public, and we have nothing to hide” since prior measures have been collectively taken to define best practices. Furthermore, P09 elaborated that the preemptive policy of establishing accepted behaviors a priori, and defining regulations mitigate the likelihood that, in the event of a leak, the content and comments cannot be used adversely.
4.4 Advertence and Multiplicity
Participants reported conventionally using multiple digital tools simultaneously in their political work. In addition, the tools themselves have become versatile and support multiple concurrent activities, for example, “... Google enables searching for articles and laws from other states and countries, translating them, and sharing it with your colleagues in less than a minute” (P05). Still, the most striking revelation was the appropriated use of WhatsApp during plenary sessions to facilitate ‘Silent Lateral Communication’. P05, P09, and P11 noted this phenomenon in response to the question – Does the accessibility of digital tools make the modern political work different from past efforts in constitution writing?
Plenary sessions of the Constituent Assembly (CoA) are important public events attended by the general public and journalists, and the proceedings are broadcasted live on state television. P05 stated that “the use of smartphones by the elected members during these sessions are not perceived well by the public, as they might presume that you are inattentive or distracted ... but since WhatsApp is also available on our laptops, we frequently use it to coordinate in real time to strategically present our ideas and prepare our arguments”. Moreover, similar to parliamentary proceedings, each member is awarded a 5 min time-window to speak, which is primarily used to propose a new motion, present arguments in response to existing discussion, and answer questions raised by others. This adherence to protocol, time constrains, and social perceptibility entails microscopic collective planning, negotiation, and organization which are afforded by WhatsApp. Since these recurrent sideways communicative actions co-occur with the proceedings of the Assembly, and are invisible to the eyes of the public and press, we refer to them as ‘Silent Lateral Communications’. Both P09 and P11 recollected engaging in such conversations which also involved members from different parties. This finding confirms that chat at work is used when information is “timely and pertinent to ongoing work” .
The multiplicity of tools –different tools supporting different tasks– was observed by a few participants as “adding to the complexity” which makes it more likely to “exclude some people from actual discussions” (P15). Further illustrating his argument, P15 used an example scenario: “Before a meeting, discussions happen primarily over e-mail or Google Drive, however, during the meeting people who did not contribute online would be at a disadvantage”. Moreover, combined influence of aspects related to the partial nature of work in the CoA, and the varying levels of accessibility afforded by different tools, resulted into a “catching-up fatigue” (P06, P07). The affordances of WhatsApp (availability on phone and push notifications) render it permanently accessible, and subsequently a source of “frequent intrusion in private and family time” (P05, P08). Participants also noted establishing different coping mechanisms to prevent such intrusions resulting from numerous notifications. For instance, P09 stated that “when at home, [he] puts [his] phone on the flight mode, and turns it back ON again after [his] kids are sleeping”.
4.5 Instruments and Environments
Finally, we will review the results related to more general questions focusing on the role of technological tools in the daily political work of the participants, in the foreseeable future, and on the overarching role of ICT in contemporary society as a whole.
Nearly all of the participants see technologies primarily as means to an end. What will ultimately count is only the result of their work – that is the final text of the constitution, which is “the end product” (P04). P01 noted that “the technological tools are there to optimize and simplify the writing process ... If the final constitution is there, no one is interested in what the process was like”. Or even more concisely, as P07 put it: “The tool is a mean, the constitution is a value”. Once the goals are reached, the road and the obstacles will be simply forgotten. Grasping the technology as an instrument –a pragmatic mean for achieving a definite goal– can be conceived as one pole of a conceptual scale.
The understanding of technology as an instrument is also reflected in response to the question about the imagined position of technology in the future constitution. Most of the constituents do not see a real reason to dedicate any articles of the constitution specifically to digital technologies. Our interviewees often mentioned that a need might emerge for approaching the digitization of society in a generic way in the constitution, but that it is rather a topic which should be regulated at the level of laws (P02, P04, P11, P12, and P13).
In addition to the instrumental conception of technology, on the other end of the scale, we encounter the notion of technology as an environment. While reflecting on the difference between their own work on the constitution and the creation of previous constitution in 1907, the role of technologies is seen as central and beneficial: “Every element that you used to have when you wrote the constitution, 100 years ago, you always had to meet. That’s very cumbersome” (P01). The lower necessity of face-to-face meetings and possibility of distant working is seen as an advantage by some (P12, P01), and many appreciate that the whole process is much faster (P03, P06, P08, P10, P13, P14). Although generally positive, several participants also noted disadvantages of mediated interaction as a basis for political work: “I believe that the dynamics of face-to-face discussions can have an impact on the outcome, although I am not so sure, just a feeling ... In real meetings, there is a lot in the attitudes ... You know, the non-verbal attitudes, ability to convince or manipulate the opinions, this doesn’t happen while editing the documents collaboratively online” (P09). In addition, the easy and quick availability of information online was also evaluated critically: “In the past it was about knowledge, which you had to have, today it is more about where you can get knowledge. But there can also be a surplus of information and distractions” (P11).
Although sometimes reserved about the true value of technologies, participants also reported that the digital communication tools are not used in their full potential: “In this respect we are at the beginning of a great journey to discover what technology can still do and what possibilities it will still offer” (P01). Several participants (P02, P03, P12, P15) emphasized the disparity in the rate of changes in digital technologies and the change in human practices: “Everything is getting faster at the moment, and its overwhelming to keep up to it” (P02). Indeed, this is only part of the story, as in many cases the inefficient use of technology is not caused by insufficient cognitive capacities, but rather lack of technical skills and sometimes also unwillingness: “Skills of people are not enough. It would be good to educate people...But a change of culture is also needed. Some people still think that everything should be discussed during face-to-face meetings only. We can do much better, and I have the feeling that culture will change in the future” (P15).