Book. Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of decidim.barcelona

Book cover of Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of decidim.barcelona

Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of decidim.barcelona

During 2016 and 2017 I took part on a research led by IT for Change, within the research project titled Voice or Chatter? Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement, and within the umbrella of the research programme Making All Voices Count. My research thoroughly analyzed the case of Decidim, the city council of Barcelona citizen participation initiative to collectivelly ellaborate the strategic plan of the city for 2016-2019.

This book, Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of decidim.barcelona is the gathering of a policy brief, a state of the art of technopolitics in Spain and a case study of Barcelona’s Decidim participation initiative, with some minor improvements. It is the last one of a total of 16 different research outputs of the project, ranging from policy and academic papers to speeches and presentations.

The book is published in English and Spanish —Convirtiendo participación en soberanía: el caso de decidim.barcelona— both of them downloadable in full text below.


Citizen participation is entering a new era: the era of technopolitics. New forms of organization, of coordination, of civic action boosted by a new ethics and new methodologies, and all this made possible by new tools, spaces and actors.

However, this new era of citizen empowerment continues to require –probably more than ever– democratic institutions that are especially responsive to the changes that are taking place on the streets. Institutions that adapt, that innovate and that, ultimately, transform themselves to keep on being a chain of transmission between the will of citizens and collective decision-making.

This volume analyses how the City Council of Barcelona has faced and planned this transformation, and the impacts that the new strategy may imply on meanings, norms and power in the Administration-citizen relationship. It assumes a new game board, although the final outcome of the game is still uncertain.

The Spanish local elections in 2015 brought to many Spanish cities what has been labelled as “city councils of change”: city councils whose mayors and governing representatives come from parties emerging from the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement. Many of them, led by Madrid and Barcelona, tried to bring into office the same technopolitical practices that proved so useful to articulate a broadly supported movement when out in the streets.

But not only practices were put to work in decision-making at the local level. Also the ethos and values attached to them led, in many ways, with more or less success, the relationship between the local government and the citizenry. These values spin around citizen empowerment, participation, engagement and, in its most ambitious expression, devolution of sovereignty from the government to the citizen.

This book focuses on the socio-political environment where this phenomenon takes place, specifically in Madrid and Barcelona, the two major cities of the state and featuring these so-called city councils of change, and how it was deployed in Barcelona in the first months of 2016 during the definition of the strategic plan of the city. Using Anthony Giddens Structuration Theory, we will be able to assess if not the final outcomes and impact of this technopolitical turn in decision-making – surely too soon for such an assessment to be performed –, at least the main shifts in meaning, norms and power which, as tipping points, can shed a light on the main social trends that these political movements might be unleashing.

In Part I we draw a Policy Brief – Increasing the quality of democracy through sovereignty devolution – were we present the main drivers of change, the essentials of the several shifts brought by the new ethos, and the keys and aspects to be considered to understand the qualitative changes in our opinion already in play in the current political scenario.

Part II – ICT-mediated citizen participation in Spain: a state of the art – revisits e-participation since the beginnings of the XXIst century onwards and most especially in the aftermath of the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, proposing that recent ICT-based participation initiatives in such municipalities could be far from just polling the citizens and be, instead, the spearhead of a technopolitics-aimed network of cities. We critically explore the role of ICTs in reconstructing politics in Spain and which led to Spain’s new experiments in participatory democracy such as Decide Madrid, launched in the city of Madrid to enable strategic participatory planning for the municipality, and decidim.barcelona another participatory process launched in Barcelona initially based in the former.

This part provides an overview of the normative and institutional state of art of ICT-mediated citizen participation in Spain. The first section depicts the political and civic liberties framework in Spain. In the second section the landscape of ICT mediated citizen engagement is mapped. In the third section, we engage with implications of technology mediations for deliberative democracy and transformative citizenship.

Part III – The case of decidim.barcelona: Using a Structuration Framework Towards a Theory of ICT-mediated Citizen Engagement – analyses the participatory making of the Barcelona Strategic Plan (PAM) 2016-2019 for the whole term in office. The first section revisits the general context of the city in terms of ICT-mediated politics and explains the design and general functioning of the new strategic plan and its participatory process. The second section explains the methodology used for the analysis, which is carried on in the third section.


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Full book in English:
Peña-López, I. (2019). Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of decidim.barcelona. Barcelona: Huygens Editorial.
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Full book in Spanish:
Peña-López, I. (2019). Convirtiendo participación en soberanía: el caso de decidim.barcelona. Barcelona: Huygens Editorial.

Article. Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

Article cover of Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

In June 2016 four friends gathered around a table. Ricard was working on his PhD thesis, which I supervised, and summoned the help of a data expert, Toni, and someone knowledgeable on analysing networks of people, Oriol — later on Núria Vega would join the team to improve the whole project and, specifically, bring brains and muscle to the field work.

