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.

Abstract

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.

Download

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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.

Oliver Escobar. Mini-publics for citizen participation

Notes from the seminar on mini-publics conference, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 26 March 2019.

Oliver Escobar, University of Edinburgh and What Works Scotland

Paradigmatic shifts in the analysis and practice of governance and public policies:

  • Interpretative shift: try and understand things differently.
  • Pragmatist shift: do practical and applied things.
  • Collaborative shift: do things together.
  • Participatory shift: participation as a starting point.
  • Deliberative shift: not any participation, but deliberation.

Two alternative explanations about global citizenry:

  • Decadence: people participate less, lack of trust and legitimacy of institutions, low social capital.
  • Progress: more educated and informed citizenry, less reluctant to challenge authority, new ways of engagement.

Participation can have different results depending on the stating point. There is a paradox that, while participation processes increase in number, so does inequality. Unless corrective measure are taken participation of all varieties will be skewed in favour of those with higher socioeconomic status and formal education (Ryfe & Stalsburg, 2012).

Challenges of participatory governance:

  • Inclusion and diversity.
  • Quality of dialogue and deliberation.
  • Impact: participation has to be connected with decision-making.

3 components of ‘What works Scotland’:

  • Inclusive and multi-channel.
  • Deliberative.
  • Empowered and consequential.

People in Scotland usually trust their institutions, but would rather be more involved in decision-making processes. Notwithstanding, they still find it too costly/difficult to participate. In addition to this, Scotland has a municipalities structure that implies one of the highest people/city council ratios in Europe (i.e. more than triple than that of Spain). This gap, and the perceived cost to participate, means that people usually participate very little… unless it does matter: the Scottish referendum was participated by more than 80% of the total population.

New strategy to foster participation:

  • Democratic transformation and social justice.
  • Focus on improving outcomes.
  • From consultation to co-production.
  • Based on deliberation.
  • New statutory basis for community planning partnerships.
  • New obligations for public authorities and community planning partners.
  • Participation requests: any citizen can request taking part on any decision-making process.

Mini-publics

People are compensated for participation, so that participating comes at no-cost for them.

Composition of mini-publics aims at reflecting the reality of society: age, gender, education, etc.

And not only composition: facilitation is accurately designed, so that there are no biases or inequalities during deliberation. The design of such processes usually takes months. Facilitation or participation does not always mean talking: there are other non-verbal ways of participation. Plurality of means to participate make it easier for anyone to believe, at the end of the process, that they could have their say in the process.

Some deliberation processes have incentives to drive proposals to some given goals. E.g. if your proposal reduces inequality, it is valued more positively than if it “just solves an issue”.

Mini-publics are especially suited for complex issues. This implies a quite long period of information and learning about the issue. It takes lot of time and people end up becoming “citizen representatives” even if they were never chosen by anyone or are actually representing anyone.

An interesting idea is a two-chamber parliament where one chamber is chosen by elections, and another one by lottery. Both models have pros and cons: combined, we could maybe have a very strong model of parliament.

Civic organizations have a new role in mini-publics: they do not bargain with the Administration, or with the mini-publics, but their role is providing information, evidence and arguments in favor of their positions. This changes the rules of the game, favouring arguments in detriment of negotiation strength.

The scholar-academic mix is achieved with a thorough incentives design. Scholars are assessed by their social impact, and taking part in such projects as What Works Scotland is good for their social impact score. On the other hand, capacity building within the Administration is very important: training public servants so that they become experts and can also perform analysis and research on their own processes is key.

Main types of mini-publics (see below Escobar-Rodríguez & Elstub, 2017):

  • Citizens’ juries
  • Planning Cells
  • Consensus conferences
  • Deliberative polls
  • Citizens’ assemblies

People usually are satisfied of having taken part on a mini-public, although they find it tiring. For many people it may be the first time they take part in something related to citizen participation. They usually change or reshape their own opinion. The next level —quite a challenge, nevertheless— would be that they lasted long, or that they became structural.

It is better to think about ecosystems of participation rather than on participation processes.

How do we foster participation in an environment that does not welcome participation? In these cases, before going straight to citizen engagement, you have to create the appropriate conditions. This means thinking in the long term, identifying all the relevant actors, envisioning and sharing the goals, etc.

It is crucial to create the institutional spaces to back participatory processes. We have to be very aware that we need to work for a good fit of representative and deliberative democracies. Deliberative or participatory democracy can not be an isolated bubble disconnected from the rest of democratic institutions.

One have to separate dialogue from deliberation. One is for diagnosis, the other one to make one decision. They can be two phases of the same process, but they definitely need different approaches. In dialogue processes, one tries and leave out the decision phase so that people can suspend judgement and, above all, do not work to kill the alternative —because you already made your own decision.

How do we ensure that people understand the issue and the proposals made? One has to assess, first of all, the information available. Are they facts or just suppositions or opinions? After this, one has to design a good learning process so that people can learn. Evidence says that people usually are able to learn and make informed and thorough decisions. Evidence also shows that diversity usually works better than expertise. There is a limit in how much do we need to know about the technicalities on a specific issue to be able to make a decision: we are not substituting experts, but complementing the most technical decisions with the ones that have a social impact or nature. We need pilots to fly the plane, but people to decide where to.

The public does not exist: publics do. Publics are a construction. And a variable and flexible one. What public are you going to listen? An aggregative public built after a poll? Or a deliberative public that was build after questioning the issue and reflecting about it?

More information

Escobar-Rodríguez, O. & Elstub, S. (2017). Forms of Mini-publics: An introduction to deliberative innovations in democratic practice. Research and Development Note, 8 May 2917. Sydney: newDemocracy.
Smith, G. (2009) Democratic innovations: Designing institutions for citizen participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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.

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (II)

Notes from the seminarElections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections: presentations by election administrators and experts, organized by the Government of Estonia and held in Tallinn, Estonia, on 2 March 2019.More notes on this event: valimised2019

Mihkel Solvak, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
i-Voting and reliability

(note: we are using i-voting for Internet voting, and not e-voting as electronic voting also covers on-site electronic voting with e-voting polling machines)

Share of people who trusts i-voting has ranged from 53 to 77% since 2005 and now seems steady at 70%.

Surprisingly, people that trust less i-voting do not vote less electronically than those who do — although those who trust i-voting are much more likely to use it than those who don’t.

But the distribution of trust on i-voting is not a normal one: a majority totally trust the system, a minority totally distrusts it, and the rest are distributed evenly in between.

What we also see is that trust increases along time, and more people are thus shifting to i-voting. But even people that only vote on paper see their trust increased. There are two reasons for that: a precondition (one was also convinced about trust and that is why one shifted to i-voting) and a usage effect (after having switched to i-voting and having had a good experience, this increased one’s trust on i-voting). Trust is mostly a precondition, user experience adds very little. People with high pre-existing trust self-select into i-voting.

Higher rates of trust make the system more resilient, especially to reputation attacks. But we also need criticism to improve the system or not to forget about cyber-security.

It is worth noting that trust in i-voting positively correlates with trust in paper voting and trust in institutions in general. And there does not seem to be a negative correlation with higher levels of digital literacy (the hypothesis being that the more you know computers, the less you trust them).

People that shift to i-voting usually never shift back. But for those who do not vote, they can shift to paper voting and back to non voting.

Martin Möller, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
Landscape of political parties in Estonia: past and present

We witness an increasing stability in the Estonia political arena. But not only in terms of how many parties, or whether there are new parties entering the arena, but also between the manifestos of the different parties. Parties are becoming more similar between them.

Of course there are some differences in the left-right dimension and the liberal-conservative dimension.

Future of (Estonian) elections

Speakers: Priit Vinkel, Liisa Past, Robert Krimmer, Mihkel Solvak, Martin Möller.

Although society is moving towards a paper-less world, paper voting probably will not disappear. But, as new technologies appear, it is probable that new channels (including new electronic channels) will appear and will be used for voting.

Liisa Past: we have to move from a technocratic debate on voting to a democratic debate, to a debate about rights. This includes mobility, convenience.

Liisa Past: we have to confront supply chain management of elections. This is were the risks are, and this is beyond technology. What is more scary: a single firm controlling the whole process as a black box, or the Estate providing all technology and everything?

More information

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (I)

i-Voting – the Future of Elections?

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (2019)

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (I)

Notes from the seminarElections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections: presentations by election administrators and experts, organized by the Government of Estonia and held in Tallinn, Estonia, on 2 March 2019.More notes on this event: valimised2019

Priit Vinkel, head of the State Electoral Office
Estonia also votes with paper ballots

Voting with paper is about tradition, ceremony, ritual. People love going to polling stations.

It is possible to vote multiple times online, but only the last vote will be valid.

1099 candidates, 10 party lists, 15 independent candidates, 880,000 voters in Estonia and 77,000 abroad, 441 polling stations.

253 people voted by mail, 1776 at an embassy, 247,232 by e-voting. e-Voting has been increasing all over the years and more women are voting now.

Voting from home on election day (paper) does not cease to decrease, now ranging 6,000 voters.

Discussion

Only 5.3 people verified their electronic vote.

Some people vote more than once online (only the last vote counts) and only a very few people would finally vote on paper after having voted online.

Liisa Past, McCain Institute
Current state of health of cybersecurity in Estonia and elsewhere

You introduce technology very carefully.

Security is never achieved. 100% security is not possible, but not only at the digital sphere.

“Elections are general, uniform and direct. Voting is secret” (Constitutions of the Republic of Estonia, 60)

An advantage of e-voting in Estonia is the electronic ID system provided by the Government.

Comprehensive risk management:

  • Voting
  • Election technology.
  • Auxiliary systems, facilitators and vendors.
  • Integrated information operations.

Compendium on Cyber Security of Election Technology (PDF).

Way forward:

  • Risk management.
  • International cooperation. Operational information exchange and exercises.
  • Cross-agency cooperation.
  • Last mile in the EU context.

e-Voting is not a technical question, but a political and organizational one.

Robert Krimmer, Tallinn University of Technology
Cost of voting technologies

Main source of the research: Krimmer, R., Dueñas-Cid, D., Krivonosova, I., Vinkel, P. & Koitmae, P. (2018). “How Much Does an e-Vote Cost? Cost Comparison per Vote in Multichannel Elections in Estonia”. In Krimmer et al. (Eds.), Electronic Voting, 117-131. Third International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2018, Bregenz, Austria, October 2-5, 2018, Proceedings. Cham: Springer.

There is a general tendency of declining turnouts around the globe, contested by the implementation of new voting channels to make voting more easy or convenient for the voter.

Cost calculation is a most complex problem: shared resources, infraestructures that can be reused, resources that do not compute as a cost (e.g. volunteers), etc.

Voting Channel Cost per ballot (in Euro)
Early Voting in country centres 6.24
Advance Voting in country centres 5.07
Election Day Voting in country centres 4.61
Advance Voting in VDC 20.41
Election Day Voting in VDC 4.37
I-Voting 2.32

Electronic voting is, by far, the most cost-effective (cost per voter) of all channels.

More information

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (II)

i-Voting – the Future of Elections?

Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (2019)

Behavioral psychology to improve decision making

Notes from the workshop Behavioural psychology to improve decision making, organized by Department of Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relationships and Transparency of the Catalan Government and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 11 February 2019.

We are human beings and, as so, we are social.

How do we make decisions?

  • Automatic thinking
  • Social thinking
  • Mental models

What do decision makers do:

  • Contextual definition of problems.
  • Map behaviours.
  • Solution, evidence, iteration.

Main problems in decision-making:

  • Bias of confirmation: when the individual seeks or interprets new evidence as confirmation of their beliefs or theories already conceived.
  • Bias of confidence: when subjective confidence of someone over their own judgement is higher thant the objective precision.
  • Framing and aversion to losses: we tend to take more risks in the “losses” frame rather than on the “gains” frame. We prefer not losing rather than gaining.

Case study: paying taxes in Poland

(Some) people do not pay taxes.

  • Reasons: architecture is complex, mental effort to understand how paying taxes work, bad perception of what happens with taxpayers money (e.g. corruption), etc.
  • Possible solutions: improve electronic procedures, etc.

Experiment in Poland: sending letters to “remind” tax evaders that they should pay. Letters work, but they work better the harder the tone of the letter.

Case study: water saving in South-Africa

Water consumption invoices included explanations on pricing and the different price thresholds. Especially poor people was responsive to such information, but not as much richer one. Then other information was included: how one behaved according to the average citizen and publicly acknowledging those more efficient in saving water. Then rich people also were responsive and saved water.

Mapping behaviors

Diagnosing bottlenecks:

  • Decisions
  • Actions
  • Mindsets
  • Information
  • Context

Map a given process, identifying all the behaviors —especially decisions and actions— and see how they are conditioned or determined by information, beliefs, procedures and tasks, social norms, etc. This should help us to accurately find out the potential decision or action bottlenecks: steps where one may or may not make a decision or do an action depending on several factors. If these are properly identified and characterised, we can act upon those factors to improve the likelihood of decisions to be made and actions to be carried out.

Group decisions and mindsets



Social conformity
Independent behavior Interdependent behavior
Empiric Customs
It is what I want to do.
Descriptive norms
Everyone does it.
Normative Moral norms
It is the correct thing to do.
Social norms
It is what everybody expects from me.

Messages can be shaped in a way that refer to different kinds of norms and thus have different effects on people. Besides, social norms and mental models are strong conditioners (even determinants) of behavior and it is crucial to take them into account when designing and executing public policies.

Fixed mindset —belief that certain things cannot be changed, or that one is born with some skills that cannot be changed— vs. growth mindset— things can be changed, one’s own skills can be improved. We have to foster growth mindsets.

Solutions

The EAST framework: easy, attractive, social, timely.

Strategies to address biases:

  • Decision judges.
  • Cooling period.
  • Behavioral worksheet.
  • 1-2-4: assess the decision individually, discuss with colleague, discuss in group.
  • Decontextualize and recontextualize.
  • Considering the opposite.
  • Mindsets and mind aligning.
  • Frames, pliers and padlocks: aversion to risk, incentives, committments.
  • User experience.