Implementing an Open Government Department

Three years ago, I published Open Government: A simplified scheme as a way of presenting the three tiers of open government in a practical, reality-based way:

  • Transparency.
  • Participation.
  • Collaboration.

Two years later, in Open government: where to begin with? A showcase I suggested some ways to initiate the road towards open government, especially at the local level. In that case, I combined the former three tiers of open government with five stages of decision making:

  • Diagnosis.
  • Deliberation.
  • Negotiation.
  • Vote.
  • Assessment.

My experience during the last year is that these initiatives can work, but sooner or later they need to be mainstreamed into the very structure of the organization. That is, that the Department of Open Government becomes the Department of Public Administration and the Department of Public Administration becomes the Department of Open Government. Otherwise, while the Open Government Department only deals with open government stuff, it will hardly prevail and/or hardly have any impact. In fact, open government strategies will find themselves at odds with public administration strategies, especially in those fields where tradition or inertia is strong and people’s mindsets do not embrace (or are against) change and new values — not to speak about specific personal or party interests.

These conflicting strategies between open government and public administration rely on the fact that they talk about very different spheres. On the one hand, open government deals about how, while public administration deals about what to do, which can be summarised as:

  • Planning and monitoring: what do we want to do.
  • Staff and organization: what are the resources that we got.
  • Relations with citizens: what is our relationship with citizens depending on what they need.

How to put implement an Open Government Department that takes into consideration the principles of open government while it adheres to the needs of public administration organization? Let us try and combine the three tiers of open government (transparency, participation, collaboration) and the three tiers of public administration (planning, resources, citizens).

The image above highlights the nine sectors resulting from intersecting open government with public administration. What follows is a list of functions to be performed by an open government department. These functions can be performed by a single body or several ones, not necessarily coinciding with the list of functions. Indeed, some of them can be performed by the same body, while others will be split or developed across different bodies, some of them not even being part of the public administration:

  1. Data: (public) decision-making should be based on evidence. Caring for the gathering and production of evidence begins with caring for the gathering and production of (public) data. Data protection, open data and official statistics should have a common strategy, including creating protocols for anyone producing data at the public sector: hence, data governance.
  2. Planning: strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation and assessment should have the concurrence of all relevant actors. Participation in policy-making should begin at the design level, which at its turn begins with a good diagnosis where everyone can name and frame the issue at stake.
  3. Evaluation and assessment: there is a part of evaluation and (especially) assessment that necessarily needs to be performed outside of the Administration. It can take the form of an independent evaluation agency or not, but at least the Administration should open and facilitate external evaluation from relevant stakeholders and, when possible, establish binding relationships with such external evaluations. Some Administrations already have an independent body for such tasks.
  4. Ethics and accountability: ethics is to public servants (especially top executives) what planning is to policy-making. One should plan how their teams will be, and that plan is ethics. Transparency is how one tells the citizen how policies were designed, executed and evaluated. Accountability is how people did that, which brings us back to ethics. Transparency in open government can only come after a deep commitment with ethics at the people level and vice-versa.
  5. People (and their tools): this is probably the core of implementing an open government department. It is unlikely that any kind of open government strategy takes place without a transformation of how public servants work. For open government to settle and mainstream it is essential to adapt the way people is recruited, the way people work (do their own work and work with others), they way incentives are drawn or the kind of tools people and teams use (including procedures, protocols, a culture of work, etc.). And, of course, nothing of this will happen without the appropriate training and professional development. Open government begins with internal participation by the public servants themselves.
  6. Capacity enhancing:
    • Public procurement: when talent and tools cannot be found inside the organization, they have to be sought outside of it. This can be accepted as an unavoidable externalization, or as an opportunity to establish public-social-private partnerships/networks of collaboration. The kind of ethics applied to these relationships will determine the balance between a mere client-contractor agreement or a real partnership.
    • A skilled pool of public servants: Seems like a good idea that someone, outside the Administration (or just besides it) tries to keep up with the upfront of public administration theory (and practice) through research and training. A School of Public Administration could be such someone.
  7. Talking with the citizen: talking to and talking with the citizen are different things. The second approach requires a lot more empathy. That is what an open government culture should bring. Open Government seen as putting much more mere information in the hands of the citizen is probably not open government, but sheer fulfilment of one’s duty.
  8. Listening to the citizen: we’re told, from our earliest days, that one should listen before speaking. Well, that’s it with participation in open government. It is easier said than done. That is why it should become transversal to all policy-making. That is way it should be mainstreamed in everything public administration does.
  9. Working with the citizen: the last tier of open government, collaboration (co-design of public policies, co-management of initiatives, a devolution of sovereignty, etc.) is hardly possible without the former advancements or transformations in how public administration works. It is about the Administration stepping back from the arena and instead of leading it, facilitating it, making collective decisions possible among citizens without interfering but enriching them.
  10. This list of functions had in mind mainstreaming open government across a whole public administration. And it had in mind how most public administrations are structured nowadays: with a whole department devoted to the internal organization of the Administration (receiving names like department of Interior, of Public Administration, of Governance, of Interior and many other denominations, even Presidency). The goal of this proposal was to put together the values of open government within the usual tasks of an actual department managing public affairs such as strategic planning, personnel and citizens.