At that time we believed that ICTs were having an impact on agriculture and people working in agroecology and cooperatives. But we suspected that there was something else. In Catalonia, cooperatives were changing the shape of the agriculture sector in the XIX century. After a long hiatus during the Spanish dictatorship (1939-1978), the agriculture cooperative sector (with quite republican ideas attached) kept on being dormant… until the breakout of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s.

That was more than a coincidence to us, so we decided to analyze it — it was Ricard’s idea: the rest just followed. But soon we saw that there seemed to be much more than just a rebirth of cooperatives: what was being deployed before our eyes was something new. Beyond using ICTs to improve management and/or make sustainable non-mainstream models that can barely compete with the big behemoths of the food industry, what we saw whas that ICTs seem to be configuring a brand new ecosystem of food production and consumption, including new ways to understand food as a public infrastructure.

Almost three years after comes this article of us, with these reflections formerly put and rigorously analyzed. The result is Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia, just published at Agricultural Economics (AGRICECON).

While we waited for the paper to be published, Oriol left us forever. As we stated in the paper, Oriol, it was fun working with you while you were among us. Now you are gone, but the good work remains. So long, friend. Ricard, Ismael, Núria and Toni.

Article abstract and download

In Catalonia, agroecological cooperativism is part of a set of alternatives that appeared as a response to the current hegemonic food consumption model, controlled by large commercial establishments. It is defined by its promotion of short food supply chains (SFSCs), operates under the values of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and holds a strong political commitment. This article, on the one hand, studies the setup of agroecological cooperativism understood as the outcome of a network of producers, intermediaries and consumers and, on the other hand, examines the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the development of this consumption model. The data has been obtained through on-site interviews and online research on the 56 consumer groups and cooperatives present in Barcelona. Descriptive statistics and correlation analysis have been used to study them. The results prove the salient role that ICT has as a facilitator in the relational network established between the agents that take part in it, thus becoming a key characteristic element of the new agroecological consumer cooperativism.

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Full article:
Espelt Rodrigo, R., Peña-López, I., Miralbell Izard, O., Martín, T. & Vega Rodríguez, N. (2019). “Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia”. In Agricultural Economics, 65 (2), 59-66. Praga: Czech Academy of Agricultural Sciences.


Book Chapter. Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation: From mass democracy to democracy networks

Book cover of Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia (chapter 11)

Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia

In September 2018 I attended the CAMPUS LAAAB. Iberoamerican conference of citizen innovation, where I presented a first draft of the strategy of citizen participation of the newly created directorate general of the Catalan government. The video and slides of the session can be watches or downloaded, respectivelly, at Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia.

Now, the Government of Aragon has published a book collecting all the speeches of the event. Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking inside black book [Opening institutions from within. Hacking inside black book] features 17 different initiatives from 20 different authors, ranging from living labs to institutional change, but always under the general topic of citizen innovation through citizen democratic engagement.

My chapter, Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia [Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation: From mass democracy to democracy networks] explains why and how the Catalan government aims at using citizen participation to transform the Administration with a higher goal: contributing to stop populism by helping citizens to understand politics… and using this higher goal to deeply transform how the Administration approaches citizens and how the monopoly of decision-making can be shared with them.

The whole book is in Spanish. See below the abstract of my book chapter and the book as a whole.

Book chapter abstract

Hay dos visiones complementarias de la participación ciudadana. La visión tradicional es que la participación nos ayuda a diseñar mejores leyes y políticas públicas gracias a hacer concurrir sobre éstas a más personas, con visiones diferentes y con conocimientos diversos. Gracias esta mayor concurrencia obtenemos leyes y políticas más eficaces -porque su diagnóstico y rango de soluciones es más ajustado- y más eficientes, dado que se incrementa el consenso, se reduce el conflicto y el diseño es técnicamente mejor.

Esta visión que podríamos adjetivar de esencialmente técnica puede complementarse de otra visión mucho más filosófica o incluso política en el sentido de transformación social a través de las ideas. Esta segunda visión es que la participación de carácter deliberativo podría constituir una suerte de tercer estadio de la democracia, tomando lo mejor de la democracia griega (directa) y la democracia moderna (representativa), a la vez que contribuye a suplir las cada vez más manifiestas carencias de ambas: por una parte, el coste de participar; por otra parte, la creciente complejidad de las decisiones públicas. No obstante, este tercer estadio, dada su naturaleza deliberativa, por definición debe darse en nuevos espacios y con nuevos actores, a incorporar al actual diseño de la práctica democrática centrado casi exclusivamente en las instituciones.

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Book chapter:
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia”. In Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.), Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book, Capítulo 11, 113-124. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.

