Managing complexity for systemic impact: responses to VUCA and BANI environments

In recent decades, the acronyms VUCA and, more recently, BANI have become popular to describe the environments in which we live and work. But, beyond describing the situation or environment as VUCA or BANI, can we do anything about it? How can we change our way of managing projects or promoting impactful public policies? We have compiled below a set of emerging methodologies that allow us to move from theory to practice, from fear to action.

Table of contents

New environments: VUCA & BANI


VUCA appears with the end of the Cold War, with globalization, with the digital revolution, with the financialization of the Economy. Adapting theories on leadership from Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, it proposes that we increasingly operate in environments:

  • Volatile: the dynamics of change are accelerated and the stages of the situations are short-lived;
  • Uncertain: it is increasingly difficult to predict the future (and science must adapt to post-normality);
  • Complex: where the causal relationships of a phenomenon are multiple and even impossible to define;
  • Ambiguous: since it is difficult to make categorical statements, especially independent of each different situation or context.


Impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jamais Cascio proposes in Facing the Age of Chaos to go beyond the definition of VUCA environments and suggests the BANI framework instead:

  • Brittle: due to the extreme delicacy and contingency of situations, which can change quickly and drastically as a result of any cause;
  • Anxious: in the sense that situations increasingly generate anxiety (due to the difficulty of dealing with them, due to the scope and depth of their impacts);
  • Non-linear: due to the apparent disconnection, in direction and magnitude, between causes and consequences;
  • Incomprehensible: since it is increasingly difficult to understand not only the causes but the very phenomena that we face.

Managing complexity for systemic impact

If the management of organizations, the fostering of public policies or the deployment of development (cooperation) projects follow one another in a practically deterministic way (if I do A, then B will happen) and a linearly way (few variables, always in a single direction), as environments grow in complexity, project management and impact public policies should also change.

With the management of complexity, new methodologies and approaches to management appear that incorporate three factors that were not always taken into account in traditional management, all of them related to the loss of control over the situation:

  • Multifactoriality: realization and acknowledgement that there are many factors (particularly actors) that we do not control or even do not know, but that must be taken into account in the design as far as possible.
  • Importance of design: since we cannot act arbitrarily or discretionally due to loss of control over factors, we try to control the playing field or, at the very least, to know it. Thus, the thoroughness on the design of the projects and the exhaustive knowledge of the environment are key.
  • Influencing the system: although it may seem contradictory, since we are neither able to control nor often know the causal relationships, many projects will influence changing the system itself and will not limit themselves to operating within the system itself. The system becomes a dependent variable on which we can influence, not a variable that is given and to which we have to adjust.

Below we list some methodologies, approaches, concepts —with a more descriptive than normative goal— that incorporate new factors and perspectives to address the growing complexity in project management and public policies.

After each epigraph, a link “Some references on…” is added, which leads to a personal collection of documents that delve into the subject matter (on various occasions some documents are referenced in more than one epigraph when dealing with more than one topic).

Stakeholder analysis, naming, sensing, framing

The first major, necessary, incorporation of complexity is that of who, which actors intervene or are affected by an issue, a problem, a decision, a public policy. It does so through various names, each one with its particularities, the most common being the actor mapping and stakeholder analysis, but also interest groups and other denominations.

It is important to highlight that it is not only about making an inventory of actors, but also about how they read reality from their particular point of view. For instance, the question of housing has different readings and names depending on the actor: the problem of evictions, mortgages, rents, squatting, occupation mafias, immigration mafias, gentrification, tourist apartments, financial speculation, financialization of the economy, etc.

If we want to find solutions, we have to refine the diagnosis, and this involves incorporating all the different visions —without prejudices or moral judgments. How we “listen” to these actors —in Open Government we would speak of active listening— will be essential for the incorporation of all these visions.

Systems (systems analysis)

In the same way that it is done with actors, systems analysis tries to break down a complex problem into its basic components and processes, delimiting tasks, functions, relationships, direction of said relationships, etc.

Of course, systems analysis and stakeholder analysis are closely related, although while the latter is more focused on the subjects, the former is focused on their respective functions and interrelationships.

Systems analysis will provide better operational planning, improved ability to design and to implement better focused devices and assigning them the necessary resources (people, time, materials) to promote the components and functions that we want to leverage.

