The Theory of Change is a methodology for strategic planning for social change. It is based on a reverse engineering process: once the systemic changes are stated, the process goes backwards to identify what outcomes are related to these systemic changes, what outputs (products, services) lead to these outcomes, and what activities or groups of activities (programmes, resources, etc.) have to be deployed to create these outputs.
What follows is a Theory of Change of citizen participation, in which the engagement of citizens in public decision-making is put at the service of some systemic changes and, reversely, can be fostered through some specific programmes.
The expected impacts, featured on the right side of the scheme above, are:
- Efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
- Populism has decreased in institutions and the public sphere.
- Citizens understand the complexity of public decision-making.
- Citizen participation and political engagement clearly shifts towards a technopolitical paradigm.
The first expected outcome is pretty straightforward and is usually the expected outcome of any citizen participation policy. Second and third are, indeed, the two sides of the same coin, and are related with the quality of democracy in particular and social cohesion in general. The last one, more instrumental, aims at embedding technology not as a mere tool, but as the driver of a deep transformation in how people collaborate with each other and with the Administration: from an institution-centred and hierarchy-articulated collaboration to a people-centred and network articulated collaboration; or, in other words, from centralised to distributed decision-making.
The Theory of Change ends up with —or begins with, depending on how one sees it— five main programmes:
- Programme of citizen participation.
- Programme of internal participation.
- Programme of collaboration.
- Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries.
- Programme of e-participation, e-voting and technopolitics.
The first one is the traditional ones: make citizens participate. The second one aims at transforming institutions with the same philosophy: let public servants and politicians participate, work together, open up to the citizens. The third one is putting together the former two: let us see what happens when participation takes place between the two spheres. The fourth one aims at addressing the “industrial sector” of participation, but with a hint: it is not about the firms that facilitate projects, but about the collectives that do, as increasingly it is the organised civil society that engages itself in this kind of facilitation: data and research journalists, activists, hackers, social movements, etc. Last, the fifth one is an explicit support to participation infrastructures, including technology but also the methodologies that are embedded in these technologies.
As this is a draft, a work in progress, comments are more than welcome.
Some references on the Theory of Change
Brest, P. (2000). “The Power of Theories of Change
”. In Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2000
, 47-51. Palo Alto: Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.
Connell, J.P. & Kubisch, A.C. (1998). “Applying a Theory of Change Approach to the Evaluation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Progress, Prospects, and Problems
”. In Fullbright-Anderson, K., Kubisch, A.C. & Connell, J.P. (Eds.), New approaches to evaluating community initiatives: Theory, measurement, and analysis
. Volume 2. Queenstown: Aspen Institute.
Rogers, P. (2014). La Teoría del Cambio
. Síntesis metodológicas. Sinopsis de la evaluación de impacto nº2. Florencia: UNICEF.
Study on the Impact of the Internet and Social Media on Youth Participation and Youth work
The Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission has just released the Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work, that was coauthored by Francisco Lupiáñez-Villanueva, Alexandra Theben, Federica Porcu and myself.
The study analyses 50 good practices and 12 case studies to
examine the impact of the internet, social media and new technology on youth participation and look at the role of youth work in supporting young people to develop digital skills and new media literacy.
In my opinion, the main result of the study confirms what others have already found and that is increasingly becoming the trend in inclusion and development: top-down approaches only do not work, and bottom-up, grassroots initiatives are necessary for projects to work. In other words, weaving the social tissue has to come first for any kind of community intervention one might want to deploy.
The 10 pages of conclusions can more or less be summarised this way:
- Socio-economic status is crucial at the individual level and the knowledge gap has to be addressed immediately before social interventions.
- Enabling the social tissue at the micro level contribute to strengthen the community and thus improve the diagnosis and mobilise social capital.
- As people act in different communities, weaving networks at the meso level makes sinergies emerge and synchronise multilayer spaces. Skills and training are key at this level.
- Once the initiatives have begun to scale up, it is necessary to mainstream and institutionalise them at the macro level, which means fixing them in policies and regulation. Quadruple helix of innovation approaches are most recommended.
- The acquisition of digital skills has to be based on digital empowerment, on a sense of purpose.
- Digital participation and engagement has to aim at being able to “change the system”, to structural changes, to digital governance.
- The now mostly deprecated approach of
build it and they will come should leave way to an approach in the line of
empower them and find them where they gather. That is, to look for extra-institutional ways that young people participate and engage to design your capacity building and intervention scheme.