Book abstract and download

La sociedad de masas de las primeras revoluciones industriales ha dado paso a una sociedad de multitudes. La democracia representativa y las organizaciones de intermediación conviven ahora con redes distribuidas, desde donde la ciudadanía digital reclama una participación más directa y anhela una relación más horizontal con las instituciones. En los últimos diez años han brotado movimientos cívicos en casi todas las regiones del planeta que reclaman la apertura de los gobiernos.

Las estrategias de participación y transparencia en torno al paradigma del gobierno abierto, inauguraron nuevas cartas de servicio en la última década, pero han ido surgiendo otras formas de hacer, otras metodologías, que experimentan con aumentar el rol de los ciudadanos en los asuntos públicos, y que agrupamos a modo de síntesis en el concepto de innovación ciudadana, donde se integran también proyectos que exploran los límites de la innovación social, la ciencia ciudadana o el diseño abierto y colaborativo.

El Gobierno de Aragón, en pleno proceso de impulso del Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (LAAAB), quiso reunir a algunos de los técnicos y teóricos de estas nuevas formas de hacer, de pensar y de participar, referentes de toda Iberoamérica, para contribuir desde su experiencia a la reflexión global. Tuvimos la suerte de poder reunir a todos los participantes de este libro, una veintena de personas que consideramos referentes en sus respectivos campos, y que conforman una buena muestra de lo mejor que se está haciendo en Latinoamérica y España en el amplio universo de la innovación ciudadana. Todos los ponentes cedieron sus ideas para la publicación del libro que aquí se presenta: Abrir instituciones desde dentro [Hacking Inside Black Book].

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Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.) (2018). Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.

Book Chapter. Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning

Book cover for Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online

Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop at the European University Institute, Shaking the brick and mortar: moving higher education online, where I presented Opening up the gates: scaffolding lifelong learning.

The reflections on that workshop have now been published as a book: Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online, edited by Annika Zorn, Jeff Haywood, and Jean-Michel Glachant.

I have contributed to the book with chapter 3, Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning.

The whole book can be downloaded in preprint format. Please find below the abstracts and links to download both my chapter and the whole book.

Book chapter abstract and download

Most works on instructional technology focus on the potential – and sometimes weaknesses – of technologies to do certain things. This chapter will take the opposite approach: we will be looking at 10 different “institutions” in education (the school, the classroom, the textbook, the library, the syllabus, the schedule, the teacher, evaluation, certification and the curriculum) and see how, on the one hand, digital technologies are challenging the foundations of such institutions and, on the other hand, how they can strengthen their role in education by unfolding their reach and scope. Ours is, thus, an approach that focuses on transformation of institutions by pushing them outside of their formal education framework and into lifelong learning by being part of learners’ informal educational networks.

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Book chapter as preprint:
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning”. In Zorn, A., Haywood, J. & Glachant, J. (Eds.), Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online, Chapter 3, 55-82. Northampton, MA: Edgar Elgar.

Book abstract and download

The European higher education sector is moving online, but to what extent? Are the digital disruptions seen in other sectors of relevance for both academics and management in higher education? How far are we from fully seizing the opportunities that an online transition could offer? This insightful book offers a broad perspective on existing academic practices, and discusses how and where the move online has been successful, and the lessons that can be learned.

Higher Education in the Digital Age offers readers a comprehensive overview of the ways in which a move into online academia can be made. Analysing successful case studies, the original contributions to this timely book address the core activities of an academic institution – education, research, and research communication – instead of focusing only on online learning or digital strategies relevant for individual academics. Chapters cover online and networked learning, as well as the myriad ways in which the digital age can improve research and knowledge exchange with experts and society more widely.

Academics, managers and policy makers in higher education institutions will greatly benefit from the up-to-date case studies and advice outlined in this book. Academic administrators and academic project leaders will also find this a useful tool for improving the accessibility of their work.

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Whole book as preprint:
Zorn, A., Haywood, J. & Glachant, J. (Eds.) (2018). Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online. Northampton, MA: Edgar Elgar.

All other information can be found at the official website of the book.


Article. Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption

Cover for ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos
¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos (article)

Ricard Espelt, Enrique Rodríguez and I have just published a new article, ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos [Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption] which analyses the relationship between technopolitics and the cooperative movement. Our hypothesis is that some emerging cooperatives go beyond the mere practice of cooperativism for production or consumption, and engage or even are driven by political values. Our findings only partially support this hypothesis, but allow us to characterise three types of cooperatives according to these political values and activism, which we found quite interesting.

