A Theory of Change of citizen participation

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:

  1. Efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
  2. Populism has decreased in institutions and the public sphere.
  3. Citizens understand the complexity of public decision-making.
  4. 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:

  1. Programme of citizen participation.
  2. Programme of internal participation.
  3. Programme of collaboration.
  4. Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries.
  5. 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

Anderson, A.A. (2006). The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change. A practical guide to theory development. New York: The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change.
Blamey, A. & Mackenzie, M. (2007). “Theories of Change and Realistic Evaluation”. In Evaluation, 13 (4), 439-455. London: SAGE Publications.
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., Schorr, L.B. & Weiss, C.H. (Eds.) (1995). New approaches to evaluating community initiatives: Concepts, Methods and Contexts. Queenstown: Aspen Institute.
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.
Stein, D. & Valters, C. (2012). Understanding Theory of Change in International Development. London: JSRP, The Asia Foundation.
Taplin, D.H. & Clark, H. (2012). Theory of Change Basics. A primer on Theory of Change. New York: ActKnowledge.

Report. Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work

Cover of the Study on the Impact of the Internet and Social Media on Youth Participation and Youth work
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.


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Full report:
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Theben, A., Porcu, F. & Peña-López, I. (2018). Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work. Brussels: European Commission.

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Executive report:
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Theben, A., Porcu, F. & Peña-López, I. (2018). Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work. Executive report. Brussels: European Commission.

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Annex 1, Inventory of good practice:
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Theben, A., Porcu, F. & Peña-López, I. (2018). Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work. Annex 1, Inventory of good practice. Brussels: European Commission.

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Annex 2, Case studies:
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Theben, A., Porcu, F. & Peña-López, I. (2018). Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work. Annex 2, Case studies. Brussels: European Commission.

Open government: where to begin with? A showcase

When we speak about Open Government, it is easy to getting lost in the lingo of names and concepts and not being able to bring things down to Earth. In the past I draw a simplified scheme for Open Government. Now I want to highlight some practical applications of that scheme.

The table below presents, on the one hand, the three layers of Open Government:

  • Transparency: let people know.
  • Participation: let people speak.
  • Collaboration: let people do.

On the other hand, it lists the five stages of public decision-making (there are other models with more or less stages, of course):

  • Diagnosis: what is going on, what do we need, what do we want.
  • Deliberation: what are the impacts, what are the options.
  • Negotiation: what are our preferences.
  • Vote: what is our decision.
  • Assessment: which were the results.

By crossing these two axes, I suggest some lines of action, some specific projects that can be put into practice. This is of course not an exhaustive list, and many projects can be placed in more than just one cell. It is, as I said, just a showcase of where to begin with.

Layer/Stage Diagnosis Deliberation Negotiation Vote Assessment
Transparency Politician/officer scoreboard Technical reports Open agendas Legislative footprint Open budgetting
Participation Blogs and citizen social networking sites Officers’ and projects’ blogs Policy technical reports Citizen consultations Data visualization
Collaboration Green books Facilitation of citizen deliberation Groups of interest PSPP Citizen scoreboard

Table 1. An open government showcase.

From teacher training to teacher learning

Whenever the performance of teachers in educational centres is evaluated, teacher training appears as a key issue. And it is crucial, simplifying, in two areas. On the one hand, as an indicator of the teacher’s level of competency updating, that is, for their evaluation and professional accreditation. On the other hand, as an instrument for this teacher to expand their toolbox and apply it in their day to day with their students.

Without aiming at judging here the effectiveness and efficiency of the various initiatives that are currently under way in terms of teacher training, what is true is that most of them have pivoted on institutionality and training. By institutionality we mean that they must begin and develop from certain institutions, be scheduled well in advance, have a certain structure and duration or teaching load and, above all, be recognized as such, that is, as teacher training initiatives within a determined scheme of the Administration. By training we understand, precisely, the high formal component of these initiatives and that, by construction, leaves out a very wide range of initiatives and learning opportunities that occur in the margins of the established system of teacher training.

There are reasons for this to be so and we do not want to open this space now to discuss them. Surely we would agree: guarantee a certain quality, avoid fraud (especially economic), etc.

But, that we aim at guaranteeing these principles does not mean that there is only one way for our teachers to learn. Moreover, it begins to be highly dissonant that, while we affirm that an era is opening where it is important to learn to learn, where it is essential to learn throughout life, where we must give tools to our students to be autonomous in their learning (present and future), we keep formal teacher training ase the only practical option: closed initiatives, circumscribed to a time and a space, and highly directed, prefabricated and unidirectional.

Outside the radar of the traditional teacher training, many educators begin to organise themselves in communities of practice and learning (virtual or face-to-face); share doubts and resources in their blogs; participate in edcamps, workshops, webinars or educational hackathons; carry out innovative projects that open up the educational community, and a long list of examples that begin to be not an exception, but a real trend that does not stop winning critical mass.

Are we capable of recognizing and, above all, fostering this type of learning, of high value (because it is not individual, but collective!), but that systematically falls outside what we have usually understood as training of trainers?

Post originally published on 28 February 2018, with the original title De la formació de formadors a l’aprenentatge de formadors in Edubaromentre.cat. All articles published in that outlet and republished here can be read in English at edubarometre.

The Chief Research Officer in consultancy firms

It is not unusual to hear that the university and consultancy firms go opposite ways: for the former, spending too much time in knowledge transfer has huge costs of opportunity, for it is time not invested on publishing in impact scientific journals; for the latter, most research just cannot be easily included in the client’s bill.

What follows is just a simple exercise on how to embed research in consultancy, so that it does not become a mere overhead but an activity that has a direct measurable impact on the value chain. The scheme presents to sets (columns) of tasks that a chief research officer —or a research office, intelligence unit or knowledge management team, etc.— can perform within a consultancy firm. On the left, we have drawn the tasks that impact the internal client and thus improve others’ activities; on the right, we have drawn the tasks that can by directly put in the market as a product or a service.

Scheme depicting the Chief Research Officer in consultancy firms
The Chief Research Officer in consultancy firms

Activities have been grouped in five (more or less chronological) stages:

  • Research: which stands for more basic or less applied research, and consisting in gathering information, building theoretical models and providing strategic advice to the firm. On a more public branch, it can consist on creating measuring devices such as indices or custom measurements, sometimes commercialised as ad-hoc audits.
  • Branding: part of research is diffusion. Conveniently tailored, it can contribute to strengthen the power of a brand, contribute to create a top-of-mind brand or even, by lobbying and media placing, to have an impact in the public agenda.
  • Consulting: the research office can work with the consulting team in some projects (especially at the first and last stages of the project) to improve its quality. Mind the (*) in consulting, meaning that the research office should not work as a consulting team: research and analysis does require some distance from the research object and, most important, different (slower) tempos than regular consulting activities have.
  • Training: a research office that learns should teach, both to other departments of the firm or directly as a service to the clients. Providing policy advice or openly publishing position and policy papers is another way to transfer knowledge to specific clients or openly to society.
  • Innovation: closing the virtuous circle of research, modelling and improving methodologies is a way to capitalise the investment that the firm made in a research office, thus making it more efficient and effective.

Decidim.index. Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

The democratic process is not only a model for governance, but a model for living together.

How do we manage conflict in democratic processes? Define, make explicit, mediate and measure. There are two different issues in conflicts: the dimensions of the conflict and the actors of the conflict.

Measuring the debate can be difficult and especially difficult to manage if we had not prepared it in advance. Technologies and methodologies can help to structure deliberations. Argument mapping can be very useful to achieve such structuration and thus improve deliberation and the whole democratic process.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)