Constitutional processes in the world

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #165, June 2017


Notes from the conclusions of the conference cycle Constitutional processes in the world, organized by the Catalan Government, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 15 June 2017.

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?

This post has been translated into Basque language as Processos constituents al món eztabaida ziklo saioan izan gara. Mila esker, Idoia

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2017) “Constitutional processes in the world” In ICTlogy, #165, June 2017. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

Policy brief. Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain

By Ismael Peña-López
ICTlogy (ISSN 1886-5208). Issue #165, June 2017


Cover of the policy brief Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain

After the first state of the art report on the state of technopolitics and e-participation in Spain — State of the Art: Spain. Voice or chatter? Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement —, I have just had published a policy brief on the case of, the initiative of the City Council of Barcelona, Spain, to bring more horizontal e-participation procedures and, definitely, a bold strategy for the devolution of sovereigty to the citizenry of Barcelona: Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain.

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: (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.


logo of PDF file
Policy brief:
Peña-López, I. (2017). Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain. Bengaluru: IT for Change.

Related works

Peña-López, I. (2016). “Participación electrónica en los municipios. De la emancipación ciudadana a la red de ciudades abiertas”. In Revista Internacional de Pensamiento Político, 11, 63-88. Sevilla: Universidad Pablo de Olavide.
Peña-López, I. (2017). Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain. Bengaluru: IT for Change.
Peña-López, I. (2017). “Participation in Spanish Municipalities: The Makings of a Network of Open cities”. In ICTlogy, March 2016, (162). Barcelona: ICTlogy.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2017) “Policy brief. Citizen participation and the rise of the open source city in Spain” In ICTlogy, #165, June 2017. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from

ICTlogy Review

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