Behavioral psychology to improve decision making

Notes from the workshop Behavioural psychology to improve decision making, organized by Department of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relationships and Transparency of the Catalan Government and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 11 February 2019.

We are human beings and, as so, we are social.

How do we make decisions?

  • Automatic thinking
  • Social thinking
  • Mental models

What do decision makers do:

  • Contextual definition of problems.
  • Map behaviours.
  • Solution, evidence, iteration.

Main problems in decision-making:

  • Bias of confirmation: when the individual seeks or interprets new evidence as confirmation of their beliefs or theories already conceived.
  • Bias of confidence: when subjective confidence of someone over their own judgement is higher thant the objective precision.
  • Framing and aversion to losses: we tend to take more risks in the “losses” frame rather than on the “gains” frame. We prefer not losing rather than gaining.

Case study: paying taxes in Poland

(Some) people do not pay taxes.

  • Reasons: architecture is complex, mental effort to understand how paying taxes work, bad perception of what happens with taxpayers money (e.g. corruption), etc.
  • Possible solutions: improve electronic procedures, etc.

Experiment in Poland: sending letters to “remind” tax evaders that they should pay. Letters work, but they work better the harder the tone of the letter.

Case study: water saving in South-Africa

Water consumption invoices included explanations on pricing and the different price thresholds. Especially poor people was responsive to such information, but not as much richer one. Then other information was included: how one behaved according to the average citizen and publicly acknowledging those more efficient in saving water. Then rich people also were responsive and saved water.

Mapping behaviors

Diagnosing bottlenecks:

  • Decisions
  • Actions
  • Mindsets
  • Information
  • Context

Map a given process, identifying all the behaviors —especially decisions and actions— and see how they are conditioned or determined by information, beliefs, procedures and tasks, social norms, etc. This should help us to accurately find out the potential decision or action bottlenecks: steps where one may or may not make a decision or do an action depending on several factors. If these are properly identified and characterised, we can act upon those factors to improve the likelihood of decisions to be made and actions to be carried out.

Group decisions and mindsets

Social conformity
Independent behavior Interdependent behavior
Empiric Customs
It is what I want to do.
Descriptive norms
Everyone does it.
Normative Moral norms
It is the correct thing to do.
Social norms
It is what everybody expects from me.

Messages can be shaped in a way that refer to different kinds of norms and thus have different effects on people. Besides, social norms and mental models are strong conditioners (even determinants) of behavior and it is crucial to take them into account when designing and executing public policies.

Fixed mindset —belief that certain things cannot be changed, or that one is born with some skills that cannot be changed— vs. growth mindset— things can be changed, one’s own skills can be improved. We have to foster growth mindsets.


The EAST framework: easy, attractive, social, timely.

Strategies to address biases:

  • Decision judges.
  • Cooling period.
  • Behavioral worksheet.
  • 1-2-4: assess the decision individually, discuss with colleague, discuss in group.
  • Decontextualize and recontextualize.
  • Considering the opposite.
  • Mindsets and mind aligning.
  • Frames, pliers and padlocks: aversion to risk, incentives, committments.
  • User experience.

Citizen participation on new digital platforms

Notes from the Citizen participation on new digital platforms conference, organized by Open University of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 15 January 2019.

Quim Brugué, Universitat de Girona
Participation: what are we talking about?

Participation is not new. We’ve been hearing about this since the 1970s and there already is a boom of citizen participation in the early 1990s. The first decade of 2000s, until 2007, witnesses a quick rise of citizen participation, with a strong support of the Administration. These are years of learning to participate in “good times”. It was an experimental period. There was no consensus of what was the purpose of participation. Many times the issues were not crucial to citizens, but very marginal: no “serious stuff” was shared with the citizen. It generated some not purely legitimate practices where participation was a means to give local administrations or civil society organizations either resources or a public platform were to air their ideologies. This experimentation also led to more focus on the methodology rather than on the issues: people did not want to solve a specific issue but “do participation”.

Experimentation, lots of resources, focus on the instrument rather than on the topic led to some tiredness and disenchantment with citizen participation. This did not last long: the 2008 crisis put a stop to the whole trend.