The study examines the impact of the internet, social media and new technology on youth participation and looks at the role of youth work in supporting young people to develop digital skills and new media literacy. It is based on an extensive collection of data, summarised in an inventory of 50 good practices and 12 case studies reflecting the diversity of youth work from across the EU. It confirms that youth work has an important role to play, but more has to be done by policy makers at both EU and national level to respond to the challenges and adapt policies in order to foster engagement and active citizenship of young people.
Consumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona (article)
Ricard Espelt, Núria Vega and I have just published an article at on consumption cooperatives: Plataformas digitales: grupos y cooperativas de consumo versus La Colmena que dice sí, el caso de Barcelona (Digital platforms: consumption groups and cooperatives vs. The Food Assembly in the case of Barcelona).
The article compares the emergence of agroconsumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona since the mid 1990s with the most recent appearance of (presumably) platform cooperativism-based initiatives such as The Food Assembly.
The main conclusions are that while agroconsumption groups and cooperatives are deeply rooted in the social and solidarity economy, and most of the times in the sharing economy, some platform-based initiatives not only do not share this principles but, as it is the case of The Food Assembly, they do not even match in what we understand by platform cooperativism.
The article is in Spanish. An abstract in English follows and then the link for downloading the full paper.
The cooperative tradition around the consumption of agro-food products has a strong historical background in the city of Barcelona. Even if we refer to the first modern consumer cooperatives, we realize that their task has twenty-five years of permanence (Espelt et al, 2015). More recently —in July 2014— appears in the city another initiative of consumption to facilitate direct sales between local producers and communities of consumers, called food assemblies. Although the origins and differences between models are evident, they both share some common aspects in their approaches —willingness to self-manage, disintermediation of production and building a community—, articulated as part of the so-called “Collaborative Economy”. For their part, both types of initiatives, although with a very different approach, have in technology an important backbone for their activity. In this article, we analyze the points of encounter and discrepancy between the two actors as a model, placing the research framework in the city of Barcelona, where —in March 2017— we located some sixty groups and consumer cooperatives (Espelt et al., 2015) And thirteen food assemblies, six in operation and seven under construction. Emphasizing as differential factors, economic, technical, legal aspects, type of governance, values associated with the model or linked to the relationship between people, producers, final product or space.
decidim.barcelona (Spain), case study
The last report of the collaboration with IT for Change has just been published: decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. It belongs to the research project titled Voice or Chatter? Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement, and produced with the financial support of Making All Voices Count, 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.
In the following links can be found all the outputs of the aforementioned project:
The report which I have penned deals about the Barcelona (Spain) city council participation program called decidim.barcelona.
Following I reproduce the executive summary and the link to download the full report.
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. Six month after, Barcelona – the second largest city in Spain and capital of Catalonia – began its own participatory democracy project, decidim.barcelona (Barcelona we decide) in February 2016. Both cities use the same free software platform as a base, and are guided by the same political vision.
The success of these initiatives and the strong political vision behind them have spawned plenty of other initiatives in the country – especially in Catalonia – that are working to emulate the two big cities. These cities are sharing free-software-based technology, procedures and protocols, their reflections – both on open events and formal official meetings. What began as a seemingly one-time project has grown in scale.
Available open documentation suggests that decidim.barcelona has increased the amount of information in the hands of the citizens, and gathered more citizens around key issues. There has been an increase in participation, with many citizen created proposals being widely supported, legitimated and 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. A meta-project has indeed opened the design and development of the project itself to the citizens themselves. This can be summarized in four key points:
- Deliberation becomes the new democracy standard
- Openness becomes the pre-requisite for deliberation
- Accountability and legislative footprint emerge 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.
What remains to be 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. The culture of participation was hitherto scarce and mainly dealt with managing the support of citizens in top-down type initiatives. Changing the mindset implied turning many of the departments and processes of the City Council upside down – a need for new coordination structures, a new balance between the central administration and the districts, a speeding up of the slow tempos of the administration, and new ways to manage public-private partnerships.
Using Anthony Giddens’ Structuration theory, this case study examines the e-participation initiative of the City Council of Barcelona (Spain), decidim.barcelona. The study analyzes the inception and first use of decidim.barcelona for the strategic plan of the municipality in the years 2016-2019.
The case of the participatory process of the City Council of Barcelona to co-design, along with the citizens, the strategic plan 2016-2019 of the municipality is an important milestone, both in the local politics of the region, and in Spanish politics in general. It embodied the demands of the many that took to the streets in May 2011. The grassroots movement in Barcelona self-organized and won the local elections in May 2015, bringing their hacker and technopolitics ethos to the forefront of local politics. Not only does the way participatory process of early 2016 was put into practice matter, but also how it was technically designed and integrated into the core of policy making in sustainable and replicable ways. This is evidenced in the widespread adoption of this model across other Spanish cities and also by supra-municipal entities. The model, and the tool, is being replicated by Localret (a consortium of Catalan municipalities) and the Barcelona County Council. Both these institutions will replicate the initiative (participation model and technological platform) in other municipalities, while also creating a coordination team to share experiences and methodologies or prioritize needs for improvement.