Expanded summary

Agroecological cooperativism is made up by an inter-cooperation network articulated by producers and consumer groups that promotes the acquisition of agroecological products in the context of the Social and Solidarity Economy (Martín-Mayor et al., 2017). At the same time, as part of the anti-globalisation and territorial defense movement, it has political resolution (Vivas, 2010). In this sense, it frames its activity as a response to the homogeneity of global food chains (Mauleón, 2009; Khoury, 2014) and promotes a recovery of the «identity of the sites». This re-appropriation purpose is expressed -especially- in the social movements that emerged during 2011 that, according to Harvey (2012), link with the fight against capitalism and the demand for a collective management of common goods and resources. Across the area of Barcelona, where the map of consumer cooperatives is well defined (Espelt et al., 2015), it has been registered an increase of these kind of organizations during the 15M or the Spanish “Indignados” movement in 2011.

As embedded in the era of the Network Society and the expansion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), this article studies the correlation between agroecological consumer groups, as an instrument to promote an alternative economy, and social movements, as the space where technopolitics develop (Toret, 2013). That is, this article aims to corroborate whether agroecological cooperativism, which emerged in the late 20th century -and grew with remarkable strength during the second decade of the 21st century- and the profound crisis of legitimacy of the democratic institutions, with a rising participation in citizen extra-representative and extra-institutional movements, is connected.

This article has a double goal. On the one hand, to assess the existing relation between consumer and cooperative groups and the 15M movement and their ideological similarities, as selfmanaged movements that aim for social and political transformation. On the other hand, if applies, to study how this relation is shaped.

The main hypothesis of our research is that nowadays agroecological cooperativism possesses an acute activism component, which is why it is reasonable to predict a relative involvement of this activist cooperativism in movements such as 15M. However, former literature has explained and described the 15M movement as a form of activism that eminently operates outside the institutions and through a network organization. From that point on, a second hypothesis is formulated, proposing that activist cooperativism participation occurs individually, rather than collectively and/or institutionally. That is, it is possible to identify overlaps between activists that take part both in cooperatives and social movements such as 15M, but it is not reasonable to foresee a relevant level of involvement of cooperatives, as collectives, in this movement.

In order to respond to the hypothesis, a questionnaire comprising two sets of questions has been designed. A first set aims to determine the level of accomplishment based on the SSE criteria. A second set of questions focuses on the correlation between the studied organizations and the 15M movement, and the relevance of ICT in their organization. Semi-structured interviews were sent between February 2015 and March 2016 with a sample of 44 groups and allowed us to gather information regarding the origins, motivation and functioning of each of them. The questionnaire about the relation between the groups and the 15M movement was sent between December 2015 and March 2016, and 37 responses were collected. Thus, the 37 groups that have completed both questionnaires and the semi-structured interview will be considered the sample for this research.

In order to assess the accomplishment level of the variables corresponding to each of the aspects of the Social Solidarity Economy and the relation of the organizations with the 15M movements, we have performed arithmetic measurements for each of the variables studied. To evaluate the performance of the formulated hypothesis we have applied a correlation and a factorial analysis upon the studied variables (Commitment, Ideology, Technology, Group Involvement and Individual Involvement) to quantify the existing association between variables (correlation) and to identify the latent existing relation between them (factorial), with the goal of gathering additional information that has allowed us to interpret the results of the individual classification (nonhierarchical segmentation). Once the groups have been obtained, significant differences between segments have been determined through a variance analysis (ANOVA).

The results of our research show that consumer groups are part of a larger group of organizations that conform the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), which, among others, values the promotion of spaces in which democratic participation is emphasised. If we constrain our analysis to 2011, just in a few cases the creation of new groups can be drawn from the influence of 15M. However, the entities created that year recognise the movement as an agent of change for the individuals in their condition of activists. At the same time, this research allowed us to determine three types of organizations: the traditional cooperative, which shows a low level of social commitment and a moderate level of individual participation, and that barely embraces ICT; the network cooperative, which adds social commitment and ICT usage; and the activist cooperative, which presents a greater group and individual involvement.

Despite the sample is limited in quantitative terms, the results confirm our hypothesis, which is to say, that cooperativism has a strong activist component. This finding points in the same direction with what Cantijoch (2009), Christensen (2011), Anduiza et al. (2014) or Peña-López et al. (2014) have expressed with regards to a strong (and even rising) tendency in extra-representative and extra-institutional practices when it comes to take part in political participation or citizen activism. On the other hand, despite the classification of the groups in traditional, network and activist cooperatives, we dare to say that their relation with the 15M movement must be, therefore, exogenous, depending on a non-identified variable, which is highly probable individual and not consubstantial with consumer cooperativism. That is to say, one doesn’t affiliate to a cooperative – as it’s the case as well with political parties, labor unions or NGOs- in order to achieve other political goals, but rather that one’s active participation in cooperativism constitutes the techno-political action by itself.


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Espelt Rodrigo, R., Peña-López, I. & Rodríguez, E. (2016). “¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos”. In CIRIEC-España, Revista de Economía Pública, Social y Cooperativa, (93), 293-318. Valencia: CIRIEC.

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.