2011 — 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, Arab Spring, Occupy — was the outburst of a sense of lack of quality democracy. Citizen participation came back to the spotlight, but not on a period of dire crisis. The paradox was that when participation was most needed, lack resources due to the crisis could not meet the needs.

So, what is citizen participation? Many things:

Representative democracy Direct democracy
Additive democracy Democracy of the moderns: do not trust citizens, trust representative. Risk: “they do not represent us” Referendums, polls. Empowerment vs. experience of elder people
Deliberative democracy Democratize policies: participation, consultation vs. authority, legitimacy Democracy of the elder: trust citizens, do not trust representatives. Risk: elitism

Technology plays a different role in each different approach. While it is not yet clear neither the better technology or methodology nor the impact or degree of improvement, it does seem clear that there is a trend towards empowerment of the citizen. And a thing that has not changed is that every option carries an underlying ideology: while deliberation is about the “we” and about building a solution, polling is about the “I” and winning the preferred option.

Antonio Calleja, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute

Especially since 2011 we’ve been witnessing a crisis of representative democracy and a rise of “datacracy”, where who owns more data can affect or even interfere representative democracy and its processes.

Decidim aims at being an alternative to big corporations controlling the platforms that will be used by “datacrats”. Decidim is thought as a political network.

As a political network, Decidim has a community around the platform that deals about strategic and technological issues, also including research, dissemination, etc.

Decidim begins with the strategic plan of the city council of Barcelona in 2016. Initially based on the citizen participation software of Madrid, Cónsul, it was later recoded as a new platform on 2017. New features have been added since.

An important feature is the ability to track what happens with a given proposal by a specific citizen: how it is included in an approved political measure and the degree in which this measure is executed.

(NOTE: case study on Decidim: Peña-López, I. (2017)., Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. Bengaluru: IT for Change)

Rosa Borge, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Research project to test the deliberative capacity of several projects that have used Decidim to enable citizen participation. 18 projects were analyzed, choosing first level processes such as strategic or investment plans at the local level.

Decidim has become central in organizing and managing participation processes in municipalities. It is worth noting that the platform was used by municipalities with governments from different parties, and ranging from left to right in terms of ideology.

There does not seem to be a pattern between the number of participants, number of proposals and number of comments to these proposals. The evolution of participation processes varies a lot depending on a wide rage of reasons.

The tool has proven useful to run three dimensions of participatory processes:

  • Participation
  • Transparency
  • Deliberation

The reasons to run participation processes and to do it online are many. Sometimes it is a honest need, sometimes a way to be trendy and get more votes in the coming elections, sometimes it is mandatory by law depending on the kind of policy to be passed. What is clear is that many times there lacks a deep reflection on why and what for developing participation initiatives at the “theoretical” level (purpose, design, limitations, etc.).

The research analyzed the quality of deliberation performing content analysis and according to several indicators like equality in the discourse, reciprocity, justification, reflexiveness, pluralism and diversity, empathy and respect, etc.

Results show that there certainly is a good degree of depth in the discourse and a real debate with pros and cons on the proposals. The dialogue shows almost no effect of echo chambers but, on the contrary, dialogues provide reasoning, proposals or alternatives.

Unfortunately, the debates that take place on the institutional platform are not transposed on other social networking sites like Twitter, were the audience could be bigger and reach a greater range of actors.

PESTEL and DAFO analyses were conducted to better understand the environment and main trends.

On the cons side, there still is a certain lack of commitment from political leaders. On the pros side, online participation attracts new actors to participatory processes that were not the usual suspects of citizen participation.

(NOTE: paper on this research Borge et al. (2018). La participación política a través de la plataforma Decidim: análisis de 11 municipios catalanes. IX Congreso Internacional en Gobierno, Administración y Políticas Públicas GIGAPP. Madrid, 24-27 de septiembre de 2018. Madrid: GIGAPP).


Anna Clua: what has been the impact of the digital divide? Have municipalities taken it into account? Rosa Borge: municipalities do not have the resources to measure and seriously address the issue. Notwithstanding, some of them are aware of the issue and thus have made some projects (e.g. training) to try and bridge it during participatory processes.

Manuel Gutiérrez: does online deliberation create more or less discourse fallacies? Rosa Borge: in general, the research has not found many bad practices. On the contrary, quality of the debate was high according to the indicators chosen. Of course the methodology is arguable and there were some methodological issues that are worth being reviewed.