The 180º turn that decidim.barcelona represents in governance goes beyond just “listening” to citizens and “giving them a voice”. In this case, citizens are:
- Invited to design and improve upon the participatory process
- Invited to contribute proposals that will be debated and could translate into binding legislation (provided some technical and social thresholds are reached).
- Invited to monitor and assess both the process in its procedures as in its outcomes (in what has been called the Metadecidim initiative).
This has been done not by substituting other channels of participation but by improving the traditional ways to engage in local politics (face-to-face, channeled through civil society organizations or other institutions) by complementing them with new ICT-mediated mechanisms.
This case study is divided into three main sections. First, we examine the institutionalization of the ethos of the 15M Spanish Indignados movement, the context building up to the decidim.barcelona initiative. In the next section the methodology, the case, its design and philosophy are discussed in greater detail. Anthony Giddens’ Structuration theory and Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network theory are unpacked here. In the final section, the results of the project are analyzed and the shifts of the initiative in meaning, norms and power, both from the government and the citizen end are discussed.
From October 2016 to June 2017, Manuel Acevedo and I conducted the evaluation of the Open Data for Development program, a USD 15 million initiative (direct plus indirect funding) led by IDRC, the Government of Canada, The World Bank and DFID / UK Aid.
This has been a terrific experience on many levels. The most important one was acknowledging how advanced the field is and, even more important, how deep the sensation is that a point of no return has been crossed in terms of open data, open government, transparency, accountability, open development, etc. Some important outcomes will, of course, still take some time to take place, but the path is been paved and the trend is gaining momentum quickly, adding up critical mass at each stage.
The collaboration and excellent attitude of all the actors involved in the project (we interviewed 41 people and read more than 150 working documents and 128 bibliographic references) was another aspect of the work that is worth highlighting. Special gratitude goes to Fernando Perini, Erika Malich, Katie Clancy and Tricia Wind at IDRC. It is not every day that one finds people so willing to have their work thoroughly scrutinized, to explain things without making excuses, to expect the evaluation to be an opportunity to learn and to improve. Same goes for the team at the World Bank and the Government of Canada (especially Amparo Ballivian and Yohanna Loucheur, respectively).
This impression of people taking seriously their work, including third parties’ evaluation and insights is confirmed not only by the publication of the report with the evaluation of the Open Data for Development program, but also the publication of the response of the Management of the program to our evaluation, providing both context and commitment to the recommendations made by the evaluators.
Below can be downloaded the three documents generated by the evaluation: the full final report, the executive report and the management’s response.
If I am allowed to, I would like to state that both Manuel and I are quite proud of the recommendations we made at the final section of our evaluation. Of course, the recommendations come from the many and richest inputs that everyone we talked to or read about kindly gave us. These recommendations are as follows.
- OD4D: greater emphasis on the right side of the OD4D equation (i.e. “for development”)
- Reticulating OD4D: towards an expanded network vision for OD4D
- Build capacity for gender-purposeful programming
- Invest in strategic partnerships
- Greater engagement with the D4D community
- Support OD intermediaries
- Place knowledge management at the core of OD4D implementation processes
We hope the evaluation and, especially, the recommendations are useful not only for the program but for the whole open data and open data for development community. We remain at the disposal of anyone in need of more information, doubts or suggestions.
The evaluation focuses on both accountability and learning. The primary intention of the evaluation is to provide accountability to the program’s management and organizational governance structures for program results. In addition, it reflects upon OD4D’s implementation in order to inform future programming on open data for development themes. The process was guided by five evaluative questions, on (1) Results, (2) Design, (3) Management, (4) Policy and (5) Gender. The evaluation report addresses these five topics, and also refers to some cross-cutting issues which were identified during the process. The analysis is completed with a final section with key recommendations for the upcoming new phase of the program.
Mapping and assessing e-participation: from digital skills to digital empowerment
When we aim at seeing who is doing what in terms of e-participation (and in political participation in general) it is quite usual to look at the capacities that individuals have to perform a given action and how many of these actions actually took place. In other words, and in the field of e-participation, we look at the level of digital literacy of individuals in a community and how they engaged in the e-participation initiatives that were offered to them.
This perspective has, at least, two issues that need being addressed.
The first one is quite obvious and has been the focal point of some initiatives like UNPAN’s series of e-Government surveys (UNPAN, 2016). That is, that not only citizens but also the Administration (and everything that spins around it: all other powers, political parties and lobbies, etc.) need to be e-ready. This e-readiness should, at least, be taken into consideration in two different fronts: whether there are the technological infrastructures available and whether public servants can use them and have the appropriate digital skills (Peña-López, 2010).
But these skills – both now at the citizen and the public sector levels – are not only about achieving a sufficient degree of knowledge in handling some specific hardware. First of all, there is the capacity (Sen, 1980) to make conscious and subjective choices in one’s own benefit (not just “using); second, there is the power to make choices that are effective, that can actually take place and make an impact (or, at least, increase the potential for that impact) (Welzel et al., 2003).
This is crucial, because we do know that the digital divide in politics (Robles et al., 2012) affect the outcomes of policy-making, but it is much more complex than just a matter of access (Cantijoch, 2014). We have growing evidence that the Internet and politics engage in a virtuous (or vicious, depending on the spin) circle (Colombo et al., 2012) that either leads to more empowerment and political efficacy, with an increase of Internet usage, and back to empowerment and efficacy – or just the opposite in cases of lack of Internet and/or different attitudes toward participation.
Thus, if the digital divide actually shifts to differences in usage (Van Deursen, van Dijk) and not just in a matter of intensity of engagement, it is crucial to accurately map and assess how both individuals and institutions are ready for e-participation, and how and what initiatives have been put in practice to improve the e-readiness of the actors that participate in politics.
But this is only half the equation: how ready actors are. What about what they are doing and, more interestingly, where and how they are doing it?
Mapping and assessing e-participation: from digital participation to digital governance
e-Participation: from capacity building to empowerment
The other half of the equation is where would institutions and people put their e-readiness at work. But if the very concept of skills, capacities and effective usage has changed, so have the concepts of “places” and “means” in the digital age.
Many institutions nowadays have their design rooted in the scientific and the industrial revolutions. The advancements of science (including the ethics and philosophy of the Enlightenment) and the advancements of technology provided solid ground where to build, among other things, liberal democracies and the institutions that make them up: parliaments, governments, the judiciary system, political parties, lobbies and civic organizations, etc.
But most of these grounds exist no more, or at least they have been direly transformed in their inhibiting potential, especially in what implies coincidence of time, space and the cost to coordinate interactions, exchanges and transactions in general (Benkler, 2002).
In this new landscape, networks emerge instead of hierarchical organizations, creating new institutions and reshaping the old ones (Benkler, 2006). In political participation, this means the creation of new spaces and strategies for information, communication and civic action (Castells, 2009, 2012) that, notwithstanding, often fall outside of the mapped territories and below the line of the radar of democratic institutions.
These new, unmapped territories range from what has been called lurking (Nonneke & Preece, 2003) or slacktivism (Christensen, 2011) to para-institutions (Peña-López et al., 2014), but it is arguable that these new e-participation extra-representative or extra-institutional practices are as legitimate and useful as other traditional ones (Peña-López, 2013). On the one hand, because it may be interesting to approach these initiatives not as an “exit”, in terms of Albert O. Hirschman (1970), but as citizens moving away from institutions that do not answer to their needs and into other new institutions that may, that is, they are voting with their feet (Tiebout, 1956) but not in terms of municipality but in terms of democratic institutions.
Still today we see reactions (again in the sense of Hirschman, 1991) that tend to redirect extra-institutional participation towards institutions, that tend to silent these initiatives because they harm democracy or because they are useless.
We here propose, instead, to map and characterize all the initiatives that, after having built capacity on actors (individuals or collectives, institutions or distributed networks), not only aim at attracting them to traditional ways of participation but enable new spaces and actions by creating the conditions to support bottom-up distributed e-participation initiatives. Naming and framing issues, identifying the relevant actors, feeding actors with the relevant information, facilitating appropriate exchanges between approaches and positions, easing negotiation, fostering decisions, setting the ground for appropriate accountability. This landscape can but grow. The later it is appropriately measured and facilitated, the more difficult it will be to establish bridges between capacity building and intervention, and between institutional interventions and distributed and networked civic actions.
Peña-López, I. (2013). “Casual Politics: From slacktivism to emergent movements and pattern recognition
”. In Balcells, J., Cerrillo i Martínez, A., Peguera, M., Peña-López, I., Pifarré de Moner, M.J. & Vilasau, M. (Coords.), Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities
, 339-358. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25-26 June, 2013. Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial.
Sen, A. (1980). “Equality of What?
”. In The Tanner Lecture on Human Values, I
, 197-220. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.