    But, to achieve total mainstreaming, the managing offices of all other departments should, to some extension, mimic the same structure. As there is a department that manages the budget (Treasury, Public Economics, Public Finance, etc.) and an office in each department to manage their budget, same should happen when it comes to open government: each managing office of each department should take into account planning and monitoring, staff and organization, and relations with the citizen. And do it with the transversal values of open government as it has been explained above in a coordinated and consistent way with the proposed Open Government Department.

Roger Soler-i-Martí. Youth and social and political engagement

Notes from the conference on Youth and social and political engagement by Roger Soler-i-Martí. The conference presented the results of the Survey on participation and politics 2017 in youth, and was organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 June 2019.

Roger Soler-i-Martí. Youth and social and political engagement

The Survey on participation and politics 2017 in youth is about how young people get involved and engage in society. The survey has a double edge: democracy in society (involvement, engagement) and the future of society (youth).

  • How are youth different?

  • What differences and similarities are there between young people?
  • What is the impact of the social and political context?
  • Where are we headed to? What are the main trends?

Survey: people from 16 years old and up. Face-to-face interview to 1,900 individuals (1,000 16-29 y.o., 900 +29). November 2017.

Why youth are different?

Classical explanations:

  • Life-cycle: depending on your age, you have different interests. On the other hand, you learn how to get involved and engage as you get older.
  • Generation: having been born at a given time (and/or place) makes you different. E.g. in Western societies kids spend more time at school than their predecessors, and this is a differential fact.
  • Other explanations:

    • The transitions between infancy and youth, and youth and adulthood have changed in recent years, sometimes even with trends that seem to go backwards (e.g. emancipated youth that go back to live with their parents). This affects the life-cycle and the generational logics.
    • Changes in subjectivities: the factors that shaped political attitudes are increasingly more individualistic and less institutional or cohort-related.
    • Transformations in democracy: the democratic landscape (definitions, beliefs, practices) has changed dramatically in the last years/decades.

    Types of youth in participation:

    • Multiactivists (17.5%): expressive participation, participation as part of one’s own identity.
    • Connected (30.9%): they participate and engage, but are neither affiliated nor they feel engaging is an important part of their identities.
    • Associated (12.7%): what is important to this group is being affiliated to an organization and they rarely participate outside of it.
    • Passive (39%): very much related to inequalities and social-exclusion factors.

    Family and income, the urban/rural factor, or gender are determinants of the different kinds of engagement. In the case of Catalonia, the independentist factor is also of importance.

    A simple scheme of participation:

    • Can I participate? Social status, resources.
    • Do I want to participate? Values, vision of the world, that shape attitudes, opinions.
    • Do I have the means? Mobilization agents.

    The Catalan independence movement

    Pro independence people are more mobilized than non-independentists.

    Notwithstanding, there does not seem to be a lot of differences in age when it comes to mobilization. On the other hand, many of them participated less during the hot days of September to November 2017, when the independentist movement reached its maximum. One reason may be that the topic is not very important for youth (compared to others); another reason is that these movements were led by institutions (political parties, big civil society organizations), which are not the main field of action of youth.

    Main trends

    • Lack of confidence with political parties and institutions in general.
    • Implication and engagement without intermediaries.
    • Different dimensions of political engagement.
    • Preferences for direct democracy.
    • Identity as a cognitive shortcut for political engagement less used in youth.
    • Normalization of extra-institutional participation.
    • Normalization of online participation.
    • Partisanism without delegation.


    Ismael Peña-López: is there a difference in participation between girls and boys and related to the independentist movement? Could it be that the promise of a new republic is not feminist enough? Silvia Claveria (co-author of the research): young women usually participate much less, but the reasons are not clear. On the one hand, women are usually more adverse to risk, and a process of independence is obviously a risky one; on the other hand it is true that women my have not been represented enough by the independentist movement, very institutionalized and male led.

Branko Milanovic. World inequalities and the European social contract

Notes from the seminar on inequality by Branko Milanovic, organized by the Government of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 14 May 2019.

Branko Milanovic. World inequalities and the European social contract

After 1917 the world had a new way of production that lasted some decades and reached up to 1/3 of the population. And before, there were also different ways of production (e.g. slavery vs. free men, etc.) that lived together. This is not true anymore. Nowadays, capitalism rules alone —China being mostly capitalist in practical effects.

Global inequality has been rising since the early 1800s, stopped after WW1, rose again and stopped to grow once more after WW2. Around year 2000, due to the rise of Asia, global inequality begins to drop drastically. These are three periods: (1) fast growth of inequalities due to the Industrial Revolution, (2) the plateau of high but stable global inequality during the XXth century, (3) the decrease of global inequality due to the raise of Asia.

Europe (includes the US and the “Western” world) is shrinking at the global level: population, share of the global GDP, etc. This, among other things, means that other countries are catching up with European countries and some of their citizens are surpassing Western citizens in purchasing power. This does not mean that Europeans are moving down in absolute terms, but they do in relative terms: high income people from low income countries begin to be richer than low income people from high income countries.

There is an emergence of the global “middle/median class” and a shrinkage of national middle classes.

Migration is not something that will be a season matter. Migration will be with us for some decades. That is why it is so important. It will become structural at least for a very long time, as the tensions.

Another way to look at the tree ages according to inequality:

  • Age of empires and class struggles, there is a divergence between countries and between classes.
  • Age of the Three Worlds and diminished class conflict, with divergence at the peak.
  • Age of convergence and internal cleavages.

We have 10% of the people of the World living the same way they were living 1,000 years ago, in absolute poverty. Yes, we have improved a lot, but we are still leaving a lot of people behind.

It seems that most equalising policy instruments —labor unions, education, taxation to the richest ones— seem to have reached their limit. And not withstanding, capital concentration is growing, especially at capturing its rents, and this is newly creating inequalities.

Can we de-concentrate capital? By what means? Taxing capital, stimulating new enterprises that create de-centralized (new) capital, etc.

The past 25 years in the rich world.

Political/philosophical issues brought up by looking at global, as opposed to only national, inequalities.

What kind of policies, and what can they do?


Pere Almeda: is there a way that a global governance can control global finance / global capitalism? Branko Milanovic: On tax evasion that could actually work, also on tax dumping. But maybe not for other matters.

Mireia Borrell: why is it inequality bad? Is it “only” for moral reasons? Economic ones? Branko Milanovic: all of them apply. There is high impact by inequality on growth. See it, for instance, for gender discrimination and how inefficient it is to leave aside women’s talent.

Ismael Peña-López: we are not witnessing a growing de-materialization of capital, especially in the form of digital capital and knowledge. And some think that this democratizes the chance to access capital, as it is less costly an it is not finite (not a good with rivalry issues). There might be a tension between economies of networks and a digital-commons based production. Can the latter be a way to de-centralize capital? Milanovic: on the one hand, if capital ownership does not change, things might not change despite the fact that production technologies may. Besides, the definition of labor is changing a lot, so it really depends on how we define labor and capital and how we tax them. So the answer is not clear and it may vary a lot depending on definitions, ownership, taxation models, etc.

Natàlia Mas: what about fostering cooperatives? Branko Milanovic: a first interesting approach is how to make capital returns remain within the system, and be reinvested, put in innovation, etc. Another thing is how to work on ownership, like giving shares to their workers. This usually works, but it maybe would work better if not only top-workers got them, but all the workforce.

Jordi Angusto: how do we measure inequality better? will the gap between capital returns and labor returns keep on increasing? Branko Milanovic: technological change usually benefits owners of capital; as technological change will remain in the future (or increase), is is likely that capital owners will see their share in the global GDP grow. If we saw a democratisation of capital, that would certainly be the opposite case.

Marta Curto: given the mobility of capital, how do we tax capital? Branko Milanovic: it is very difficult indeed. Globalisation is like a huge tsunami and it is very difficult to tame. Pere Almeda: Maybe the creation of a global financial registry, but it would only be possible to do by a legitimised global organisation, which we have not.

Branko Milanovic: “homoploutia”: high capital and labor income received by the same people. Some people in the top are both capitalists and workers, which is a new thing compared to past times where one would be either one or the other, but never both. Homogamy has increased from 13% to 30% in 50 years. That is, what is the probability of someone at the top to marry someone also at the top. These two aspects make it more difficult to design policies that are effective in redistributing income or reduce inequality.

Implementing Internet Voting. A policy brief

This is a personal position about the state of Internet voting and what could be done to implement it in the medium term in a thorough way. It does only reflect my own views and not necessarily represents those of my employer.

For the last months I have been working on whether and how to implement internet voting (i-voting), as the Catalan government submitted to the Parliament in 2016 and later on 2018 a bill to enable Internet voting for Catalan citizens living abroad.

Besides the desire to deploy new normative related to parliamentary elections, there also is a growing need to provide robust technologies for e-participation platforms. A good example of this is the recent tender issued by the City Council of Barcelona to provide the deliberative participation platform Decidim with appropriate e-voting (i-voting) technology. This technology would be used not only to vote for a specific citizen proposal, but also to sign citizen petitions.

Last, but not least, scattered —but relevant enough— initiatives raise in the civil society to implement i-voting for several purposes: elections in chambers of commerce, in school councils, in trade unions, in primaries in political parties, etc. are being held more and more frequently and are thus pushing forward the issue into the public agenda. How should a government be present in such a debate is becoming a major issue. Should it provide legal coverage? Provide methodology? A state-wide infrastructure?

My following reflections are the result of some reading on i-voting and e-voting in general, lots of conversations with experts in the field, and my attendance to Estonia’s 2019 Parliamentary Elections International Visitors Program (my personal notes on that event can be read at Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (I) and Elections in Estonia and the current parliamentary elections (II)).

This policy brief necessarily comes in a very executive format. Many statements should be consequently be better and extensively substantiated, and much more brought to detail if there were to be accepted as a working policy departing point. Thus, the only goal of this humble reflection is to briefly list where we are at and peak at some of the hypothetical options ahead.

Internet voting in the world

  • The technology is mature. Although zero risk can not be guaranteed —and this is the main objection to i-vote at the moment— the number of countries and regions adopting it is growing: technology, not being perfect, does already provide more guarantees than other modalities such as the vote by mail, allows much more flexibility and has a hugely scales in costs.
  • Auditing the process is mandatory. It is, right now, the only way to ensure the same guarantees as face-to-face voting. Auditing should be extended, if possible, to the design of the software and not only to the implementation and vote scrutiny.
  • Awareness is essential for the success of electronic voting, both with citizens and with politicians. The main detractors of electronic voting, other than technologists (see more about this in the technology section), are citizens who also distrust the institutions and the political system in general. Confidence in the vote must therefore work in itself but also at the level of the democratic system.
  • A broad ecosystem of e-services and, above all, a simple user-friendly e-identity is a requisite so that electronic voting can be adopted massively. Digital capacity, infrastructure and awareness are inadequate without a habit of interaction between citizens and technology. This ecosystem must evolve in parallel in all areas.
  • Electronic voting has returns of scale. Returns in efficiency and efficacy happen not only at the economic level, but at the sociopolitical one: electronic voting allows citizens to consult more often, encourages citizen participation and approaches decision-making to the society, improving the perception on policy-making and accountability in general.

Main opportunities and challenges of Internet Voting implementation

  • Technology and the infrastructure network are easily accessible. There are national and international providers that can provide technology and services, and the infrastructure network of most developed countries is fully prepared for e-voting.
  • Audits are totally feasible. There are experts worldwide capable of performing e-voting audits and the costs are quite fair. In addition, it would be socially very much welcome and would provide guarantees and confidence.
  • More awareness should be raised about the advantages and disadvantages of electronic voting, as well as the risks of taking it forward. There still is not a solid consensus around the issue, which is much needed for its successful implementation.
  • Electronic identification systems are still not adopted by the majority of citizens and their use is still cumbersome. Paradoxically, citizens use electronic identity devices to carry out other transactions on a virtual basis, from banking and electronic commerce to social networking sites. It is, therefore, a problem of technological model and habit, not of lack of digital skills or lack of confidence in technology.
  • Regarding the performances of scale, implementing electronic voting only for parliamentary elections would be slow and expensive, since while voting on paper remains an option, e-voting is an added a cost and not a minor one. Instead, implementing electronic voting in processes of citizen participation, internal voting processes in the administrations, as well as mixed bodies —or even in the private sphere— would return undeniable advantages, both economic and sociopolitical.

Potential benefits

There are three broad areas where theory and experience identify possible benefits of introducing electronic voting in legislative elections. Due to the Catalan case, our reflections are the following:

  • Increase in the turnout / reduction of abstention. International experience is not conclusive on this issue. In most cases, it depends a lot on the social, cultural and political context of each moment. In most cases, the requirement of having to register for voting (especially when being abroad) as well as the multiple difficulties that accompany voting by mail suggest that voting would be positive in terms of increasing participation both in advance voting and voting abroad. On the other hand, if a single census was created —necessary requirement for Internet voting— electronic ballot boxes could be enabled for early voting outside polling stations such as civic centers or supermarkets. The convenience of this vote could also be a factor to increase participation. Finally, given the penetration of mobile telephony, Internet voting could be fostered with an awareness raising campaign and appropriate advertising, to try to increase young vote, although, as mentioned, previous experience is not conclusive in this regard. In short, significant growth in the vote abroad could be expected (more or less significant in relation to the current foreign vote in many places, but probably small in relationship to the global turnout), but not too relevant in the vote as a whole. It is worth noting, though, that if good voting systems have no clear effects on turnout, bad voting systems do have negative effects on the probability of voting, which goes from discouraging voting to directly not allowing it effectively. Electronic voting, thus, can have positive effects where the alternatives are perceived as (or simply they are) not effective for voting.
  • Reduction of costs. Internet voting is significantly cheaper than face-to-face voting, and especially on paper. However, total costs are only reduced if one modality is replaced by the other one. If the traditional voting system is combined with Internet voting, costs actually increase as the voting modes are expanded and, therefore, a new infrastructure and organization is added.
  • Transparency and accessibility. The clearest advantage of i-voting is the increased accessibility of voting. This should not be understood only as removing barriers for the disabled, but also to information and cognitive barriers that go with any type of electoral process. The efforts that accompany the deployment of electronic voting have a positive impact on trust in the system, opening the black box of the functioning of institutions, and by establishing new channels of communication between the citizen and the Administration.

These three aspects, by themselves, are probably insufficient to initiate a strategy for the introduction of electronic voting and/or Internet voting, especially in parliamentary elections. Although it is generally a good idea making things easy for the voter —and the Internet voting undoubtedly does— the benefits in terms of electoral participation are doubtful, there are high implementation costs, and remaining doubts about electronic voting could be counterproductive.

However, the combination of the three aspects has, in our opinion, great potential. We believe that the international debate about Internet voting is no longer about whether but about when it is going to take place. Once it has been implemented for a given election, it is relatively easy to extrapolate methodology and technology to many other elections where the impact on increased participation and cost reduction can be enormous. It is in this scenario that we have to place ourselves and where a community can have huge returns on investment:

  • Increase of the citizen participation in the whole set of the different electoral calls as well as increase of the number of electoral processes of diverse nature.
  • Exponential reduction of the costs of electoral processes, again taken as a whole.
  • Improved knowledge of the functioning of public and private institutions where collective decisions are taken and/or representatives are chosen.

Consequently, a proposal of implementation strategy for Internet voting would be:

  • Use the electronic vote to increase the legitimacy of the democratic system as a whole, both at the institutional level and in civil society, based on facilitating electoral processes in all areas and encouraging participation. This includes:
    • Parliamentary elections.
    • Processes of citizen participation
    • Electoral processes of civil society
  • Implement an electronic voting system understood as a public infrastructure. This infrastructure must be involved in its design, open to the use of any user and democratic in its governance model.

Making steps forward: social and political levels

The nature, context and possible fields of deployment of an electronic voting project in a given administration exceeds, in our opinion, the scope strictly circumscribed to elections to its chamber of representatives.

In the same way, the strong technological component of this project also goes beyond the usual single-handed implementation of the typical technological application.

Thus, at the political level, one would propose:

  • Create a multi-stakeholder task force to define and foster a project for Internet voting as a public infrastructure.
  • Make a detailed inventory of the type of processes where Internet voting could be applied.
    • Elections to the chamber(s) of representatives.
    • Processes of citizen participation and citizen councils.
    • Citizen petitions and citizen polling of all kinds and at all levels of the Administration.
    • Electoral processes of bodies of the civil society (chambers of commerce, school councils, professional colleges, labour unions, political parties, etc.)

On the other hand, we believe that the level of knowledge and acceptance of Internet voting is still not optimal among many citizens. Moreover, we feel that, in some circles, there might be a need for a thorough debate on the benefits and possible risks of this modality in an open, broad and well-founded way, beyond academic environments or scattered appearances in the media.

This knowledge and acceptance, however, will hardly come only through awareness and dissemination campaigns: Estonia’s reality suggests that only through practice and habit comes the familiarity and necessary confidence to achieve high levels of legitimacy in the use of Internet voting.

One would, thus, propose at the citizen level:

  • The deployment of campaigns of dissemination and awareness raising about the potentials and risks of electronic voting to engage in a deep and grounded debate.
  • The celebration of academic and sector discussion conferences to define a consensual strategy of Internet voting as a public infrastructure.
  • The progressive and practical implementation of Internet voting in all kind of elections and voting processes: elections of public representatives, citizen polls, citizen petitions, professional chambers, school councils and university boards, labor union elections, primaries in political parties, etc.

Making steps forward: economic and technological levels

There are two key considerations when it comes to deploying an Internet voting strategy at the technical level: the resources that will need to be spent on it and the resulting technological model.

We propose, at an economic level:

  • To calculate the cost of implementing Internet voting according to the various scenarios, depending on the inventory of potential uses of Internet voting.
    • Implementation only in the parliamentary elections.
    • Implementation in all the electoral areas and of citizen participation with direct or indirect involvement of the Administration.
    • Implementation for the civil society at large as a public infrastructure, for free or under a given structure of fees.
  • Calculate the benefits of replacing the current voting modalities for scenarios with electronic voting, based on the previous calculations.
    • Depending on the technological model: commercial solution for rent, commercial solution in property, free software solution.
    • Depending on the coexistence or substitution of modalities, absolute or progressive.
    • Depending on the expected increase in participation, especially in areas where it is extremely low: collegiate bodies, civil society, etc.

Beyond the economic issue, the technological model also has an impact on the confidence in the system as well as its flexibility. Although we have stated that the technology is mature and that auditing guarantees almost full confidence on Internet voting, it is no less true that this audit, to be fully comprehensive, must have total access to the code of the software, which is not always possible and, in any case, easy to do.

In the long term scenario —electronic voting as a public infrastructure applied to multiple areas of the Administration and civil society— we believe that the best option in terms of economic costs and trust in the system is free software. Only this option makes the economic returns to be highly growing with the number of votes and gives total confidence to the various stakeholders —not to mention the administrative simplification for the disappearance of the public procurement of electronic voting services.

We would propose, at the technological level:

  • An inventory and analysis of the current free Internet voting software solutions: reliability, scalability, flexibility, total cost of ownership, existence of a community of developers and users, etc.
  • Evaluate the institutional possibility (resources, political capacity, etc.) to create a consortium/community around a new free software tool that can become the de facto standard in the field of electronic voting.

These technological considerations are for the medium term and, in no case, they should suppose an impediment to the initiatives of Internet voting that could arise in the short term, that would have to execute with the concurrence of the market.

Regarding the consortium or community around a free software tool, it would be advisable that it be composed, at least initially, by a group of governments of an international nature (states, regions) with the triple objective of collecting all the sensitivities/needs a tool of this type, increase its legitimacy and distribute the development costs.



Priit Vinkel, head of the State Electoral Office, Government of Estonia

Casper Wrede, Elections administrator, Government Offices, Government of Åland

André Fecteau, Policy Analyst, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Government of Canada


Jordi Barrat. Professor, Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Josep Maria Reniu, Professor, Universitat de Barcelona

David Dueñas-Cid, Assistant Professor, Kozminski University
Researcher, Tallinn University of Technology

Robert Krimmer, Professor, Tallinn University of Technology

Guillem Clapés, Analyst and political advisor

Adrià Rodríguez-Pérez, PhD student, Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Analyst, Scytl

Mihkel Solvak, Researcher, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies

Martin Möller, Researcher, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies

e-Voting private sector

Liisa Past, Expert in cybersecurity, McCain Institute

Peter van der Veldt MSc., Sales Director Europe, Smartmatic

Jordi Puiggalí, CSO and SVP Research & Development, Scytl


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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, R., Volkamer, M., Cortier, V., Goré, R., Hapsara, M., Serdült, U. & Dueñas-Cid, D. (Eds.), Electronic Voting, 117-131. Third International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2018, Bregenz, Austria, October 2-5, 2018, Proceedings. Cham: Springer.
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Devaux, A., Faulí, C., Stewart, K., Porcu, F., Taylor, J., Theben, A., Baruch, B., Folkvord, F. & Nederveen, F. (forthcoming). Study on the Benefits and Drawbacks of Remote Voting. Brussels: European Commission.
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Devaux, A., Faulí, C., Stewart, K., Porcu, F., Taylor, J., Theben, A., Baruch, B., Folkvord, F. & Nederveen, F. (forthcoming). Study on the Benefits and Drawbacks of Remote Voting. Technical Appendices. Brussels: European Commission.
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Book. Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of

Book cover of Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of

Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of

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 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— 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 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 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.


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

Oliver Escobar. Mini-publics for citizen participation

Notes from the seminar on mini-publics by Oliver Escobar, 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.


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.