Quim Brugué: can we deliberate on everything? Should we deliberate when the government has already decided on a given issue? What for? Rosa Borge: of course if the decision is already made, it may not make a lot of sense. Notwithstanding, most dedicions are not “totally” made and all comments and shades of meaning poured on the platform are taken into account by decision-makers — as stated by officials and politicians during the research.

Book Chapter. Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation: From mass democracy to democracy networks

Book cover of Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia (chapter 11)

Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia

In September 2018 I attended the CAMPUS LAAAB. Iberoamerican conference of citizen innovation, where I presented a first draft of the strategy of citizen participation of the newly created directorate general of the Catalan government. The video and slides of the session can be watches or downloaded, respectivelly, at Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia.

Now, the Government of Aragon has published a book collecting all the speeches of the event. Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking inside black book [Opening institutions from within. Hacking inside black book] features 17 different initiatives from 20 different authors, ranging from living labs to institutional change, but always under the general topic of citizen innovation through citizen democratic engagement.

My chapter, Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia [Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation: From mass democracy to democracy networks] explains why and how the Catalan government aims at using citizen participation to transform the Administration with a higher goal: contributing to stop populism by helping citizens to understand politics… and using this higher goal to deeply transform how the Administration approaches citizens and how the monopoly of decision-making can be shared with them.

The whole book is in Spanish. See below the abstract of my book chapter and the book as a whole.

Book chapter abstract

Hay dos visiones complementarias de la participación ciudadana. La visión tradicional es que la participación nos ayuda a diseñar mejores leyes y políticas públicas gracias a hacer concurrir sobre éstas a más personas, con visiones diferentes y con conocimientos diversos. Gracias esta mayor concurrencia obtenemos leyes y políticas más eficaces -porque su diagnóstico y rango de soluciones es más ajustado- y más eficientes, dado que se incrementa el consenso, se reduce el conflicto y el diseño es técnicamente mejor.

Esta visión que podríamos adjetivar de esencialmente técnica puede complementarse de otra visión mucho más filosófica o incluso política en el sentido de transformación social a través de las ideas. Esta segunda visión es que la participación de carácter deliberativo podría constituir una suerte de tercer estadio de la democracia, tomando lo mejor de la democracia griega (directa) y la democracia moderna (representativa), a la vez que contribuye a suplir las cada vez más manifiestas carencias de ambas: por una parte, el coste de participar; por otra parte, la creciente complejidad de las decisiones públicas. No obstante, este tercer estadio, dada su naturaleza deliberativa, por definición debe darse en nuevos espacios y con nuevos actores, a incorporar al actual diseño de la práctica democrática centrado casi exclusivamente en las instituciones.

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Book chapter:
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia”. In Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.), Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book, Capítulo 11, 113-124. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.

Book abstract and download

La sociedad de masas de las primeras revoluciones industriales ha dado paso a una sociedad de multitudes. La democracia representativa y las organizaciones de intermediación conviven ahora con redes distribuidas, desde donde la ciudadanía digital reclama una participación más directa y anhela una relación más horizontal con las instituciones. En los últimos diez años han brotado movimientos cívicos en casi todas las regiones del planeta que reclaman la apertura de los gobiernos.

Las estrategias de participación y transparencia en torno al paradigma del gobierno abierto, inauguraron nuevas cartas de servicio en la última década, pero han ido surgiendo otras formas de hacer, otras metodologías, que experimentan con aumentar el rol de los ciudadanos en los asuntos públicos, y que agrupamos a modo de síntesis en el concepto de innovación ciudadana, donde se integran también proyectos que exploran los límites de la innovación social, la ciencia ciudadana o el diseño abierto y colaborativo.

El Gobierno de Aragón, en pleno proceso de impulso del Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (LAAAB), quiso reunir a algunos de los técnicos y teóricos de estas nuevas formas de hacer, de pensar y de participar, referentes de toda Iberoamérica, para contribuir desde su experiencia a la reflexión global. Tuvimos la suerte de poder reunir a todos los participantes de este libro, una veintena de personas que consideramos referentes en sus respectivos campos, y que conforman una buena muestra de lo mejor que se está haciendo en Latinoamérica y España en el amplio universo de la innovación ciudadana. Todos los ponentes cedieron sus ideas para la publicación del libro que aquí se presenta: Abrir instituciones desde dentro [Hacking Inside Black Book].

