When considering sustainability, scalability and the transformative impact of citizen participation, it becomes strategic the promotion and articulation of a global participation ecosystem that shares the same values, vision and objectives. This model of participation, in addition to being shared, must be effective and efficient, which is why one would consider necessary that it also has a globally shared set of infrastructures in the field of participation. These infrastructures are, among others, an Administration coordinated at all levels so that it can optimize the available resources, a business sector that shares the participation model and collaborates in its improvement, consensus methodologies, technologies that incorporate these values in their design and methodologies and, finally, a network of training actors that share frameworks of skills, concepts and learning resources.
Public facilities network within an ecosystem of citizen participation
The Administration (taken as a whole) has several networks of public facilities —telecentres, libraries, civic centers, centers for young and old people, etc. An ecosystem of citizen participation can collaborate with the Administration’s networks of public facilities by superimposing a (new) layer of democratic innovation on the existing equipment networks. It is, then, not about creating a new network of facilities, but rather offering the existing ones a portfolio of services related to citizen participation, democratic quality and social innovation in politics and democracy, so that they enrich and complement what they currently offer to the citizen.
At the same time, it is about contributing to the transformation of public facilities that has already begun: from facilities that provide services to facilities that become citizen infrastructure.
The entry into the Information Society, as well as the advances in all areas of the social sciences, mean that the mission and organization of these facilities are in the process of being redefined. Among others, there are some aspects of this redefinition process that we want to highlight:
- The evolution towards more citizen-centered models, where assistance and accompaniment also give way to empowerment strategies.
- The equipment governance model as an important factor in achieving its mission, the organizational design and the services it offers.
- The inclusion of elements of social innovation for the co-design and co-management of the centers.
- The incorporation of ethical and integrity codes, as well as democratic quality both in the operation and in the intrinsic values of the services.
We here propose a set of strategic and operational goals that could lead the development of a network of public facilities within an ecosystem of citizen participation.
Goals of the network of public facilities within an ecosystem of citizen participation
- Convert civic facilities into reference spaces in the municipality in terms of citizen participation.
- Raise citizens’ awareness about democratic quality, citizen participation and innovation in political and democratic processes.
- Support local administrations in projects of citizen participation and social innovation in political and democratic processes.
- Support citizens in citizen participation processes, increase their participation and open up the sociodemographic range of the participants.
- Promote social innovation projects in the field of civic action, politics and democracy.
Operational goals: participation processes
- Train the facilitators of public facilities in Open Government: transparency, open data and participation.
- Creation of a digital mediation protocol on citizen participation for public facilities in the Administration, with the aim of supporting citizens with less digital competence in online participation processes.
- Support citizens who have more difficulties to participate in citizen participation processes on digital platforms.
- Involve citizens who are experts in digital participation platforms to support citizens who are less knowledgeable about the platforms or who have greater difficulties using them.
Operational goals: social innovation in politics and democracy
- Train the facilitators of public facilities to be agents promoting the creation of democratic innovation projects.
- Help citizens define, pilot, replicate and scale social innovation projects in the field of civic action, politics and democracy.
- Promote and support the development of democratic innovation projects within the logic of social innovation.
- Articulate networks of social innovation in democracy at the local level.
- Standardize and enable replicability and scalability of democratic innovation pilots.
Current challenges of online participation
We are in the middle of an interesting perfect storm. Firstly, citizen participation is clearly on the rise, with more citizens demanding being listened to, and more public (and also private) institutions responding to these demands. Secondly, a call for that citizen participation to be accessible, flexible and inclusive, which is boosting online citizen participation as a complement to traditional participation channels and methodologies, thus enabling not only other means different than face-to-face, but also disclosing informal spaces for participation. Thirdly, the appearance or improvement of different kinds of technologies that come to enable or strengthen online communication (P2P networks, distributed ID systems, decentralized ledger technologies, etc.).
In this perfect storm, notwithstanding, we still often see “solutions looking for a problem”. That is, technologies that appear to fill a demand for more participation and more online participation, but that sometimes do not seem to fix the real problems that the online participation arena is having.
On a recent talk about the possibilities of Blockchain I came up not with what could Blockchain do for participation, but what were the main challenges that citizen participation in general, and online participation in particular was facing. And then ask whether technologies could be of any help in the list of challenges.
I here present these challenges by following what in marketing is called a customer journey. I draw an imaginary complete cycle of citizen participation, along which I present the different challenges that this citizen or the whole process finds in its way.
