Beyond the transparency portal: citizen data and the right to contribute
We assume that information only goes one way: from the Administration to the citizen. This assumption is not valid anymore. Citizens produce lots of data that could be used to leverage change. We should acknowledge the right of citizens to produce data, not only to receive data.
What can citizen-generated data do?
How to do it? We need to plan ahead a strategy of participation, and begin with the things people care:
- Identify the issue and the people that care: people directly interested in the issue, altruistic people that want to help, communities of practice of people that work in the field, and communities of interest of people that want things to happen in a given field.
- Frame the issue. It is necessary to link the abstract (“mobility in the city”) with the concrete (“where can I park my bike”). The Administration usually cares about the abstract, while the citizen cares about specific issues.
- Design a participatory project. It is crucial to avoid the creation of an elite of participation.
- Deploy it.
- Orchestrate it. Awareness raising activities so that more people join the project. Though not only by “voting”, but by contributing with what they can/know: helping to define, analysing, explaining, etc.
- Assess and evaluate the outcome. And include the creation of an infrastructure of participation that remains after the process is over.
Case of the Plaça del Sol in Barcelona, to approach the problem of noise in the square. There are huge amounts of noise, which cannot be measured and, in fact, “no one is doing anything wrong”, but it is the aggregation of small noises that creates discomfort in the neighbourhood.
A project was created to measure noise by citizens, aggregate public open data and raise awareness on the issue by showing evidence of the problem. Once the problem was actually measured, citizen assemblies were made to collectively find a solution.
Some outcomes of the project:
- Open and shared data.
- Skills and capacity. The more complex the tools, the more excluding will be — unless we build capacity around them.
- Co-created solutions.
- New open technologies and knowledge.
- New networks and social capital. New politics is about creating emerging communities out of a citizen issue.
Of course, not only should citizens have the right to generate data, but have ownership over these data, to have governance over data.
How about co-create license to share citizen data?
- TRIEM is a study that uses collective intelligence mechanisms to co-design licenses to access and use our data.
- DECODE is creating an open data commons.
- Salus.coop is a citizen cooperative of health data for science.
The Administration should foster the creation of new infrastructures: legal infrastructures, that regulate citizen data, new institutions (such as the recognition the role of citizens in creating and sharing public data), etc.
¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos (article)
Ricard Espelt, Enrique Rodríguez and I have just published a new article, ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos [Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption] which analyses the relationship between technopolitics and the cooperative movement. Our hypothesis is that some emerging cooperatives go beyond the mere practice of cooperativism for production or consumption, and engage or even are driven by political values. Our findings only partially support this hypothesis, but allow us to characterise three types of cooperatives according to these political values and activism, which we found quite interesting.
Agroecological cooperativism is made up by an inter-cooperation network articulated by producers and consumer groups that promotes the acquisition of agroecological products in the context of the Social and Solidarity Economy (Martín-Mayor et al., 2017). At the same time, as part of the anti-globalisation and territorial defense movement, it has political resolution (Vivas, 2010). In this sense, it frames its activity as a response to the homogeneity of global food chains (Mauleón, 2009; Khoury, 2014) and promotes a recovery of the «identity of the sites». This re-appropriation purpose is expressed -especially- in the social movements that emerged during 2011 that, according to Harvey (2012), link with the fight against capitalism and the demand for a collective management of common goods and resources. Across the area of Barcelona, where the map of consumer cooperatives is well defined (Espelt et al., 2015), it has been registered an increase of these kind of organizations during the 15M or the Spanish “Indignados” movement in 2011.
As embedded in the era of the Network Society and the expansion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), this article studies the correlation between agroecological consumer groups, as an instrument to promote an alternative economy, and social movements, as the space where technopolitics develop (Toret, 2013). That is, this article aims to corroborate whether agroecological cooperativism, which emerged in the late 20th century -and grew with remarkable strength during the second decade of the 21st century- and the profound crisis of legitimacy of the democratic institutions, with a rising participation in citizen extra-representative and extra-institutional movements, is connected.
This article has a double goal. On the one hand, to assess the existing relation between consumer and cooperative groups and the 15M movement and their ideological similarities, as selfmanaged movements that aim for social and political transformation. On the other hand, if applies, to study how this relation is shaped.
The main hypothesis of our research is that nowadays agroecological cooperativism possesses an acute activism component, which is why it is reasonable to predict a relative involvement of this activist cooperativism in movements such as 15M. However, former literature has explained and described the 15M movement as a form of activism that eminently operates outside the institutions and through a network organization. From that point on, a second hypothesis is formulated, proposing that activist cooperativism participation occurs individually, rather than collectively and/or institutionally. That is, it is possible to identify overlaps between activists that take part both in cooperatives and social movements such as 15M, but it is not reasonable to foresee a relevant level of involvement of cooperatives, as collectives, in this movement.
In order to respond to the hypothesis, a questionnaire comprising two sets of questions has been designed. A first set aims to determine the level of accomplishment based on the SSE criteria. A second set of questions focuses on the correlation between the studied organizations and the 15M movement, and the relevance of ICT in their organization. Semi-structured interviews were sent between February 2015 and March 2016 with a sample of 44 groups and allowed us to gather information regarding the origins, motivation and functioning of each of them. The questionnaire about the relation between the groups and the 15M movement was sent between December 2015 and March 2016, and 37 responses were collected. Thus, the 37 groups that have completed both questionnaires and the semi-structured interview will be considered the sample for this research.
