Participation in Spanish Municipalities: The Makings of a Network of Open cities

A visualization of the network of decidim.barcelona
A visualization of the network of decidim.barcelona, courtesy of decidim.barcelona

In September 2015, Madrid — the capital of Spain — initiated a participatory democracy project, Decide Madrid (Madrid decides), to enable participatory strategic planning for the municipality. Less than half a year after, in February 2016, Barcelona — the second largest city in Spain and capital of Catalonia — issued their own participatory democracy project: decidim.barcelona (Barcelona we decide). Both cities use the same free software platform as a base, and are guided by the same political vision.

The success of the initiatives and the strong political vision behind them have caused an outburst of other initiatives around the whole state – and most especially in Catalonia – that are working to emulate the two big cities. They are sharing their free-software-based technology, their procedures and protocols, their reflections both on open events as in formal official meetings. What began as seemingly a one-time project, has spread both in length and width. In length, because it will not only stay but grow over time. In width, because there are serious plans to expand its adoption both at the regional level, led by the Barcelona County Council, and at the Spanish State level, being replicated by other municipalities.

Of course, the big question is whether this has had any positive impact in the quality of democracy, the very intention behind the participatory initiative in Barcelona.

Available open documentation suggests that decidim.barcelona has increased the information access of the citizens, has gathered more citizens around key issues. There has been an increase of participation, with citizen created proposals that have been widely supported and legitimated and finally accepted to be part of the municipality strategic plan. As pluralism has been enhanced without damaging the existing social capital, we can only think that the increase of participation has led to an improvement of democratic processes, especially in bolstering legitimacy around decision making.

This can be summarized in four key points:

  • Deliberation becomes the new democracy standard.
  • Openness as the pre-requisite for deliberation.
  • Accountability and legislative footprint as an important by-product to achieve legitimacy.
  • Participation leads to more pluralism and stronger social capital, which fosters deliberation, thus closing the (virtuous) circle of deliberative democracy.

Although the scheme may be simple, we believe that it already features most of the components of a new democratic participation in the digital age. What remains to be measured and analyzed is the strength and stability of the new relationships of power and how exactly these will challenge the preceding systemic structures and lead to newer ones.

Although some aspects have been identified in what relates to new relationships between citizens and organizations and institutions, and in what relates to the creation of new tacit communities, para-organizations relational spaces, the real trend and hypothetical final scenario will only become clear after several iterations of the same project evolve in a continuum of participation, radically different from existing, discrete participatory structures.

What has already been measured is the impact both at the quantitative level and on the culture of the organization of the City Council.

The culture of participation was scarce and mainly dealt with managing the support of the citizen in top-down type initiatives. Changing the mindset implied turning upside-down, many of the departments and processes of the City Council: new coordination structures, new balances between the central administration and the districts’, need to speed up the slow tempos of the Administration, manage public-private partnerships (that had to be coordinated too), enable private-private coordination and, in general, increase the workload.

Although the platform and the project in general changed the way of working, and changed it for good by contributing to visualize the work of the public servants, one of the main conclusions reinforces the old saying — democracy is not cheap.

Originally published on March 3, 2017, as Participation in Spanish Municipalities: The Makings of a Network of Open cities at the blog of the research project Voice or Chatter? led by IT for Change.

More information on this project:

Report. State of the Art: Spain. Voice or chatter? Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement

Cover for the report

This report aims at providing an overview of the normative and institutional state of art of ICT-mediated citizen participation in Spain. The first section provides an overview of the political and civic liberties framework in Spain. In the second section the landscape of ICT mediated citizen engagement is mapped. In the third section, the report engages with implications of technology mediations for deliberative democracy and transformative citizenship.

This report is the outcome of a collaboration between IT for Change and Ismael Peña-López, School of Law and Political Science, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya under a research project titled Voice or Chatter? Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICTmediated Citizen Engagement.

The State of the Art reports provide an overview of the normative and institutional state of art of ICT-mediated citizen participation in various countries. They provide an overview of the political and civic liberties framework, the landscape of ICT-mediated citizen engagement; and delve into the implications of technology mediations for deliberative democracy and transformative citizenship.

