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.
Saldaña Blasco, D., Goula Mejón, J. & Cardona Tamayo, H. (2018b). El pati de l’escola en igualtat. Guia de diagnosi i d’intervenció amb perspectiva de gènere. Material de suport. Santa Coloma de Gramenet: Equal Saree, Ajuntament de Santa Coloma de Gramenet.
UN Women (2014). Gender equality capacity assessment tool. New York: UN Women.
UNDP (2014). Making Joint Gender Programmes Work. New York: UNDP.
UNESCO Bangkok (2009). Promoting Gender Equality in Education. Bangkok: UNESCO Bangkok.
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe & World Bank Institute (2010). Developing Gender Statistics: A Practical Tool. Geneva: United Nations.
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2008). Gender in Local Government: A Sourcebook for Trainers. Nairobi: UNHABITAT.
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2012). Gender Toolkit. New York: OCHA.
United Nations Population Fund & United Nations Development Fund for Women (2006). Gender responsive budgeting in practice: a training manual. New York: UNFPA, UNIFEM.
Xarxa d'Economia Solidària de Catalunya (2017a). Eina d'observació de gènere. Barcelona: XES.
Xarxa d'Economia Solidària de Catalunya (2017b). Reunions roDONES. Barcelona: XES.


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.


Adner, R. & Kapoor, R. (2010). “Value Creation in Innovation Ecosystems: How the Structure of Technological Interdependence Affects Firm Performance in New Technology Generations”. In Strategic Management Journal, 31 (3), 306-333. Indianapolis: John Wiley and Sons.
Al-Ani, A. (2017). “Government as a Platform: Services, Participation and Policies”. In Kamalipour, Y. & Friedrichsen, M. (Eds.), Digital Transformation in Journalism and News Media: Media Management, Media Convergence and Globalization, Chapter 14, 179-196. Boston: Springer International Publishing.
Atluri, V., Dietz, M. & Henke, N. (2017). “Competing in a world of sectors without borders”. In McKinsey Quarterly, 2017 Number 3, 32-47. New York: McKinsey.
Boley, H. & Chang, E. (2007). “Digital Ecosystems: Principles and Semantics”. In Digital EcoSystems and Technologies Conference, 2007. DEST'07. Inaugural IEEE-IES, 398-403. Washington, DC: IEEE.
Bria, F. (Dir.) (2015). Growing a digital social innovation ecosystem for Europe. DSI final report. Brussels: European Commission.
Calzada Mujika, I. & Almirall, E. (2020). “Data ecosystems for protecting European citizens’ digital rights”. In Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, Ahead-of-print. Published online 21 April 2020. Bradford: Emerald.
Carayannis, E.G., Barth, T.D. & Campbell, D.F. (2012). “The Quintuple Helix innovation model: global warming as a challenge and driver for innovation”. In Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 1 (2). Boston: Springer.
Castells, M. (2009). Communication power. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.
Castells, M. (2012). Redes de indignación y esperanza. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
Ceccagnoli, M., Forman, C., Huang, E. & Wu, D. (2012). “Cocreation of Value in a Platform Ecosystem: The Case of Enterprise Software”. In MIS Quarterly, 36 (1), 263-290. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
Chesbrough, H.W. (2003). “The Era of Open Innovation”. In MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2003, 35-41. Cambridge: MIT Sloan School of Management.
Dawes, S.S., Vidiasova, L. & Parkhimovich, O. (2016). “Planning and designing open government data programs: An ecosystem approach”. In Government Information Quarterly, 33 (1), 15-27. London: Elsevier.
Dini, P., Darking, M., Rathbone, N., Vidal, M., Hernández, P., Ferronato, P., Briscoe, G. & Hendryx, S. (2005). The Digital Ecosystems Research Vision: 2010 and Beyond. Brussels: European Commission.
European Commission (2012). Open Innovation 2012. Brussels: European Commission.
European Commission (2013). Open Innovation 2.0 Yearbook. Edition 2013. Brussels: European Commission.
European Commission (2016). Open Innovation 2.0 Yearbook. Edition 2016. Brussels: European Commission.
Fuster, M. (2018). “Qualities of the different models of platforms”. In Fuster, M. (Ed.), Sharing Cities: A worldwide cities overview on platform economy policies with a focus on Barcelona, Chapter IV, 125-158. Barcelona: UOC.
Harrison, T.M., Pardo, T.A. & Cook, M. (2012). “Creating Open Government Ecosystems: A Research and Development Agenda”. In Future Internet, 4 (4), 900-928. Basel: MDPI.
Heimstädt, M., Saunderson, F. & Heath, T. (2014). “Conceptualizing Open Data Ecosystems: A Timeline Analysis of Open Data Development in the UK”. In Parycek, P. & Edelmann, N. (Eds.), CeDEM14. Proceedings of the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2014, 245-255. 21-23 May 2014, Danube University Krems, Austria. Krems: Edition Donau-Universität Krems.
Iansiti, M. & Levien, R. (2004). “Strategy as Ecology”. In Harvard Business Review, March 1, 2004. Cambridge: Harvard University.
Janowski, T., Pardo, T.A. & Davies, J. (2012). “Government Information Networks – Mapping Electronic Governance cases through Public Administration concepts”. In Government Information Quarterly, 29 (1), S1-S10. London: Elsevier.
Ju, J., Liu, L. & Feng, Y. (2019). “Design of an O2O Citizen Participation Ecosystem for Sustainable Governance”. In Information Systems Frontiers, 21 (3), 605–620. Cham: Springer Nature.
Kurban, C., Peña-López, I. & Haberer, M. (2017). “What is technopolitics? A conceptual scheme for understanding politics in the digital age”. In IDP. Revista de Internet, Derecho y Ciencia Política, 24. Barcelona: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.
Lupiáñez-Villanueva, F., Theben, A., Porcu, F. & Peña-López, I. (2018). Study on the impact of the internet and social media on youth participation and youth work. Brussels: European Commission.
Nachira, F., Nicolai, A., Dini, P., Le Louarn, M. & Rivera León, L. (Eds.) (2007). Digital Business Ecosystems. Brussels: European Commission.
O’Reilly, T. (2011). “Government as a Platform”. In Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, 6 (1), 13-40. Cambridge: MIT Press.
OECD Council (2017). Recommendation of the Council on Open Government. Paris: OECD.
Peña-López, I. (2011). “Striving behind the shadow – The dawn of Spanish politics 2.0”. In van der Hof, S. & Groothuis, M. (Eds.), Innovating Government. Normative, policy and technological dimensions of modern government, Chapter 8, 129-147. The Hague: TMC Asser Press.
Peña-López, I. (2014a). “Casual politics: del clicktivismo a los movimientos emergentes y el reconocimiento de patrones”. In Cotarelo, R. & Olmeda, J.A. (Eds.), La democracia del siglo XXI. Política, medios de comunicación, internet y redes sociales, Capítulo 10, 211-229. II Jornadas españolas de ciberpolítica, 28 de mayo de 2013. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales.
Peña-López, I. (2014b). “Innovació social oberta: l’organització política com a plataforma”. In Costa i Fernández, L. & Puntí Brun, M. (Eds.), Comunicació pel canvi social. Reflexions i experiències per una comunicació participativa, emancipadora i transparent, 59-75. Girona: Documenta Universitaria.
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia”. In Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.), Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book, Capítulo 11, 113-124. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.
Peña-López, I. (2019a). Convirtiendo participación en soberanía: el caso de Barcelona: Huygens Editorial.
Peña-López, I. (2019b). “L’Estat com a plataforma: la participació ciutadana per la preservació de l’Estat com a bé comú”. In Nota d'Economia, 105, 193-208. Barcelona: Generalitat de Catalunya.
Peña-López, I. (2020). “El impacto diferencial de las crisis en la Sociedad del Conocimiento”. In Gutiérrez-Rubí, A. & Pont Sorribes, C. (Coords.), Comunicación política en tiempos de coronavirus, Capítulo 25, 142-147. Barcelona: Cátedra Ideograma–UPF de Comunicación Política y Democracia.
Raymond, E.S. (1999). The Cathedral & the Bazaar. (revised edition: original edition 1999). Sebastopol: O’Reilly.
Saveri, A., Rheingold, H. & Vian, K. (2005). Technologies of Cooperation. Palo Alto: Institute for the Future.
Scholz, T. (2016). Platform Cooperativism. Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy. New York: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.
Schumpeter, J.A. (1943). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. (2003 edition). New York: Routledge.
Serra, A. (2013). “Tres problemas sobre los laboratorios ciudadanos. Una mirada desde Europa”. In Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos, Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad, 8 (23), 283-298. Buenos Aires: Centro de Estudios sobre Ciencia, Desarrollo y Educación Superior.
Surowiecki, J. (2004). The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few. London: Abacus.
von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Zuiderwijk, A. & Janssen, M. (2013). “Open data policies, their implementation and impact: A framework for comparison”. In Government Information Quarterly, 31 (1), 17-29. London: Elsevier.
Zuiderwijk, A., Janssen, M. & