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.
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.
What is democracy today? Is democracy always about being represented and some third parties making decisions in the name of the citizen? The concept of democracy has certainly shifted towards representative democracy. This specific understanding of democracy has been accompanied by laws that strengthen the idea of representative democracy and the emergence of a number of institutions to accommodate this way of working.
Initially there were three main actors — citizens, representatives and institutions — plus political parties to articulate the relationship between citizens and representatives. With the evolution of political parties, specially towards the cartel model, parties have taken the place of representatives and even embedded themselves into institutions.
Political Representation today is a legal relationship, non-disposable by the citizen, low binding for the citizen, and mediated (and conditioned) by political parties.
How is the Internet challenging this status quo? There have been many initiatives of many kinds (Decidim Barcelona, Appgree, Quorum, Qué Hacen los diputados, etc.) that are challenging the idea of representation.
Pitkin lists five characteristics of political representation that are necessarily changing with the digital revolution and the reasons behind the emergence of social movements in the XXIst century, especially after the Arab Spring and, for the case of Spain, the 15M Indignados Movement:
e.g. autorization changes meaning when people can for instance vote in primaries, or perform some degree of direct democracy within an e-participation initiative.
The potential of these tools majorly depends on usage, especially how representatives use them or allow their use by citizens.
Sebastián Martín Martín: how are this shifts affecting the definition of the people, the demos? Are we just looking at citizens as individuals only and forgetting that, since Rousseau, the people is something else, is the individuals but also the collective?
Sebastián Martín Martín: what if representative democracy is no more what it used to be, and embedding technopolitics in it is not feasible just because the assumption that there is such a represented sovereignty is not true? What if sovereignty resides not in the people but elsewhere (e.g. the European Commission) and thus cannot be devolved?
Sebastián Martín Martín: what if digital agoras are not Habermasian agoras, but places of polarization, hate speech, misinformation, etc.? What has happened elsewhere (e.g. Iceland)?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: can we generalize these initiatives? Isn’t it too early to propose a new comprehensive model for digital democracy?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: are we talking about Internet? Or are we talking about a new trend towards direct democracy? Is it true that “there is no way back” because of the Internet, or are there other reasons for a dire change in democracy and society? Do we need to improve representation, or intermediation, with independence of the existence of the Internet?
Joaquim Brugué Torruella: is the Internet just a new aggregator of wills, or is it something else? Do we know how many people actually want to be represented? How many people are actually disenchanted by representation and why? Is it a crisis of inefficacy of politicians, or a crisis of inability to deliver of politics?
Joan Font Fabregas: is this a research on the impact of representation, or about the possibilities or potentials of the Internet to improve democracy? Is it the same thing?
Joan Font Fabregas: it is arguable that digital tools have a huge potential for transformation, but can we tell which ones work better than other ones? What are the drawbacks? Will all of them work in the same direction, or can they produce different (even opposing) conclusions?
It is true that the Internet will neither solve “everything” nor will the results be independent on the specific usage given to digital tools.
It is also true that it is difficult to make some statements about the potential of the Internet in politics. Will it deliver? Will it be revolutionary? We honestly do not know… yet. The research can only point at gates that seem to be opening and peek inside to see how a probable future would be like. But it seems obvious that if something as basic as communication has so deeply changed, it is to be expected that everything that is built upon commnication — as politics — will necessarily change and quite deeply.
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.
Chairs: Raül Romeva, ministry of global affairs, institutional relationships and transparency, Government of Catalonia
Jaume López, Univesitat Pompeu Fabra
Jefferson said that the values of the past should align with the projects of the future: every generation should write their own constitution.
Representative democracy, deliberative/participatory democracy and direct democracy as three methodologies that complement each other. Democracy is about choosing the best tools to make decisions, but also to overcome the most dangerous hazards. Best results usually rely on best designs. That’s why the importance of the democratic design. Participation is a good tool to open constitutional processes to the citizenry.
What is to be expected in a constitutional process?
A constitutional text of the maximum quality, representing an actual understanding of democracy, acknowledged by most.
An exercise of citizen of empowerment and emancipation, that legitimates the new political system, combining the virtues of direct, deliberative and representative democracy. Deliberation has to be of the most quality and widely participated by everyone.
The probability of success depends on the acknowledged need for a change and the coincidence in the methodology to perform that change.