A former version of this report was released as a working paper as Technopolitics, ICT-based participation in municipalities and the makings of a network of open cities. Drafting the state of the art and the case of decidim.Barcelona.

About the Project

This research has been produced with the financial support of Making All Voices Count. Making All Voices Count is a programme working towards a world in which open, effective and participatory governance is the norm and not the exception. This Grand Challenge focuses global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions to transform the relationship between citizens and their governments. Making All Voices Count is supported by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and Omidyar Network (ON), and is implemented by a consortium consisting of Hivos, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Ushahidi. The programme is inspired by and supports the goals of the Open Government Partnership.

Acknowledgements

The author wants to thank the guidance, thorough review and suggestions made by Deepti Bharthur, Nandini Chami and Anita Gurumurthy from IT for Change. The author also wants to thank the indispensable help from Arnau Monterde from UOC/IN3.

What is social inclusion today?

Amartya Sen revolutionized the concept of human development by presenting his capability approach. From his point of view, it is not enough to have physical access to resources, but, in addition, one must be able to put them to the benefit of oneself. This step from objective choice to subjective choice has been completed in recent years with a third stage of development: effective choice. According to that, it is not enough to have resources, or to want or know how to use them, but, moreover, it is necessary that one is allowed to do so. Indeed, it is the strengthening of democratic institutions what has recently been at the center of debates around human development and, by extension, social inclusion.

In a digital world, in the Information and Knowledge Society, it is easy to establish comparisons between these three stages of development with the three digital divides that have been identified since the term made its fortune in the mid-1990s.

  • The first digital divide is one that refers to access (or lack thereof) to technological infrastructures. A gap that, although persisting, will soon be residual as economies achieve certain income thresholds.
  • The second digital divide refers to skills, the so-called digital literacy. A gap that schools, libraries and telecentres have been tackling as a priority for some years.
  • The third digital divide, which adds up to (and does not replace) the former two, refers to the strategic use of ICTs to improve one’s life. We speak of online education, e-health or technopolitics, to mention only three cases where this gap is already more than patent.

This third gap, opened relatively recently, is quickly widening with the increasing presence in our lives of teleassistance, online training or political participation through social networks and spaces of deliberation, etc.

Therefore, social inclusion, and by extension the active exercise of citizenship, will increasingly depend on that third level e-inclusion, which enables a development based on full objective, subjective and effective choices.

It is likely that there will be no democracy, health or education without the active participation of citizens in these aspects.

Available data tell us that while the first digital divide is getting smaller and smaller, the second (skills) is increasingly important (especially in relative and qualitative terms: there are no more people, but they do see themselves as more digital illiterates) and, consequently, it contributes to enlarge the third one, that in many cases ends up with a flat rejection to everything that has to do with digital technology.

The so-called digital refuseniks are a group generally neglected when it comes to addressing social inclusion policies, with the probable outcome that they will be the great excluded of a society that, today, is building heavily on digital participation.

In an age of participation, engagement, co-building, it is to expect that there will be no greater active exercise of citizenship without greater and better use of the Internet; and there will be no greater and better use of the Internet if the problem of effective use of the Net is not addressed beyond physical access to infrastructures and beyond digital literacy.

As it has been stated above, there are three areas — health, learning and democracy — that are today the three most important areas (besides economic, often determined by the three previous ones) where social inclusion will be determined especially by the respective degree of e-inclusion of a given person… or an institution.

The recent achievements that have come from social innovation, open innovation and open social innovation are virtually inexplicable without that desire for an emancipated citizenship enabled by ICTs.