In order to assess the accomplishment level of the variables corresponding to each of the aspects of the Social Solidarity Economy and the relation of the organizations with the 15M movements, we have performed arithmetic measurements for each of the variables studied. To evaluate the performance of the formulated hypothesis we have applied a correlation and a factorial analysis upon the studied variables (Commitment, Ideology, Technology, Group Involvement and Individual Involvement) to quantify the existing association between variables (correlation) and to identify the latent existing relation between them (factorial), with the goal of gathering additional information that has allowed us to interpret the results of the individual classification (nonhierarchical segmentation). Once the groups have been obtained, significant differences between segments have been determined through a variance analysis (ANOVA).
The results of our research show that consumer groups are part of a larger group of organizations that conform the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), which, among others, values the promotion of spaces in which democratic participation is emphasised. If we constrain our analysis to 2011, just in a few cases the creation of new groups can be drawn from the influence of 15M. However, the entities created that year recognise the movement as an agent of change for the individuals in their condition of activists. At the same time, this research allowed us to determine three types of organizations: the traditional cooperative, which shows a low level of social commitment and a moderate level of individual participation, and that barely embraces ICT; the network cooperative, which adds social commitment and ICT usage; and the activist cooperative, which presents a greater group and individual involvement.
Despite the sample is limited in quantitative terms, the results confirm our hypothesis, which is to say, that cooperativism has a strong activist component. This finding points in the same direction with what Cantijoch (2009), Christensen (2011), Anduiza et al. (2014) or Peña-López et al. (2014) have expressed with regards to a strong (and even rising) tendency in extra-representative and extra-institutional practices when it comes to take part in political participation or citizen activism. On the other hand, despite the classification of the groups in traditional, network and activist cooperatives, we dare to say that their relation with the 15M movement must be, therefore, exogenous, depending on a non-identified variable, which is highly probable individual and not consubstantial with consumer cooperativism. That is to say, one doesn’t affiliate to a cooperative – as it’s the case as well with political parties, labor unions or NGOs- in order to achieve other political goals, but rather that one’s active participation in cooperativism constitutes the techno-political action by itself.
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.
Appointment as Director General of Citizen Participation
On 19 June 2018 I have been appointed Director General of Citizen Participation at the Government of Catalonia.
Thus, I am now on leave from my position at the School of Law and Political Science at the Open University of Catalonia, to which I shall return when my duties are over at the government.
The Directorate-General of Citizen Participation belongs to the Secretariat of Transparency and Open Government, within the Department of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relationships and Transparency. I like to explain that the directorate-general I am part of has the responsibility to foster and facilitate the exercise of the “three democracies”, that is:
- Direct democracy: the directorate-general is the responsible for running citizen consultations at the regional level (Catalonia) and helps local administrations to run their own.
- Deliberative democracy: the directorate-general organises deliberative processes related to law-making or policy-making processes, or for better knowing the will of the citizenry in specific issues.
- Representative democracy: the directorate-general is the governmental body behind the organisation of regional elections and collaborates in the organisation of sub-regional elections.
There are four impacts that as a directorate-general in particular, and as a department, we would like to have:
- An improvement in efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
- A decrease of populism 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.
During my tenure — expected lasting 4 years —, we are planning to develop six programmes, based on an updated version of this Theory of Change of citizen participation:
- Programme of deliberative participation: to foster and improve projects on deliberative democracy, government 2.0, an appropriate regulatory framework for citizen participation, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through training, research and dissemination.
- Programme of electoral participation and direct democracy: to foster and/or improve electoral processes and projects on direct democracy, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through research and dissemination.
- Programme of internal participation: to work towards a transformation of how the Administration understands and makes use of collaboration within the government and with the citizens, by means of training and capacity building on participation, networks of support and work, communities of practice of professional innovation, and open communities of practice between public servants and citizens.
- Programme of collaboration: which aims at standardising and normalising public-social-private-partnerships and four-helix type of innovation initiatives.
- Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries: to contribute to the growth and consolidation of an expert or professional sector in the field of participation, to achieve the maximum quality in participation practices and projects by bringing onto the sector and engaged citizens knowledge, instruments, technological tools or resources in general.
- Programme of e-participation, electronic voting and technopolitics: to accelerate the adoption of ICTs in the field of participation thus contributing to ease and normalise e-participation, e-voting, e-government and e-democracy in general while, at the same time, transforming the paradigm behind citizen practices based on mostly passive or responsive actors to a technopolitical paradigm based on active, empowered and networked actors.
This is a most ambitious plan. Some of its parts are of course not reachable on a four-year basis. I am quite convinced, though, that one should plan for the long-run, to aim for ideal horizons, and just constraint oneself when it comes to planning the yearly budget. It is evident that intermediate milestones are needed, both to assess the evolution of one’s work as to provide voters with insights about the government’s performance for the due elections without having to wait for, say, 10 years.
But without higher visions there is no transformation possible. And if we want to have an impact, transformation of government in citizen practices is, in my opinion, an absolute need.
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.