A citizen wants to have their say on a given issue. But, who are they? A clear identity of this citizen may be necessary to know whether they belong to a given demos. It is true that some participation processes, especially those based on deliberation —provide as much insights as we can, regardless of representativeness—, may not require identity. But we can also look at identity from the other point of view: not as in “who am I” but no “where do I belong to”, “where do my rights lay” or “who grants me citizen rights”. Identity, thus, is not about voting or paying taxes (only) but about knowing whether I am a citizen with full citizenship.
With some interests
A citizen does not necessary need to be interested in absolutely everything. It may just seem right not to invite him to participate in absolutely everything —some decisions we may think are of their interest despite their own preferences or tastes, like electing representatives: voting is even compulsory in some places—.
Knowing what are someone’s interests, and linking them to their identity may be useful either to explicitly invite a given collective to speak out their opinion, or for a given citizen to filter out what are the options available to speak out.
Individual or Collective
This citizen with some interests, is acting as an individual or as a collective? Is she a single person, or is it an organization? This question is not related with whether a citizen represents someone, but about what different legal frameworks allow to do to e.g. natural persons or to legal persons.
Knowing this difference —not a trivial issue— may be crucial to be able to participate in a given process. People may participate personally within an association, but most of the times only legal persons may be able to participate in a federation of associations.
But, of course, legal persons cannot perform actions, physically speaking: someone, a flesh and bones individual has to perform for them: has to represent them.
And sometimes different people can perform different actions in representation of a collective. That is, the collective can grant different powers to different people. For instance, many can give an opinion, but only one of them can cast a vote or make a binding decision.
So, knowing one’s identity is not enough: we may need to know whether they are representing a collective and, if they are, what can they do on its behalf.
In relationship with someone
This citizen, now that we can tell whether they are an individual or a collective, and which are their interests, it may be useful to know what are their relationships with other citizens.
A first approach to this is whether they are affiliated, formally or informally, to some other collectives, and what of affiliation or relationship they have with them. Besides the aforementioned issue of representation, the degree or intensity of relationships may be interesting to tell whether a citizen is a leader in their respective sector, and thus consider their participation in a different way.
A second approach, and most relevant here, is whether this relationship is with the Administration: that is, we want to record what kind of exchanges or transactions a given citizen has had with public bodies. This is important at many levels, among them treating the citizen consistently, recording their potential impact on public policies, identify valid interlocutors, publicise these relationships, etc.
Says or does something
Now that we know who the citizen is, what are their interests, whether they are a person or a collective, what kind of powers to represent this collective they have and what have been their relationships with other collectives (especially the Administration), now citizens want to say or do something.
In face-to-face participation — and most especially in formal meetings— minutes are taken or there are at least records of what is being said or done. Same should happen online. This is nevertheless much more complex in the online world: not only, as we have been saying, identity, etc. is more blurry and/or fluid, but there are also different degrees of formality and informality, usually a high diversity of channels which have to be coordinated or at least be made coherent and consistent and provide a comprehensive explanation of what is going on.
What is being said and done online has to be accompanied by the context in which it is being said and done, in the same way as in formal channels, where conversations and performances already follow a given protocol. This means not, of course, having to approve a formal protocol for everything happening online: hence the difficulty of this issue.
Delegates or is endorsed
When saying or doing these things, are citizens acting on their own? Or are they being endorsed by someone? Are they being delegated some other’s opinions or votes? How should we be taking into account this acting individually or collectivelly? Mind that this is a little bit different to representing someone or having been granted some powers. Representation and powers is more about the legal aspects of being empowered to do something. That is: who are you and what can you do on the behalf of someone else. By delegation or endorsement we look at the phenomenon from the other end: how should I, Administration, take into account this acting on behalf of someone? e.g. Representation is how you choose your elected representatives; delegation is how you will take into account their votes at the Parliament. It is a slight difference, but and important one.
But, beyond how you take it into account, we want to know whether this representation is permanent or temporary. Liquid democracy or proxy voting, changes in representation are much more easy in the online world but need being cleverly articulated. There is an increasing way to solve this technologically, but we are far from the best system —if there is such a thing.
Delegating one’s vote will involve identity, what powers am I granting and to say or do what.
In multiple instances and levels
Things that citizens can or want to do or say things. And they want to do or say things to the Administration (or to any other kind of collective), so that they are taken into account and public policies are put to work.
But quite often —and this is especially true with Public Administrations— collectives of people follow a hierarchy: e.g. your municipality’s health system depends on your region’s health system that depends on your state’s health system.
Or, depending on your interests (e.g. the environment and Global Warming), you may want to do or say things on Global Warming to your city council, to your regional government and to your national government. Different things, at different levels, but on a similar issue.