Selected readings

Digital divide
Van Deursen, A. & van Dijk, J. (2013). “The digital divide shifts to differences in usage”. In New Media & Society, 16 (3), 507-526. London: SAGE Publications.
Political participation
Cantijoch, M. (2014). La desigualdad digital, ¿una nueva fuente de desigualdad política?. ZOOM Político/2014/23. Madrid: Fundación Alternativas.
Peña-López, I. (2015b). “Política, tecnopolítica y desarrollo digital”. In Cristianisme i Justícia (Ed.), ¿Qué nos jugamos? Reflexiones para un año electoral, 12-14. Colección Virtual nº10. Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia.
Robles Morales, J.M., Molina Molina, Ó. & De Marco, S. (2012). “Participación política digital y brecha digital política en España. Un estudio de las desigualdades digitales”. In Arbor. Ciencia, Pensamiento y Cultura, 188 (756), 795-810. Berkeley: Berkeley Electronic Press.
Health
Tarbal, A. (2015). “TIC y salud, un binomio saludable para todos”. In Roca, G. (Coord.), Las nuevas tecnologías en niños y adolescentes. Guía para educar saludablemente en una sociedad digital, Capítulo 1, 21-37. Barcelona: Hospital Sant Joan de Déu.
Education
Peña-López, I. (2010). “From laptops to competences: bridging the digital divide in higher education”. In Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC), Monograph: Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education, 7 (1). Barcelona: UOC.
Peña-López, I. (2015a). “El doble filo de la tecnología: una oportunidad de inclusión y un peligro de exclusión”. In Roca, G. (Coord.), Las nuevas tecnologías en niños y adolescentes. Guía para educar saludablemente en una sociedad digital, Capítulo 9, 123-133. Barcelona: Hospital Sant Joan de Déu.

Open Cities Summit (VI). Ideathon workshops takeaways

Notes from the Open Cities Summit, part of the International Open Data Conference 2016, and held in Madrid, Spain, on 5 October 2016. More notes on this event: opencitiessummit and iodc16.

Ideathon workshops takeaways

Open data portals and engagement mechanisms

Who is a user of the open data portal? After identifying the user, a user list sorted by priority should be drawn.

Scholars should explain what open data is and promote it’s use.

Free open data management tools.

Keep data updated and update it and make it known.

Adopting the Open Data Charter

How do tell the quality of open data? How do we know about its usage?

We have a lot of data, but we lack the storytelling, the visuals.

What makes sense for a government, what can work for them, what makes sense for technicians.

We need open data champions.

The charter seems simple but its application is complex. It is a good idea to ‘deconstruct’ it principle by principle, recommendation by recommendation, and go step by step while aiming for the whole.

Create networks of cities that have adopted the charter and see how they did it.

Competitiveness and economic development

We have to identify what is the problem. But not like “unemployment is the problem” but more focused on people. And then, try to come up with an idea that most people will quickly understand because it relies with some other familiar initiative (e.g. “Facebook for dogs”).

We can create the “Tinder for data”, a meta-data portal for open data. It would identify data that could be open and thus create opportunities.

Smart and resilient cities

Bring the users in the design of the projects.

Identify the key role players and establish communication strategies among them.

How do we enable the measurement of vulnerability and how to address it. What defines a resilient city.

Interdisciplinary collaboration and organizational change

Better name: culture change for common understanding.

Start with the challenge.

Creating common context.

Actively create and maintain feedback.

Go across disciplines and across sectors.

Interaction between civil society organizations and between civil society organizations and governments.

Fiscal transparency

Entrepreneurs, SMEs, etc.: they might find hard to find the kind of information that is relevant to them. What are they needs? What are the usual tasks that require data? Awareness on their needs and awareness of the possibilities of open data.

Try and draw a chronological story of data for firms: When starting a business, what is the information that you need? What is the government spending (procurement) in the field? What is the budget and what is the execution of that budget. Do I have benefits for operating in this field? What are the trends in my area?

Making city services accessible

It is very difficult for people to see the safety net, to know what public services can one citizen access.

To build a healthy ecosystem, accessible, interoperable, sustainable, that relates referral providers and social service services.

Standards and interoperability

A good way to understand standards and interoperability is by looking at the path that goes from raw data to indicators, in an aggregation process.

The big issue is that standards apply to very small portions of reality, while reality is much more complex. Open data, smart cities, open government, etc. begin to create their own specific (ad hoc) standards that often overlap.

Who provides the data and how?

Who will reuse the data and how?

4th International Data Conference (2016)

Open Cities Summit (IV). Public presentation of the eight projects developed along Visualizar’16 international workshop at Medialab-Prado

Notes from the Open Cities Summit, part of the International Open Data Conference 2016, and held in Madrid, Spain, on 5 October 2016. More notes on this event: opencitiessummit and iodc16.

