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.

Report. Inclusion in the age of post-democracy

Cover of the report Inclusión en la era de la Postdemocracia

Inés Bebea (from Ondula), Gabriel González (from Fundación Esplai) and I (with the help of Juan Sánchez, also from Fundación Esplai) have just issued our report Inclusión en la era de la Postdemocracia (Inclusion in the age of post-democracy).

The origins of the proposal “Inclusion in the age of postdemocracy” come from the debate held during the day of the plenary meeting of the Advisory Council of Fundación Esplai on Committed Citizenship, held on January 20, 2015. In this debate took part the Advisory Board, the Board of Trustees and the technical team of the organization, and during the event the participants identified the challenges that technology is creating at the social level at the present time, and to which the Fundación Esplai Foundation should respond in order to collaborate in the the construction of a technologically empowered citizenry that makes a critical, responsible and useful use in the pursue of their own personal development and that of one’s community.

The project takes as its starting point a basic document, which sets out the concrete objectives to advance in this line:

  • Present the state of the situation on the practices of active citizenship in the areas of health, education and democracy.
  • Propose consensuses that group different actors and sensitivities towards a common strategy and action lines.
  • Design action lines for the promotion of active citizenship based on an intensive, open and community-based use of ICTs.

Between July and October 2016 Fundación Esplai launched a proposal to study and debate the role that Information and Communication Technologies play in social inclusion and in the active exercise of citizenship, as essential tools for access to education, health and democratic participation. The work proposal, which emphasizes the analysis of the call third-level digital divide, included a participation process to which a broad sector of the citizenry was invited, especially those more linked to Fundación Esplai initiatives: members of the Advisory Board, Board of Trustees and professional staff of the Fundación Esplai, organizations of the of the Red Conecta and associated networks, professionals in the ICT sector, Education and Social Inclusion as well as private individuals interested in the topic.

Download:

logo of PDF file
Final report:
Peña-López, I., Bebea, I. & González, G. (2017). Inclusión en la era de la Postdemocracia. Informe del estudio. Octubre 2016. El Prat de Llobregat: Fundación Esplai.

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.

Book chapter. Networked learning: strategies and tools to open and disrupt educational institutions

Portada del libro Pedagogía Red

Professors Begoña Gros and Cristóbal Suárez have edited a new book that has just been released, Pedagogía red. Una educación para tiempos de internet (Networked pedagogy. An education for the Internet age).

I have been invited to write a chapter for the book on how can we learn in networks or as networks. The easiest way to answer the question would have been to come up with a list of tools… which would have been outdated the day after the book saw the light. Instead, I focused on how “educational institutions” (understood in a very broad way: the textbook, the teacher, the classroom, the library, evaluation, etc.) could be opened, unfolded so that their momentum gathered along the years could be disrupted and actors and tasks profoundly changed.

Besides thanking both Begoña Gros and Cristóbal Suárez for their invitation, I also very heartily have to thank Toni Aguilar, as he was the first one to force me to think in this terms when he invited me to do the talk ICT and education:: evolution of education, revolution in learning, which I have repeatedly given after that — and finally became a book chapter, as now can be seen. Gràcies Toni!

The book is in Spanish, the chapter is called ¿Con qué aprender en red? Estrategias y herramientas para la abertura y disrupción de las instituciones educativas (Networked learning: strategies and tools to open and disrupt educational institutions) and here goes the abstract and the bibliography I used.

Abstract

Cuando se habla de qué herramientas utilizar para aprender en red, es fácil acabar utilizando la herramienta por la herramienta. A pesar de que nos repetimos a nosotros mismos cual mantra que las herramientas son solamente instrumentos para conseguir unos fines – en este caso de aprendizaje – nos ocurre una y otra vez que ponemos las herramientas en el lugar de los fines.

Ello ocurre incluso en los casos donde nos dotamos de categorizaciones o de verdaderas ontologías para asignar cada herramienta al cajón del que solamente saldrá cuando tengamos claro su papel instrumental.

En este capítulo vamos a evitar caer en la tentación prescindiendo, por completo, de una caja de herramientas. O de una lista. O de una categorización. Todo un reto para lo que, a primera vista, debería ser un despliegue de estrategias y herramientas para el aprendizaje en red.

En su lugar, nos centraremos en tejer la red de aprendizaje. Y lo haremos desmontando, desplegando, abriendo las instituciones que, hasta hoy, siguen protagonizado (y con mucho éxito, no querríamos perder esto de vista) la enseñanza. Y el aprendizaje, a menudo confinado a esas instituciones.

Más que en las herramientas, pues, queremos poner bajo el foco la disrupción que las instituciones educativas están sufriendo y que, en parte, viene de la mano de determinadas estrategias y herramientas. Y es analizando las disrupciones que se están dando en el papel de 10 instituciones educativas que hemos seleccionando que veremos cómo actúan determinadas estrategias y herramientas.

Bibliography

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Baumgartner, P. (2005). “How to choose a Content Management Tool according to a Learning Model”. In elearningeuropa.info, 17 May 2005. Brussels: European Commission.
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Metadecidim (II). Silvia Luque: The participatory experience of the Municipality Action Plan through the decidim.barcelona platform

Notes from the Metadecidim workshop, within the decidim.barcelona participatory programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 25-26 November 2016. More notes on this event: metadecidim.

Silvia Luque, Fundació Ferrer i Guardia
The participatory experience of the Municipality Action Plan through the decidim.barcelona platform

One of the biggest challenges in a hybrid online-offline participatory process is, precisely, how to balance participation in both spaces, virtual and face-to-face.

The oneline platform has been the amplifier of what was going on in the offline arena. It also gathered all the information and contributed to trace the participation footprint.

Of course, the digital platform itself held lots of debates and collected proposals directly online.

Mobile points — ad-hoc kiosks on the streets — provided offline feedback from what was happening online.

The online platform was both a participatory platform and a work platform: everyone worked within the platform. Both citizens and managers used the platform for all the tasks and procedures related to the participatory process.

There was a good balance between online and offline participation, though in the online platform there was slightly more participation. The platform, though, affected the topic: in wellbeing, there were more proposals offline, while in the topic of environment more proposals came online. This sure has to do with the profile of people that participate online or offline. On the other hand, face-to-face events were mostly organized by the city council, who did not organize the same amount of events for each and every topic of the Municipality Action Plan. Participation and proposals, also, not necessarily go hand in hand: one can find topics highly participated that produced relatively few proposals, and lowly participated topics that notwithstanding produced lots of proposals. The topic and the nature of the participation sure explain the differences.

The nature of participation was also diverse: make proposals, comment on the proposals, support others’ proposals, vote proposals, attend events, interact with a mobile point, comments on online debates.

New tools require new literacies and new working logics. And also taking into account the possibility that there is a digital divide. As online and offline behaved differently, the most promising approach is a hybrid one that enables both logics of participation.

Metadecidim (2016)