A Theory of Change of citizen participation

The Theory of Change is a methodology for strategic planning for social change. It is based on a reverse engineering process: once the systemic changes are stated, the process goes backwards to identify what outcomes are related to these systemic changes, what outputs (products, services) lead to these outcomes, and what activities or groups of activities (programmes, resources, etc.) have to be deployed to create these outputs.

What follows is a Theory of Change of citizen participation, in which the engagement of citizens in public decision-making is put at the service of some systemic changes and, reversely, can be fostered through some specific programmes.

The expected impacts, featured on the right side of the scheme above, are:

  1. Efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
  2. Populism has decreased in institutions and the public sphere.
  3. Citizens understand the complexity of public decision-making.
  4. Citizen participation and political engagement clearly shifts towards a technopolitical paradigm.

The first expected outcome is pretty straightforward and is usually the expected outcome of any citizen participation policy. Second and third are, indeed, the two sides of the same coin, and are related with the quality of democracy in particular and social cohesion in general. The last one, more instrumental, aims at embedding technology not as a mere tool, but as the driver of a deep transformation in how people collaborate with each other and with the Administration: from an institution-centred and hierarchy-articulated collaboration to a people-centred and network articulated collaboration; or, in other words, from centralised to distributed decision-making.

The Theory of Change ends up with —or begins with, depending on how one sees it— five main programmes:

  1. Programme of citizen participation.
  2. Programme of internal participation.
  3. Programme of collaboration.
  4. Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries.
  5. Programme of e-participation, e-voting and technopolitics.

The first one is the traditional ones: make citizens participate. The second one aims at transforming institutions with the same philosophy: let public servants and politicians participate, work together, open up to the citizens. The third one is putting together the former two: let us see what happens when participation takes place between the two spheres. The fourth one aims at addressing the “industrial sector” of participation, but with a hint: it is not about the firms that facilitate projects, but about the collectives that do, as increasingly it is the organised civil society that engages itself in this kind of facilitation: data and research journalists, activists, hackers, social movements, etc. Last, the fifth one is an explicit support to participation infrastructures, including technology but also the methodologies that are embedded in these technologies.

As this is a draft, a work in progress, comments are more than welcome.

Some references on the Theory of Change

Anderson, A.A. (2006). The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change. A practical guide to theory development. New York: The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change.
Blamey, A. & Mackenzie, M. (2007). “Theories of Change and Realistic Evaluation”. In Evaluation, 13 (4), 439-455. London: SAGE Publications.
Brest, P. (2000). “The Power of Theories of Change”. In Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2000, 47-51. Palo Alto: Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.
Connell, J.P., Kubisch, A.C., Schorr, L.B. & Weiss, C.H. (Eds.) (1995). New approaches to evaluating community initiatives: Concepts, Methods and Contexts. Queenstown: Aspen Institute.
Connell, J.P. & Kubisch, A.C. (1998). “Applying a Theory of Change Approach to the Evaluation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Progress, Prospects, and Problems”. In Fullbright-Anderson, K., Kubisch, A.C. & Connell, J.P. (Eds.), New approaches to evaluating community initiatives: Theory, measurement, and analysis. Volume 2. Queenstown: Aspen Institute.
Rogers, P. (2014). La Teoría del Cambio. Síntesis metodológicas. Sinopsis de la evaluación de impacto nº2. Florencia: UNICEF.
Stein, D. & Valters, C. (2012). Understanding Theory of Change in International Development. London: JSRP, The Asia Foundation.
Taplin, D.H. & Clark, H. (2012). Theory of Change Basics. A primer on Theory of Change. New York: ActKnowledge.


Appointed Director General of Citizen Participation

Appointment as Director General of Citizen Participation of Ismael Peña-López
Appointment as Director General of Citizen Participation

On 19 June 2018 I have been appointed Director General of Citizen Participation at the Government of Catalonia.

Thus, I am now on leave from my position at the School of Law and Political Science at the Open University of Catalonia, to which I shall return when my duties are over at the government.

The Directorate-General of Citizen Participation belongs to the Secretariat of Transparency and Open Government, within the Department of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relationships and Transparency. I like to explain that the directorate-general I am part of has the responsibility to foster and facilitate the exercise of the “three democracies”, that is:

  • Direct democracy: the directorate-general is the responsible for running citizen consultations at the regional level (Catalonia) and helps local administrations to run their own.
  • Deliberative democracy: the directorate-general organises deliberative processes related to law-making or policy-making processes, or for better knowing the will of the citizenry in specific issues.
  • Representative democracy: the directorate-general is the governmental body behind the organisation of regional elections and collaborates in the organisation of sub-regional elections.

There are four impacts that as a directorate-general in particular, and as a department, we would like to have:

  1. An improvement in efficiency, efficacy and legitimacy of public decisions improves.
  2. A decrease of populism in institutions and the public sphere.
  3. Citizens understand the complexity of public decision-making.
  4. Citizen participation and political engagement clearly shifts towards a technopolitical paradigm.

During my tenure — expected lasting 4 years —, we are planning to develop six programmes, based on an updated version of this Theory of Change of citizen participation:

  1. Programme of deliberative participation: to foster and improve projects on deliberative democracy, government 2.0, an appropriate regulatory framework for citizen participation, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through training, research and dissemination.
  2. Programme of electoral participation and direct democracy: to foster and/or improve electoral processes and projects on direct democracy, and awareness raising on the importance of this instrument through research and dissemination.
  3. Programme of internal participation: to work towards a transformation of how the Administration understands and makes use of collaboration within the government and with the citizens, by means of training and capacity building on participation, networks of support and work, communities of practice of professional innovation, and open communities of practice between public servants and citizens.
  4. Programme of collaboration: which aims at standardising and normalising public-social-private-partnerships and four-helix type of innovation initiatives.
  5. Programme of intermediaries, facilitators and infomediaries: to contribute to the growth and consolidation of an expert or professional sector in the field of participation, to achieve the maximum quality in participation practices and projects by bringing onto the sector and engaged citizens knowledge, instruments, technological tools or resources in general.
  6. Programme of e-participation, electronic voting and technopolitics: to accelerate the adoption of ICTs in the field of participation thus contributing to ease and normalise e-participation, e-voting, e-government and e-democracy in general while, at the same time, transforming the paradigm behind citizen practices based on mostly passive or responsive actors to a technopolitical paradigm based on active, empowered and networked actors.

This is a most ambitious plan. Some of its parts are of course not reachable on a four-year basis. I am quite convinced, though, that one should plan for the long-run, to aim for ideal horizons, and just constraint oneself when it comes to planning the yearly budget. It is evident that intermediate milestones are needed, both to assess the evolution of one’s work as to provide voters with insights about the government’s performance for the due elections without having to wait for, say, 10 years.

But without higher visions there is no transformation possible. And if we want to have an impact, transformation of government in citizen practices is, in my opinion, an absolute need.