Petcha Kucha presentations of the eight projects developed along Visualizar’16 international workshop at Medialab-Prado (26 September – 5 October
Presented by José Luis de Vicente

staDAtus: a way to escape the Desert of Knowledge

Most of research results are not transparent. On the other hand, most citizens neither realize the importance of transparency nor where to get the data in case they would like to. staDatus aims at showing the state of transparency/open data portals.

staDatus is a community-based/crowdsourced project. It creates templates so that citizens can track and assess portals, especially according to what the law says. These tools will be designed with gamification methodologies in able to help citizens.

urBside-art

The project is made up by artists and architects and focuses on the solid waste that cities produce, with the aim to raise awareness on this issue. Another goal is to democratize art.

An app has been developed to help citizens and urban artists to share their works and to enable interaction between citizens and urban art.

My museum

The project aims at monitoring the behaviour of visitors in cultural institutions. Museums need to know what visitors do, what do they do, how do they move in order to be able to give them the best experience.

Re-thinking the museum has to take into consideration storytelling, interaction, etc.

The project has developed an app that mixes tracking with augmented reality. As the visitor moves inside the museum, the application will give the visitor (augmented reality) information, enable interaction, etc. On the other hand, this will also produce tracking data that the museum can use to reflect on the exposition or the cultural activity.

Gala

Goal: show/visualize the concerts happening all over the world as a galaxy/constellation according to the musical gender. Data comes from last.fm

The visualization can help to identify music styles geographic clusters, or how e.g. minority styles spread and evolve.

Fab City Dashboard

What is the resilience of a city regarding its manufacturing, distribution and consumption of goods?

What is the role of citizens in shaping a Fab City with open, distributed and collaborative initiatives?

A dashboard has been created to monitor eleven measurements for the resilience of a city.

The dashboard can also be used to measure the impact of a given project on resilience on the city.

liQen

Goal: Mapping micro-conflicts through people experiences.

(Please follow the link above. See also http://commonactionforum.net/projects/)

Open Referral

Information about health, people and social services. From long documents in PDF format to structured open data.

An application makes it easy to scrap, store and publish data. And it can be done in a crowdsourced way.

apps4citizens is a collection of apps for citizen action.

An app has been deployed to map these apps in the territory using Quadrigram.

4th International Data Conference (2016)

Open Cities Summit (III). Expert panel on what is an open city: emerging trends, scaling opportunities, strengthening networks

Notes from the Open Cities Summit, part of the International Open Data Conference 2016, and held in Madrid, Spain, on 5 October 2016. More notes on this event: opencitiessummit and iodc16.

Expert panel on what is an open city: emerging trends, scaling opportunities, strengthening networks.
Moderator: Antonio Moneo-Laín (IADB)

Barbara Ubaldi, OECD

Open data needs cities because cities know who the local actors are.

Because open data is about action.

Networks of cities — within the country or at the international level — are very important.

Jean-Noé Landry, Open North

How do we reconcile the opportunity of open data with the resilience of cities.

Most of the global open data movement has been led by citizens, nonprofits, etc. How can local governments empower these actors?

It is important what happens before data is released, what are the ethics behind making data available.

Where does the demand come from? Who has the means to ask for data? We have to look into that carefully.

Stephen Larrick, Sunlight

How do we scale local open data programmes and make them global (and sustainable)?

Risk-aversion can be “medicated” by showing that your programme works in another place.

Open formats also help to connect with other actors, to scale up.

If open data is not only about data but about decentralization of democracy, about engagement of the citizen, then this ethos has to be included in the very design of any open data initiative.

We have to link engagement to specific needs. Start with the needs of citizens, not with open data.

Dinand Tinholt, European Data

How do we make open data a priority?

Build upon what others are doing.

It is important that there also is an economic insight in open data. It may not be very “sexy” but it is important to bring in companies that will use open data for profit, as they contribute to make the system sustainable, to foster demand and to maintain it live.

4th International Data Conference (2016)