There is a global trend that democracy is becoming more direct and participated. And there hardly is a chance for turning back to strictly representative politics. The results, though, vary: participation does not necessarily lead to quality. Design matters.
Six examples in the world: Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile.
Ireland used a mixed commission on constitutional reforms: citizens chosen at random and some politicians.
The process of deliberation delivered great outputs. It smoothed the opposing points of view and contributed to the creation of a consensus on complicated issues. The combination of proposals of constitutional reforms plus a confirming referendum proved to be a good design.
There was a constitutional assembly but, before that, there was a pre-constitutional referendum that was binding for the constitutional assembly plus a post-constitutional referendum. The latter was on purpose so that the issue at stake did not block the rest of the reforms, arguably easier to debate and vote.
The assembly had to decide not only content, but also methodology, and it ended up being blocked. It would have been a good idea that the methodology had already been set for the assembly to use it for deliberation on content.
Of course, the existence of the assembly and the parliament presented a major problem of legitimacy.
The need that both chambers of the parliament had to approve the final text implied negotiations between the party in office and the opposition, and somewhat denaturalized the whole “citizen” process, which became much less participated.
A little bit more than 1% of the total population contributed with proposals to the constitutional reform. And this happened without a precise participatory methodology, which made it difficult to advance in the process. This fact was used by the presidency to have a major role in the whole process, again denaturalizing the constitutional participatory process.
There was a national citizen forum, chosen by lot, and there was a reporting commission chosen at the elections. But if only citizens, as individuals, write the constitutions, the resulting text is weak and lacks legitimacy. Now the text is seen as a reference document, but cannot be directly put into practice and has thus been set aside.
The government appointed a Monitoring Citizen Council. The Self-Scheduled Local Meetings were a decentralitzed way to contribute to the constitutional process, to which 1% of the population participated with their deliberations and debates in up to 8,000 meetings.
The resulting proposals were sent to the presidency as the Citizen Basis for the New Constitution.
The participative process still has no clear definition on the later stages. So, the process has been initiated without knowing how it will end.
Most of the deliberation went around democracy itself.
There was no constitutional process, because it was due after the referendum of independence and in case Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom. But there was a document written by the Scottish government defining a constitutional convention with a participatory and inclusive citizen process.
It is good that a constitutional process has different stages and each one has different designs/logic. Each stage underlines a specific aspect of democracy.
The connection between stages is very important. The outputs of a given stage have to feed the following one. There cannot be steps backward in terms of rights or of things learned or even in decisions made.
Initial participation somehow sets the pace and scope of the whole process. It will be different to begin with a small set of “experts” rather that with a massive grassroots participation.
Choosing members of commissions at random is generally a good thing for the sake of plurality.
Commissions can be mixed (citizens and politicians) or not (only citizens, only politicians). In any case, plurality within the commission is a must. Among other things, it contributes to establish links between stages.
There is no need to begin with the draft of a constitution. It can be done thus, but there is no need. Supporting documents (reports, etc.) can be handy.
Not even constitutional elections themselves are needed. There is not even the need to stop all legislative activity during the constitutional process. But the final text of the constitution is usually written at the parliament, in an official commission/assembly (although it can be made up by citizens too or even only citizens).
Jordi Rich: can citizens not only participate, but lead the constitutional process? Can citizens have a say in what topics are to be debated in constitutional processes? How to guarantee that the results are binding?
Teresa Forcades: how can constitutional processes be initiated when the momentum for change is unclear? What happens when there is no consensus on the need for a constitutional reform?
The policy brief — which precedes the thorough case study soon to be released — begins with the general context depicted in the state of the art report, shortly describes the experience of Barcelona and then goes to highlight the main impacts of the project, especially in what relates to policy-making for the future.
This policy brief, as the aforementioned report, are the outcome of a collaboration with IT for Change under a 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 September 2015, Madrid, the capital of Spain, initiated a participatory democracy project, Decide Madrid (Madrid decide), 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 the 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. Since the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, Spain has witnessed a silent but thorough democratic turn, from a crisis of representation to new experiments in participatory democracy, just like Decide Madrid or decidim.Barcelona. Grounded in the techno-political movements of the 15M, this turn reflects the critical role of ICTs (and their hacker ethics) in reconstructing politics, as discussed below.
I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia,
and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university.
I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.