Foresight, futures

Foresight exercises are not new. “Foreseeing the future” —in the sense of considering what scenarios may occur in the future and with what probability— has been an exercise that humanity has carried out recurrently over the centuries.

However, the study of futures goes beyond mere prospective, for at least three reasons:

  1. For the abandonment of the hegemony of traditional statistics and the incorporation of post-normal science, which requires radical new approaches to the approach of what can happen and why.
  2. For to the incorporation of new actors and functions and the creation of new scenarios. In other words, and related to the previous points, it is not only a question of foreseeing what can happen, but of capturing what these future scenarios can be like, beyond whether they are possible and to what extent.
  3. For to the formation of new realities at the same time that we think about them, along the lines of what was previously commented on taking the system as an endogenous variable: futures exercises are often not only inventories of what can happen but also of what we would like to happen —and, as we will see later, what would have to be done to make them possible and probable.

Outcome mapping

Out of all the possible scenarios, outcome mapping helps us identify the effects we want to see happen. The concept of outcome is sometimes confusing and used interchangeably as effect or impact. Strictly speaking, in the activities we carry out, three stages of “impacts” can be distinguished:

  • Output, result: the “thing” (good, service) that we have produced and that is under our control. E.g. a basic digital literacy course.
  • Outcome, effect: the intermediate changes, in the short term, in which we have been able to influence directly. E.g. improve the ICT competence of some people.
  • Impact, impact: structural changes (behaviors, visions of reality, etc.), in the long term in which we can influence indirectly but to which we ultimately aspire. E.g. improve the employability of a collective.

Outcome mapping focuses the analysis on those effects that we can influence and that are real changes in a situation. They force us to think (and design) for impact, for transformation, avoiding “solutions” whose results are an investment of resources without impact on the system.

Theory of Change

The Theory of Change is linked to outcome mapping and tries to find the causal relationships that lead to impact, what we can do to obtain a certain result or impact. The Theory of Change identifies the necessary resources to carry out activities that will have expected results controllable to a certain extent; and, based on these results, and the causal relationships inferred or found by experimentation, expect to be able to influence directly to achieve effects and, indirectly, to achieve results, impacts.

The Theory of Change, like any theory, must be validated and, for this, evaluated. In the Theory of Change, evaluation (measurement, verification, ratification or refutation) is fundamental and forms part of the various iterations of the implementation of the Theory of Change.

It is important to note that the Theory of Change, like the very definition of results, effects and impacts, is very circumstantial or contextual: there are intermediate effects that are impacts at another level of analysis and vice versa: impacts that, at another level, are mere results, that can lead to other higher impacts.

Portfolio-based approach

The portfolio-based approach is situated (conceptually) halfway between stakeholder analysis, systems analysis and the Theory of Change. If we admit that we do not have control over everything, and that we need to mobilize certain resources to achieve certain results, we need to know what assets we all have together and how we can align them to achieve a common goal.

Going back to the Open Government paradigm, it is about acknowledging, from this map of actors, how each one participates in the project, but not only with their vision, but also and above all, with their own contributions (materials, methodologies, etc.).

To some extent, the portfolio-based approach challenges the foundations of classical organizational theory: counting on resources that “are not yours.” But, with the appropriate strategy, they can be mobilized and aligned for the common objective. For this reason, this approach fits into the entire complexity management map, where actors, relationships, scenarios and causal relationships have an architecture that is so different from classical management by processes.

Participation, facilitation, design thinking

Faced with this great organizational complexity, how we implement it comes to the forefront, even coming before the planning itself, at least the operational one.

The participation of the actors in the processes of diagnosis, deliberation, negotiation, decision-making or evaluation becomes essential; and the facilitation and revitalization of these participation processes to achieve the objectives, so that participation is efficient and effective. Of course, the logic with which it is created (or co-created, and later co-managed) requires new design methodologies: design-thinking , agile methodologies and others are now incorporated into the toolbox to enhance it.


Recently the concept of ecosystem has jumped from the realm of biology to that of technology, and from there to that of the social sciences. In a first meaning outside the field of life sciences, we speak of the ecosystem approach characterized by global vision, comprehensive action. It is a first meaning, but when we talk about governance ecosystems (of projects, of policies), the concept goes much further —going beyond what, in fact, could be assimilated to the vision of the system that we saw previously.

When we talk about acting with an ecosystem approach, we admit that its complexity often does not allow direct action. We saw it when talking about the multiplicity of actors, their relationships, their respective portfolios, how they co-design actions or align themselves with them, the multiplicity of scenarios and desirable results and impacts, the difficulty of establishing relationships causes over which we have no control (only influence, often indirectly). Given this scenario, the ecosystem vision is characterized, in addition to the global vision and comprehensive action, by:

  • Act on the environment, on the context, to influence (indirectly) the results, effects and impacts. This is done by providing the generic infrastructure of the ecosystem.
  • Promote the autonomy of the actors, providing transversal applications (methodologies, instruments, resources, codes, standards) that they can use freely.
  • Align the different autonomous instances (projects, institutions) of the actors through the design of the infrastructure and transversal applications, promptly providing incentives that reward alignment or penalize (or leave rewardless) divergence.

The ecosystem vision, therefore, promotes the project or the institution as a platform on which others operate, where institutions and projects become open infrastructures for autonomous decision-making with collective impact.

In conclusion, the way of approaching projects, the management of organizations or the promotion of public policies is changing radically as a result of the verification of the profound (and constant and accelerated) transformation of the contexts and environments in which these take place. and they operate.

There is no single model, and often the methodological proposals are heterogeneous, from what are mere descriptions to highly complex organizational and operating architectures. However, all of them seek to overcome a way of designing and managing that shows many signs of fatigue, insufficiency, and inefficiency. For now —and, perhaps, for a long time— it will be necessary to arm ourselves with a new toolbox, profiles and skills to perform new tasks and tackle new challenges and try to provide solutions, always incomplete, always tentative, always temporary, but always also necessary to influence the environment, in the context, to, through these, progress.


REPORT. Catalan Participation Lab Network. Public facilities and social innovation

When working with the idea of the citizen participation ecosystem from the point of view of a national government, one of the basic questions is how the Administration should nurture and facilitate such ecosystem. There are, at least, two approaches that have been traditionally explored.

  • On the one hand, the Administration can fund the creation or growth of a body of professionals that can contribute to deploy a number of citizen participation initiatives all over a given territory. These professionals can work at the higher level of the Administration or can be distributed or scattered on lower levels of the Administration (i.e. local administrations), but the result is to be able to cover most necessities with a good amount of trained and dedicated professionals.
  • On the other hand, and sometimes compatible with the former approach, the Administration can fund the creation or growth of a constellation of facilities that would run initiatives specifically devoted to the promotion of citizen participation. They can have many names depending on their particular focus or especialization: citizen labs, living labs, social innovation labs, fabrication labs (fab labs), maker spaces, etc.

The problem with these approaches is, at least, double:

  • They are not very economically sustainable, as they require and maintaining groups of people and networks of facilities with a single purpose and which can very difficult be replicated or scaled outside of their specific area of intervention. Of course this is a goal worth aiming at, but for starters it makes the investment very demanding.
  • They are not very socially sustainable, as they divert the attention and focus of the citizen, which now has new places to go, which can be good, but also bad: people have a limited capability to gather at and to focus their attention on.

Another approach is to leverage the fact that there are already public facilities on place and that people are already using them and gathering around them. Thus, instead of creating a new network of people and facilities in addition to the existing ones, another approach could be creating a new network of people and facilities upon the existing ones, or in other words, overlapping new goals and uses with the already existing ones.

The Catalan ParticipaLab Network aims at just that. We borrowed the name from the successful ParticipaLab initiative of the Medialab-Prado in Madrid (Spain) but with the idea not to create a new big facility, not even a network of small facilities, but to weave a network of citizen labs by providing a portfolio of new content and services to the already existing networks. The logic behind it is to follow Artur Serra’s ideas on citizen labs, who proposes thinking of citizen labs as we do in public health systems: there is a large network of primary health care you go to when you feel sick, a second network of regional hospitals you are sent to if things get complicated, and national network of top-level hospitals you are sent to when the situation becomes really bad. Same would apply to citizen participation and social innovation.

With that logic in mind, big top-level citizen labs would be the top-level hospitals of democratic innovation; regional networks of living labs or fab labs or maker spaces would be the regional hospitals, and… and already existing public facilities should be able to act as primary democratic innovation points of access for the general population at the local level.

A first approach to this scheme I drafted it at The role of public facilities and civic centres in a citizen participation ecosystem.

After this first scheme, my colleague Yago Bermejo and I (much more him than I, truth be told) developed the main principles, guiding lines and preliminary portfolio for such a network of public facilities devoted to citizen innovation for quality democracy.

The result is the report Xarxa ParticipaLab de Cataluña. Equipamientos ciudadanos e innovación social [Catalan Participation Lab Network. Public facilities and social innovation], which is expected to be the blueprint and roadmap to deploy such a network from the Catalan Government. The report is in Spanish and Catalan and can be downloaded below.


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Documento completo:
Bermejo, Y. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Xarxa ParticipaLab de Cataluña. Equipamientos ciudadanos e innovación social. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
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Document complet:
Bermejo, Y. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Xarxa ParticipaLab de Catalunya. Equipaments ciutadans i innovació social. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.


GUIDE. Guide to gender mainstreaming in participatory processes

Although I had been long interested on gender studies, during December 2018 and the first months of 2019 I began to actively search for documents that dealt with the issue of gender (discrimination, inequality, etc.) on citizen participation. I found out that there was quite a lot of literature on gender and democratic institutions, but nothing specifically on gender mainstreaming in participatory processes.

So, at the Directorate General of Citizen Participation and Electoral Processes we decided to do our own research and project on the issue. With the valuable help of Fundació Surt, and after an initial training, we analyzed public procurement, the facilitation of events, the evaluation processes, information and communication protocols, etc. under the light of gender mainstreaming.

The result was triple. First, the aforementioned analysis and evaluation; second, a set of internal protocols to improve our own work; third, a Guide to gender mainstreaming in participatory processes so that anyone in the field of citizen participation can use and apply in their own citizen participation instruments.

The guide has been published in Catalan and English (see below) and the whole project was distinguished by the IOPD with a special mention in their distinction on the “Best Practice in Citizen Participation”, the award given annually by the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy to recognize public policies implemented by local governments.

Below one can download the guide and access the bibliography I personally used on gender planning and evaluation methodologies in relationship with citizen participation.


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English version:
Parés Martín, L., Sola García, M., Pacheco i Canals, J., Rodà Goula, B. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Guide to gender mainstreaming in participatory processes. Guies breus de participació ciutadana, 8. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
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Catalan version:
Parés Martín, L., Sola García, M., Pacheco i Canals, J., Rodà Goula, B. & Peña-López, I. (2020). Guia de transversalitat de gènere en els processos participatius. Guies breus de participació ciutadana, 8. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.


Agència Catalana de Cooperació al Desenvolupament (2010). Directrius d'equitat entre les dones i els homes de la cooperació al desenvolupament de la Generalitat de Catalunya. Barcelona: ACCD.
Agència Catalana de Cooperació al Desenvolupament (2016). Enfocament de gènere i basat en Drets Humans (EGiBDH). Barcelona: ACCD.
Agència Catalana de Cooperació al Desenvolupament (2017). Pràctiques i experiències en el marc de l'enfocament de gènere i basat en Drets Humans (EGiBDH). Barcelona: ACCD.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2016). Guia de contractació pública social. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019a). Barcelona ciutat digital. La tecnologia al servei de la ciutadania. Balanç del Pla Barcelona Ciutat Digital (2015-2019). Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019b). Barcelona digital city. Putting technology at the service of people. Barcelona Digital City Plan (2015-2019). Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019c). Decidim, la plataforma digital oberta i lliure per la participació i la innovació democràtica. Informe 2016-2019. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019d). Guia d'ús no sexista del llenguatge. 10 punts per visibilitzar les dones en el llenguatge. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019e). Guia de comunicació inclusiva. Per construir un món més igualitari. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Ajuntament de Barcelona (2019f). Urbanisme i gènere: marxes exploratòries de vida quotidiana. Quaderns metodològics feministes #1. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Alonso Álvarez, A. (2017). Moviment feminista i govern de la ciutat. Metodologia per a la transversalitat participativa. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
Amat Garcia, C., Cardona Tamayo, H., Goula Mejón, J. & Saldaña Blasco, D. (2014). Walking India. Equal Saree research from 2010 to 2013. Barcelona: Equal Saree.
Amat Garcia, C., Cardona Tamayo, H., Goula Mejón, J. & Saldaña Blasco, D. (2015). Camina Tamshi. Recomanacions urbanes amb perspectiva de gènere. Barcelona: Equal Saree.
Astelarra Bonomi, J. (Dir.) (2003). Buenas prácticas y auditoría de género: Instrumentos para políticas locales. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Batalla Edo, E. (Dir.) (2011). Manual per a la incorporació de la perspectiva de gènere a l'àmbit del comerç urbà. Col·lecció Documents de Treball, Sèrie Desenvolupament Econòmic, 13. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Berbel Sánchez, S. & Geronès i Rovira, M. (2008). “Participació política de les dones”. In Bodelón, E. & Giménez, P. (Coords.), Desenvolupant els drets de les dones: Àmbits d'intervenció de les polítiques de gènere, Capítol 12, 199-231. Col·lecció Estudis, Sèrie Igualtat i Ciutadania, 2. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Bofill Levi, A. (2008). Guia per al planejament urbanístic i l'ordenació urbanística amb la incorporació de criteris de gènere. Col·lecció Eines 11. Barcelona: Institut Català de les Dones.
Carter, A.J., Croft, A., Lukas, D. & Sandstrom, G.M. (2019). “Women’s visibility in academic seminars: Women ask fewer questions than men”. In PLOS ONE, 14 (2). San Francisco: Public Library of Science.
Ciocoletto, A. & Col·lectiu Punt 6 (2014). Espais per a la vida quotidiana. Auditoria de Qualitat Urbana amb perspectiva de Gènere. Barcelona: Col·lectiu Punt 6.
Col·lectiu Punt 6 (2011). Construyendo entornos seguros desde la perspectiva de género. Col·leccions CiP, Informes número 5, 2011. Barcelona: ICPS.
Col·lectiu Punt 6 (2013). Dones treballant. Guia de reconeixement urbà amb perspectiva de gènere. Barcelona: Col·lectiu Punt 6.
Delatte, M., Guijarro, B., Almirall, J., Llop, N., Adell, H. & Medrano, A. (2018). Anàlisi de la participació de dones en els espais institucionals i socials mixtos de la ciutat de Barcelona. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona, Liquen Data Lab.
DFID PPA Learning Partnership Gender Group (2015a). A Theory of Change on Gender Equality & Women's and Girls' Empowerment. London: ActionAid UK; Christian Aid.
DFID PPA Learning Partnership Gender Group (2015b). What Works to Achieve Gender Equality and Women's and Girls' Empowerment?. London: ActionAid UK; Christian Aid.
Ecologistas en Acción (2018). Patriarcalitest. Madrid: Ecologistas en Acción.
European Institute for Gender Equality (2016a). Gender Equality in Academia and Research. GEAR tool. Brussels: European Institute for Gender Equality.
European Institute for Gender Equality (2016b). Gender Equality Training. Gender mainstreaming toolkit. Brussels: European Institute for Gender Equality.
European Institute for Gender Equality (2016c). Institutional transformation. Gender mainstreaming toolkit. Brussels: European Institute for Gender Equality.
European Institute for Gender Equality (2017). Gender Impact Assessment. Gender mainstreaming toolkit. Brussels: European Institute for Gender Equality.
European Institute for Gender Equality (2018). Gender equality and youth: opportunities and risks of digitalisation. Brussels: European Institute for Gender Equality.
Galligan, Y. & Clavero, S. (2008). Assessing gender democracy in the European Union. A methodological framework. RECON Online Working Paper 2008/16. Oslo: ARENA.
Galligan, Y. & Clavero, S. (2012). Deliberative Processes and Gender Democracy. Case Studies from Europe. RECON Report No 17. Oslo: ARENA.
Garcia Ramilo, C. & Cinco, C. (2005). Gender Evaluation Methodology for Internet and ICTs. A learning tool for change and empowerment. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
Garcia Sànchez, A. (2008). “Polítiques i estratègies d'igualtat en l'àmbit local. L'experiència de l'Ajuntament de Sant Feliu de Llobregat”. In Bodelón, E. & Giménez, P. (Coords.), Construint els drets de les dones: Dels conceptes a les polítiques locals, Capítol 7, 149-165. Col·lecció Estudis, Sèrie Igualtat i Ciutadania, 1. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Gelambí Torrell, M. (2016). Guia pràctica per a la realització de polítiques transversals de gènere en l'àmbit municipal. Col·lecció Eines, Sèrie Benestar i Ciutadania, 2. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Generalitat de Catalunya & Institut Català de les Dones (2018). Guia per a la incorporació de la perspectiva de gènere en els contractes públics. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya, Institut Català de les Dones.
Generalitat de Catalunya (2017). Model d'informe de diagnosi d'igualtat de dones i homes. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
Generalitat de Catalunya (2018b). Igualtat de dones i homes a empreses i organitzacions. Guia pràctica per diagnosticar-la. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
Gensana Riera, M.À. (2005). Informes d'impacte de gènere. Col·lecció Eines 1. Barcelona: Institut Català de les Dones.
Government of Himachal Pradesh (2009). 10 steps for integrating gender into the policy-making process. Shimla: Government of Himachal Pradesh.
Inter-Agency Standing Committee (2017). The Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action. Geneva: IASC.
Inter-Parliamentary Union (2016). Evaluating the gender sensitivity of parliaments, a self-assessment toolkit. Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union.
International Development Research Center (2016). Gender equality in digital development and innovation. Networked Economies’ strategy for improving gender and inclusion outcomes. Ottawa: IDRC.
Kuga Thas, A.M., Garcia Ramilo, C. & Sabanes Plou, D. (2010). Facilitators Guide for GEM Workshops. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
Kuga Thas, A.M. & Garcia Ramilo, C. (2010). Gender Analysis for ICT Localisation Initiatives. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
Kuga Thas, A.M. (2011). Gender Evaluation for Rural ICT for Development. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
Medina Bustos, A., Mompart Penina, A., Rubio Cillán, A., Vergara Garcia, F. & Zaragoza Cosin, S. (2018). Guia per a la introducció de la perspectiva de gènere en la planificació en salut. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
Norris, P. & Krook, L. (2011). Gender Equality in Elected Office: A Six-Step Action Plan. Warsaw: OSCE/ODIHR.
Ortiz Escalante, S. & Gutiérrez Valdivia, B. (2015). “Planning from below: using feminist participatory methods to increase women's participation in urban planning”. In Gender & Development, 23 (1), 113-126. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis.
Pujol Furriols, P. (2007). La participació de les dones en els municipis. Col·lecció Participació Ciutadana, 3. Barcelona: Departament d’Interior, Relacions Institucionals i Participació.
Sabanes Plou, D. (2011). Gender Evaluation for Telecentres. Melville: Association for Progressive Communications.
Sachdeva, N. & Peebles, D. (2010). Gender evaluation final report. Pan Asia networking program. Ottawa: IDRC.
Saldaña Blasco, D., Goula Mejón, J. & Cardona Tamayo, H. (2018a). El pati de l’escola en igualtat. Guia de diagnosi i d’intervenció amb perspectiva de gènere. 2a edició. Santa Coloma de Gramenet: Equal Saree, Ajuntament de Santa Coloma de Gramenet.
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Xarxa d'Economia Solidària de Catalunya (2017a). Eina d'observació de gènere. Barcelona: XES.
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BOOK CHAPTER. The ecosystem of public governance: institutions as open infrastructures for collective decision-making

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis I wrote about the differential impact of crisis in the Information Society based on the first fact that were quickly becoming evident before our eyes and at plain sight.

Shortly after, professors Josep M. Reniu and Víctor Meseguer led a monography on how the COVID-19 crisis was impacting democratic institutions and what to do about it. The book ¿Política confinada? Nuevas tecnologías y toma de decisiones en un contexto de pandemia [Confined politics? New technologies and decision-making in a pandemic context] focuses on how institutions are responding to a pandemic that keeps people at home or away from each other, and how they are figuring out ways of keeping in touch with citizens and keep performing the tasks they have been committed to.

I wrote a book chapter, the second one, with the aim to provide a wide landscape on how democratic institutions and the democratic arena are configuring themselves, and how the pandemic crisis may be an accelerator to it. On El ecosistema de gobernanza pública: las instituciones como infraestructuras abiertas para la toma de decisiones colectivas [The ecosystem of public governance: institutions as open infrastructures for collective decision-making] I take the idea of the citizen participation ecosystem to a higher level, trying to scale it up to the global public governance level.

To do so, I introduce the concept of ecosystems on social sciences, which have been applied with much success —in my opinion— to describe the quick deployment of digital business infrastructures. I describe such ecosystems as knowledge communities and infrastructures that wrok in open and shared ways, aiming at the building of a digital commons. Following, I review the idea of ‘the state as a platform’, ending up with a definition and proposal of the ecosystem of public governance, which I define as:

A public governance ecosystem is a technopolitical, self-organized, autopoietic, replicable and scalable system that articulates actors, spaces and instruments around a set of open and distributed infrastructures rich on knowledge for collective decision-making.

A preprint of the whole chapter (in Spanish) and the bibliography I used can be accessed below.


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Peña-López, I. (2020). “El ecosistema de gobernanza pública: las instituciones como infraestructuras abiertas para la toma de decisiones colectivas”. In Reniu i Vilamala, J.M. & Meseguer, J.V. (Eds.), ¿Política confinada? Nuevas tecnologías y toma de decisiones en un contexto de pandemia, Capítulo 2, 53-71. Cizur Menor: Thompson-Reuters/Aranzadi.


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Citizen Participation in policy-making: internalizing externalities and preventing conflict through planning and evaluating

Some people use to believe of citizen participation as something that is at odds with policy-making. That is, that citizen participation complicates the execution of policies and delays results.

The reality is quite far from this —considering, of course, that one is committed with quality policy-making and actually aim at having an impact with the policies that one is pushing forward.

Although there is an increasing number of instruments that can be called citizen participation, most of them have the following scheme:

  1. The Administration has something in mind.
  2. Citizens are asked for an opinion.
  3. The Administration tells citizens what it did with their opinion.

These three apparently innocent steps are key to driving improvements —not delays— in policy-making.

First, the Administration just cannot “have something in mind”. If one is not telling anyone, any crazy idea might be passed along and put into practice. But if the information is going to be public, and made widely available for public scrutiny, planning becomes a must. Thorough diagnosis, analysis, planning and design are a requisite for any kind of citizen participation initiative. In this train of thought, citizen participation is a vaccine for incorrect diagnosis, lack of analysis, bad planning and low quality design.

Second, when the Administration provides the feedback it committed to do during the citizen participation initiative, it finds out that goals, indicators and evaluation are key for providing feedback and letting citizens know what happened with their opinions and proposals. Again, citizen participatino is a vaccine for trying to spend resources before setting up the pertinent goals, neglect of setting up the appropriate indicators and closing projects without its due impact assessment and evaluation.

There are, notwithstanding, two more important issues that citizen participation can bring into policy-making and that are related with the second point above: the fact that one has to identify and invite all the actors affected by or that can contribute to a given policy.

The first one is that by bringing people in policy-making, people usually do not remain outside of it. This is not as much a play of words but a sheer reality. By making citizens accomplices of the several steps of policy-making, it is more difficult that they are going to feel detached with the results, even if they might not share them. By diminishing detachment, one is actually preventing conflict. And conflict management and conflict resolution is, by far, one of the most resource-consuming activities in policy-making. Thus, citizen participation not only does not delay policy-making but has a strong potential on saving time and resources, all the policy-making cycle considered.

The second one, closely related with conflict prevention but also with impact assessment is that by bringing citizens into the policy-making cycle it is much more easier to internalize the externalities of public policies. All activities that happen openly in society are prone to have externalities, pollution or education being the most common examples. Public policies are very likely to have them too, both negative and positive. Internalizing externalities helps in measuring more accurately their impact, just because all factors were identified and made explicit in the whole process. Internalizing externalities, thus, contributes both to better allocate resources —because now it is easier to measure their return— and to prevent conflict, because there are not unexpected impacts on society that one can oversee.


Governance of the Ecosystem of educational communities

Non-formal and informal learning just happens. And the digital revolution has but increased exponentially both the potential and possibilities of such non-formal and informal learning to catalyse, emerge, cluster, deploy and have an educational impact.

Non-formal and, especially, informal learning can be fostered and nurtured, and its ways and general horizons even by somewhat put in line with those of formal education. Sometimes.

The COVID-19 crisis is one of these times. The difficulties of formal education are many, and in general have been focused on keeping schools open.

But formal education does not only rely on schools being open: besides focusing on guaranteeing teaching (at school), there is a complementary approach based on guaranteeing learning (home, or elsewhere but the school) for times when schools cannot be kept open. We thus shift the approach from guaranteeing teaching to guaranteeing learning.

Blended and online learning have been the recurrent alternative to schools kept open. Blended and online learning has usually been understood as replacing schools by a virtual campus (or a learning management system, an LMS). This has brought forward at least three dire problems:

  • The obvious issue of the digital divide.
  • The problem of student mentoring, both by teachers and also by families, which now have to assume a share of what formerly was mainly done by the school, i.e. by teachers.
  • The difficulty to keep minors at home (especially the youngest ones) while their parents cannot stay home with them because they have jobs to attend too.

A third option —besides just keeping schools open and just keeping kids in front of computers while burdening their parents— is to work collectively towards education. This option turns upside down priorities, from teaching to learning, and then tries to find the resources where they are. But not only: it also aims at strengthening those resources —quite often “human resources” (the term is not the best one)— so that they can work better, be more efficient, be more effective.

What I here propose is nothing new. It is an ecosystem of communities of practice and communities of learning, just put together and working for a common goal (and a common good), which is K-12 education —of course it can be applied to secondary and any other learning environment, but we will focus here in the areas where the learner is less autonomous.

The real proposal, if any, is how the Administration can foster such ecosystem and make the best of it, in this case, so that no kid is left without learning in general, and in particular during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mind that this scheme is neither easy to implement nor cheap. The good news is that it can be implemented differently in all its different pieces, so that different levels and speeds can live together, depending on resources (of many kinds), social capital, and needs to be addressed.

I think the scheme of this governance model for an ecosystem Ecosystem of educational communities is quite self explanatory. I am going, nevertheless, to briefly list its main components.

  • Learning, custody and socialization represent the three main functions of the school and which turn to be the main goals to achieve in the long run. In addition to this, there is a fourth instrumental goal which I label knowledge infrastructure. This is a big simplification of what the school is about, but it also helps to clear out what schools are not and, most especially, that upon schools rely a complex set of functions whose relative importance change a lot depending on who is doing the measurement.
  • Communities are collectives of people to share resources, doubts, questions, solutions about the issue that gathers them. What differentiates such communities and informally gathered people or institutionally created bodies is that these are facilitated by (external) experts, who contribute to set mid-term goals, identify all relevant actors and call them to participate, try and make explicit tacit knowledge by documenting and maintaining whatever kind of repositories, and most especially, as it has been said, facilitate the short-, mid- and long-term dynamics of the community by applying specific methodologies.
    • Communities of disciplines are made up by educators working in the same field and at a similar educational level so that they do not reinvent the wheel, save efforts and improve their own resources and methodologies;
    • communities of centres are made up by the education and director boards of centres to leverage the potential of the most advanced teachers and mentor the striving ones;
    • communities of learning are especially made up by learners, so that they apply collaboration and cooperation in their own learning processes and strategies;
    • communities of environment are made up by all educating actors in a neighbourhood, with the educational centre as the axis, and with the concurrence of families, libraries, civil society organizations and most especially local Administrations.
  • The governance of the Ecosystem of educational communities is complemented by a governing body, made up by a coordination body, the facilitation, open educational resources (OER), learning management system services, and of course the boards of the educational centres.
  • The outputs of the Ecosystem of educational communities are learning resources, the online learning infrastructure understood in very broad terms, the practical organization of teaching, all methods required for teaching, methods to apply in the classroom, and the essential methods for families to help each other and help themselves in assuming part of the teaching/learning functions that intermittently open schools cannot provide normally.

As it has been said, the ecosystem of educational communities, as well as the knowledge infrastructure, do not come to replace, but rather to complement, both the institutions of formal education and the physical or face-to-face spaces. Regarding the first one, the optimum is that the educational centre is the axis around which the teaching and learning strategies are articulated, mobilizing and locating the necessary resources where they can best deploy their potential. Regarding the second one, the role of the knowledge infrastructure is to make it possible for learning resources to be ubiquitous, both for planning (by teachers and educators in general) and for their application, be it in a brick-and-mortar classroom, in a virtual campus, or in the dining room at home on a laptop or after having been processed on a printer.

This scheme aims not at being neither comprehensive nor thorough. It just aims at providing a general landscape on how to approach the complexity of non-formal and informal learning and how this could be leveraged to support teaching in these strange times where schools are not working normally.

A Spanish version of this text can be found at Gobernanza del Ecosistema de comunidades educativas.