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Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.) (2018). Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.

Book Chapter. Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning

Book cover for Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online

Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop at the European University Institute, Shaking the brick and mortar: moving higher education online, where I presented Opening up the gates: scaffolding lifelong learning.

The reflections on that workshop have now been published as a book: Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online, edited by Annika Zorn, Jeff Haywood, and Jean-Michel Glachant.

I have contributed to the book with chapter 3, Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning.

The whole book can be downloaded in preprint format. Please find below the abstracts and links to download both my chapter and the whole book.

Book chapter abstract and download

Most works on instructional technology focus on the potential – and sometimes weaknesses – of technologies to do certain things. This chapter will take the opposite approach: we will be looking at 10 different “institutions” in education (the school, the classroom, the textbook, the library, the syllabus, the schedule, the teacher, evaluation, certification and the curriculum) and see how, on the one hand, digital technologies are challenging the foundations of such institutions and, on the other hand, how they can strengthen their role in education by unfolding their reach and scope. Ours is, thus, an approach that focuses on transformation of institutions by pushing them outside of their formal education framework and into lifelong learning by being part of learners’ informal educational networks.

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Book chapter as preprint:
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning”. In Zorn, A., Haywood, J. & Glachant, J. (Eds.), Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online, Chapter 3, 55-82. Northampton, MA: Edgar Elgar.

Book abstract and download

The European higher education sector is moving online, but to what extent? Are the digital disruptions seen in other sectors of relevance for both academics and management in higher education? How far are we from fully seizing the opportunities that an online transition could offer? This insightful book offers a broad perspective on existing academic practices, and discusses how and where the move online has been successful, and the lessons that can be learned.

Higher Education in the Digital Age offers readers a comprehensive overview of the ways in which a move into online academia can be made. Analysing successful case studies, the original contributions to this timely book address the core activities of an academic institution – education, research, and research communication – instead of focusing only on online learning or digital strategies relevant for individual academics. Chapters cover online and networked learning, as well as the myriad ways in which the digital age can improve research and knowledge exchange with experts and society more widely.

Academics, managers and policy makers in higher education institutions will greatly benefit from the up-to-date case studies and advice outlined in this book. Academic administrators and academic project leaders will also find this a useful tool for improving the accessibility of their work.

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Whole book as preprint:
Zorn, A., Haywood, J. & Glachant, J. (Eds.) (2018). Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online. Northampton, MA: Edgar Elgar.

All other information can be found at the official website of the book.

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (II). Experts and activists

Notes from the eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities conference, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 16 November 2018. More notes on this event: edemocracybcn.

Experts and activists
chaired by Albert Royo

Why Voting Technology is Used and How it Affects Democracy
Robert Krimmer, Professor of e-Governance, Tallinn University of Technology, Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance

Estonia is the only country in the world introducing e-voting universally, at all levels. To address:

  • Decreasing voting turnout.
  • Increasing distance between rules and ruled.
  • Increased citizen mobility (globalisation)

Governments say they want to engage in a continuous dialogue with citizens, but are quite often reluctant to actually do it. In the same train of thought, citizens also want such dialogue, but cannot vote just everything (quick democracy) and, most especially, cannot be informed on just everything (thin democracy).

e-Democracy will transform democracy and challenge representation, but it can also offer more participation possibilities.

e-Voting strengthens secrecy and security in comparison to traditional voting, not the other way round.

Democracy as citizens’ surveillance on their institutions
Simona Levi, Founder of XNet

More than e-democracy we should be talking about distributed governance.

Net-neutrality is a must if we do really want that democracy and technology can enhance each other.

Democracy and privacy to correct the asymmetry of power between citizens and institutions. Anonymity and encryption are a must to protect communications. Going against this is highly un-democratic.

Public money used to create content and innovation should not be privatized. This includes algorithmic democracy or algorithmic decision-making.

We must defend technology, not only use it. And transparency and participation must to be at the same level. We want efficient institutions.

Catalonia, a Lab for Digital Citizenship
Artur Serra, Deputy Director of i2cat

The Internet is helping to change our political systems. The Internet works under a certain distributed architecture, and this embedded technological model is slowly but surely altering the democratic institutions’ model.

On the other side, our political systems are also changing the Internet: fake news, firewalls, etc.

Can we think of an open living lab, made up of cultural and citizen platforms, digital rights activists, local structures of digital facilitation, research centres, lawyers, etc.

Citizen participation and digital tools for upgrading democracy in Iceland and beyond
Róbert Bjarnason, CEO and co-founder of Citizens Foundation

For there to be trust, citizens must have a strong voice in policy-making.

  • Your Priorities: policy crowdsourcing to build trust between citizens and civil servants with idea generation and debate.
  • Active Voting: participatory budgeting.
  • Active Citizen: empower citizens with artificial intelligence.

Citizens need to be “rewarded”, show that the government listens and does things — not only talking about things. Good communication is key to success.

There is a danger of privatization in the evolution of democracy online. Participation infrastructure has to be kept public.


Simona Levi: traceability of participation is a must. What happened with my contribution? Where did it go? Why was not it accepted?

Artur Serra: where does social innovation come from? Does it come from institutions or from the margins? How do we gather these initiatives? Do we care about citizen labs?

Robert Bjarnasson: it is not about tools, but about innovation, about opening processes. Start with something tangible, something small, and move from there.

Artur Serra: technology is not a tool, technology is a culture. The new tool is the embodiment of a new culture. We have to learn to think different. If we treat participation as consumerism, we are failing.

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (2018)

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (I). Stakeholders and tech companies

Notes from the eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities conference, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 16 November 2018. More notes on this event: edemocracybcn.

Panel of stakeholders and tech companies
chaired by Joana Barbany

Municipalities and technology: more political participation?
Cllr. Jennifer Layden, Convenor for Equalities and Human Rights of the Glasgow City Council

Being involved in new media and social media enables administrations to engage with citizens.

There still is the challenge how technology can help to bring better outcomes, to bring increased access to democracy and participation. So far increased access is quite a success, as many people that cannot attend face-to-face meetings do participate online.

Enabling access to participation through online technologies should not be in detriment of excluding people for just the opposite reason: they cannot use online tools.

Working with local communities with participatory budgeting.

Technology and participation, one more step towards democratic pedagogy
Arnau Mata, tinent d’alcalde de Comunicació, Participació Ciutadana i Sistemes TIC, i portaveu de l’Ajuntament de Sant Vicenç dels Horts

The general context of political corruption is affecting all the institutions, regardless whether they or their members are corrupt or not. This is putting a stress on daily governance.

Some participatory processes where put to work, to let citizens have their say, and enable new ways so that institutions could speak with the citizens.

They are using Decidim, Barcelona City Council’s participatory platform.

Online participation allows monitoring of participatory processes, helps people to participate, empowers minorities in the public agenda, legitimates civic organisations, etc.

Open government and citizen participation channels in the digital era
Carles Agustí, Open Government Director at the Barcelona Provincial Council

Unlike preceding times, now citizens have lots of information, usually much more than governments themselves. Adaptation to this new reality is compulsory.

Open Government is the answer to the demands of change of the people in the way to do governance and politics. But it is not only a mere website, but a whole new strategy, a deep cultural change.

Technology is absolutely changing the landscape:

  • Open data would simply not exist without technology.
  • Civic platforms can better organize with technology.
  • e-Participation opens new channels, ways and methodologies for participation.
  • And, last but not least, more and different individual citizens can gather thanks to technology.

It is important to acknowledge that data have a lot of public value when they become open as open data. And that it is not only about giving data away but also about listening to citizens.

On-line voting: a security challenge
Jordi Puiggalí, Head of Research and Security Department, Scytl

There are no secure channels: it’s security measures that you implement that make voting secure. This includes on-site voting or postal voting.

Cryptographic protocols can guarantee privacy and integrity of voting processes.

Cryptography also allows to audit voting processes.


Jordi Puiggalí: Blockchain can provide identity, but not integrity nor privacy.

Arnau Mata: the best way to convince people to participate is showing that it does work, that the government cares about what is being said and applies the general agreements.

eDemocracy: Digital Rights and Responsibilities (2018)