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

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 decidim.barcelona, 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.

Introduction

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.

Downloads

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.

Article. What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age

Cover of the article What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age

A year ago, Can Kurban, Maria Haberer and I presented a communication at the conference IDP2016 – Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space, and it was published in its proceedings as What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age.

Now, an improved version of that paper has been published at the IDP. Journal of Internet, Law and Politics, in its issue #24.

Abstract

In this article we seek to revisit what the term ‘technopolitical’ means for democratic politics in our age. We begin by tracing how the term was used and then transformed through various and conflicting adaptations of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) in governmental and civil organizations and grassroots movements. Two main streams can be distinguished in academic literature: studies about internet-enhanced politics (labelled as e- government) and politics 2.0 that imply the facilitation of existing practices such as e-voting, e-campaigning and e-petitioning. The second stream of the internet-enabled perspective builds on the idea that ICTs are essential for the organization of transformative, contentious politics, citizen participation and deliberative processes. Under a range of labels, studies have often used ideas of the technopolitical in an undefined or underspecified manner for describing the influence of digital technologies on their scope of investigation. After critically reviewing and categorizing the main concepts used in the literature to describe ICT-based political performances, we construct a conceptual model of technopolitics oriented at two contra-rotating developments: Centralization vs. Decentralization. Within a schema consisting of the five dimensions of context, scale and direction, purpose, synchronization and actors we will clarify these developments and structure informal and formal ways of political practices. We explain the dimensions using real-world examples to illustrate the unique characteristics of each technopolitical action field and the power dynamics that influence them.

Downloads

logo of PDF file
Full article:
Kurban, C., Peña-López, I. & Haberer, M. (2017). “What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age”. In IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Ciencia Política, 24. Barcelona: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

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)

Metadecidim (I). Robert Bjarnason: Digital tools for the democratic revolution in Iceland and beyond

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.

Robert Bjarnason, citizens.is
Digital tools for the democratic revolution in Iceland and beyond

Citizens must have a strong voice in policymaking with formal and persistent participation in the political process.

The Citizens Foundation created three open source tools:

  • Your Priorities, an idea and debate platform, on crowdsourcing. Your Priorities is about building trust between citizens and government.
  • Open Active Voting, on budget voting, but very pedagogical on how budgets work. Participatory budgets are not only about having a direct influence on expenditure, but also on knowing how much things cost and what it means to have a budget. After that, trust is built and better decisions are made in collaboration with citizens.
  • Active Citizen: improved participation with artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Artificial intelligence helps in participation with little time spent, helping to overcome bubbles and biases; virtual reality for data visualization and online meetings.

Participation must be fun, informative and educational. Yes, it has to be democratic, and rigorous. But also engaging, something you enjoy doing. Gamifying participation is a good approach for a successful participatory initiative.

Participation tools have to meet people where they are. Tools have to have a “mobile first” design in mind.

But the key for participation to succeed is that it has an impact. Decision-makers do have to listen and take into account what citizens say. If citizens feel they are participating for nothing, they will quickly move away from all other participatory processes.

Participation is also about communication and marketing: people do have to know to be able to participate. It’s not propaganda, but informing the citizen.

Metadecidim (2016)

Working paper. 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

Cover of the workgin paper "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"

This research is part of the Voice or Chatter? Using Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT Mediated Citizen Engagement research project led by IT for Change and carried on under the Making All Voices Count programme.

The research began in May 2016 and is about to end by January 2017.

The project consists in analysing several cases of ICT mediated citizen engagement in the world, led by governments with the aim to increase participation in policy affairs.

This subproject deals with the case of decidim.Barcelona, an ambitious project by the City Council of Barcelona (Spain) to increase engagement in the design, monitoring and assessment of its strategic plan for 2016-2019.

These specific pages focus on the socio-political environment where this subproject takes place, specifically speaking Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain, for the geographical coordinates, and for the temporal coordinates the beginnings of the XXIst century and most especially the aftermath of the May 15, 2011 Spanish Indignados Movement or 15M – with some needed flashbacks to the restauration of Democracy in 1975-1978.

The working paper 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, thus, aims at explaining how and why such an ICT-based participation project like decidim.Barcelona could take place in Barcelona in the first months 2016, although it will, of course, relate to the project itself every now and then.

Dowloads

Technopolitics, networks and citizenship: a syllabus

Man walking under the rain in a Japanese city
Singing in the rain, courtesy streetwork.com

My colleague Mirela Fiori is redesigning the Master in City and Urbanism which she is directing. In the updated version that she is planning she wants to include a subject on how technology and civic action have a role in the shaping of the city.

In my opinion this is a most important acknowledgement. Adolfo Estalella and Alberto Corsín have systematically proved how the city can be used both “hardware”, much in the line of Gidden’s Structuration Theory where the “system” is both an instrument and a target for change. Manuel Castells also speaks about cities and their (different) role in the Network Society, a role that oftentimes is emergent in the sense of Steve Johnson. In newest “open source” cities, action turns into activism and activism cannot be without action.

Thus, it does look very relevant to me that there is a little time or space to think about the city not as a mere receptacle of people doing things, but as an actor that is both affected and affecting the uptake of technology and its use for citizen action and, thus, being part of the (new) definition of citizenship.

The goal of the master’s new subject Technopolitics, networks and citizenship is to provide this vision of the city as an institution, a player that requires a renewed strategy and a renewed vision on its role in a complex ecosystem.

My preliminary syllabus (it does not even deserve that name yet) would include the following topics — comments welcome:

Digital revolution and globalization

How dire are the changes we are witnessing in the global economy? How are connected the new trends in the business and financial spheres with the democratic and governance spheres? Are Information and Communication Technologies instruments for improvement or for transformation? Is this a revolution? Why are some things happening? Why would they last — if they do?

Limits of the institutions of the industrial age

Is there a crisis in industrial age institutions (schools & universities, political parties and parliaments, firms and work, media and journalism, etc.)? What is their role in society? Is their role still needed? Can we separate the continent (institutions) from their content (role, tasks)? If yes, who will take up with these roles? How? Why? Why not?

Hacker ethics, commons and gift economy

Is there a new way to design collective initiatives? Is decision-making over as we knew it? Are hierarchies a thing of the past? Is information still power? Can we shift power balances? How different is information from knowledge? How different is controlling information from controlling knowledge? How will the control of knowledge transform our daily practices? And our institutions?

Social innovation, open innovation and open social innovation

What used to be innovation? What is innovation today? What is the relationship between innovation, knowledge and power? Can innovation be distributed? Can innovation be socialized? Can power be socialized? Can innovation lead to better governance? Can better governance lead to innovation? Should we act in either or another way to affect the final result? Can we?

Technopolitics, cooperation platforms and network-organizations

How is technology (ICTs) changing human behaviour? How is technology (ICTs) changing human collective behaviour? What are the main trends? How will they evolve? Why? What new organizations will come enabled (and fostered) by technology? How will this change the map of actors and institutions in society? How will they interact? How will this change the city landscape?

Yes, these are questions and not answers. Because there are not many answers — yet. And the ones being are constantly changing and evolving. But the questions will remain for much longer. These are days for good questions and for flexible answers. Dogmatic answers for feeble questions will rarely help us to map the new territories that need being explored.