Or. As a public body, you may want to infer the macro policy from the micro policies put at work or suggested at lower Administration levels. For instance, the local strategy on urban mobility will necessarily shape —or will be determined— by the national strategy on mobility.
Can we, by means of technology, make easy the granularization of macro-level policies into micro-level ones? Can we, by means of technology, make easy the inference of micro-level policies into macro-level ones?
This will, in part, depend on who you are and what can you do (powers) at different Administration levels. That is, what are your citizen rights depending on your citizenship considering different demos belong to or different governments that rule your life.
With different weights
We have considered, so far, “one individual, one vote”. But in many cases there this rule could be changed and, instead, grant the citizen with more “votes”, that is, that their voice or decisions or actions have more influence, more weight than de voices or decisions or actions than other citizens’.
The evident application of this differential weighting is, of course, representation and delegation. It may be just common sense that someone representing a organization can have an influence proportional to the people that they are representing, that is, the people that delegated their voice or vote to their representative. Thus, two people representing a huge and a tiny collective, respectively, would have a higher or lesser influence when they participate e.g. in a public consultation.
But we can go one step further. We may want to grant different power of influence to different actors. Some people are directly affected by public decisions while others are only indirectly or partially affected, or even not affected at all. E.g. when considering issuing a new regulation on diabetes, citizens with diabetes will surely be more affected than citizens with no diabetes: weighting their decisions might be taken into consideration.
Or we might even want to weight citizens’ opinions depending on their position in society (e.g. a renowned scholar in the field), what they have done and said before, what people have thought of what they have done or said before, etc. Technologies can not only be helpful in the mere weighting, but in calculating the most appropriate weights.
Revisits or checks actions
So, citizens do or say things, depending on many factors, etc. Once it is done or said, and time goes by, can people, citizens or Administrations, go back and see who said what and why? Can they trace and see the relationships between all the transactions (interactions, exchanges, etc.) done in the past?
Being able to follow the steps being taken is crucial for assessment and evaluation. Policy footprints are important, but they become essential, when complexity increases. And we are not talking here about the complexity of the issue, but about the complexity of the solution and, more specifically, the complexity with which the policy instrument was designed —in our case, with a plurality and diversity of actors, contributions and channels.
And checks how it fits within the overall plan
Even more, can this traceability be put in context and see what was the impact (not the mere aggregated result) of one single contribution? Can one make this inference from the micro to the macro level?
This aspect is, in my opinion, much more than —I insist— a mere aggregation of individual wills and says.
Checking how each and every piece of opinion, issued in formal or informal ways, scattered across a great diversity of channels and formats, is about finding where are the critical masses what, what are the behavioural patterns are which are the main trends. Which is not a minor thing.
By identifying critical masses, behavioural patterns and main trends we are able to both focus and forecast. By focusing and forecasting, we can become more effective and become more efficient.
Checks for accountability
Beyond fitness in the overall plan, we want to know: what happens afterwards? Can citizens and Administrations follow-up and monitor what use is being made by the ones taking into account (or not) their acts and voices? Can one see the evolution of the progressive triage, acceptance or rejection of proposals, adoption, transformation or improvement, etc. that end up in a final decision or policy? Who ended up doing what? Who took responsibilities?
Accountability brings us back to assessment and evaluation. In this case, not only about how the policy instrument was designed, but how was implemented and put into practice. And, most important, what results did it have and which were the impacts of such results.
Accountability closes the cycle of policy-making, and we can begin again with the diagnosis of the issue or the situation, which brings us back to the who, and back to identity, here taken as a target: who did we impact with our policy and how.
Summing up: current challenges of online citizen participation
As it can be seen, all these issues are very deeply related among them. In my believe, one should not address a single issue (e.g. identity) without addressing the whole journey of a citizen participation process. Identity is defined, also, by representation or delegation, and representation implies taking into consideration weighting or accuntability. An so on.
Thus, the question
Will [fill with the name of a technology] contribute or solve the problem of citizen participation? may not be the correct approach. It may be more useful to ask what specific issues of the process can it contribute to improve and within what mix of other tecnologies. And how will they be merged and inter-operate among them. Which may be the question.
Regional planning and collaboration
Chairs: Cristina Palés. Cap del Servei d’Educació Ambiental de la Generalitat de Catalunya
Participation cannot take place at the end of a public policy decision, but has to be intrinsic to the whole project. Participation has to impact not only the key actors, but the whole of the citizenry and the whole of the Administration.
When participation takes place at the beginning of a policy-making process, people tend to turn complains into proposals, tend not to say “no” but “I would like this”.
Territory safekeeping is a formal agreement between someone that wants to use the territory and a civic organization that wants to take care of a given territory. In this case, civil society approaches better the territory than the Administration. There are communication and coordination channels needed between such organizations and the Administration, but the Administration should be able to step back and leave room for civil society organizations to play some roles related to the public good.
Safekeeping agreements are formal agreements, but are non compulsive, based on goodwill, adapted to individual and collective needs.
The experience of Geoinquiets
Marc Torres, Membre de Geoinquiets i Geostart
The change of culture in the Administration is a transformation, not just an evolution, on how public workers work. It is becoming more about reaching consensus, about talking to others and about listening to much more others. In many senses, this is what most innovative public workers were looking for: to open up their work, to be allowed to explain what they think and what they do, to address specific actors — not necessarily always the same ones —, to disclose working for the public good as the public good is a common matter.
We have to think about the we, not about the I.
With participation, we can address the citizens, but also let public workers share their experiences and their diagnosis.
Participation is about building a knowledge network, a unique and collective network that thinks and acts.
Participation is much more than contributing to a top-down project. Participation should also be understood as people doing things for the sake of it, as people taking the initiative to address and solve problems, with or without the Administration. Sometimes these grassroots initiatives are the seed of major collective planning projects or policy-making initiatives in general. This is also participation.
We speak about co-deciding, but can we speak about co-participation? About designing the very same processes of participation?
The experience of Mirapeix Lawyers
Most people realize that there are plans or regulations just when they want to do something, and the regulation would either not allow them to do it or force them to do it in a given way. This usually leads to conflict: people are surprised and, even worst, people tend to think that something illegitimate happened. “Why was I not warned? Why wasn’t I aware of this?
When planning becomes norm, transparency and participation take on a new meaning. Participation has to come at the very beginning of planning. The diagnosis, the forecast, the responsibility of planning have to be shared by all actors, public and private. And for participation to be possible, information is a must. Information that is easy to find and easy to understand.
Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)
Regional planning and citizen participation
Chairs: Laura Suñé. Sub-directora general de Participació Ciutadana de la Generalitat de Catalunya
Regional planning guidelines in Euskadi
Rafael Sanchez Guerra. Tècnic del Govern Basc
When one mainstreams citizen participation in policy-making (e.g. regional planning), participation is not something that is added somewhere in the project, but that is taken into account in all key points during the deployment of the project. Sometimes as a one time thing (e.g. a participatory processes), sometimes as a structural thing (e.g. advisory councils).
Doing participation processes during the design of a political instrument may seem as it slows down things, but in reality it provides useful information and legitimacy that, afterwards, is less conflict, better instruments and, thus, policies that run smoother and faster.
It is important to disclose all processes, to adapt language and concepts to the different target groups that one is addressing, be sure that everyone understands each other, have flexibility to adapt to different timings.
Master regional plana of the Generalitat de Catalunya
Josep Armengol. Sub-director general d’Acció Territorial i de l’Hàbitat Urbà de la Generalitat de Catalunya
Trust between different actors — especially between the Administration and the citizens — is a must. There is no way things will work in the future (or in the present) without increasing levels of trust. Indeed, oftentimes participation is not as much about policy-making but as trust-building.
Initially, master plans in regional planning were regulated by the law. Thus, departments used to follow the regulation strictly, and implement participation processes where the law had put them. But it did not work. Citizen platforms would appear regardless of the regulated spaces for citizen participation.
One also would doubt about whether citizen organizations were really democratic themselves, whether they represented many people or none, etc.
Honest, flexible, ad-hoc participation processes came to improve this two-ways lack of trust. Participation has been rich in their contributions, in reducing conflict, in being able to tell who wants to build for the common good and who wants to destroy and who wants to make the public good work for one’s own private interest.
Participation is now introduced at the very beginning of the process. It is not an information session, but a diagnosis and design session. Participation is open where decision-making is still open: it is crucial to match expectations with reality. Mapping actors correctly is also very important to gather all the different realities and views upon a given topic.
Regional planning strategy in Aragón (EOTA)
Carlos Jesús Oliván. Cap de Servei de Participació del Govern d’Aragó
LAAAB methodology, based on an open and collaborative design of public policies, as in a lab. Using design thinking during the design of policies and also of participatory processes.
For the regional planning strategy, participation sessions were turned into workshops, where real proposals had to be designed, not just stated. Besides, “real people” endorse or sponsor all proposals, so that one can come back to them for more details, etc.
The return phase is crucial, and one has to clearly explain what proposals were accepted and put into practice, and which ones were not, and why.
Participation processes are about building trust. Sometimes they may not be very productive in terms of content, but they are productive in terms of building citizenship.
Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)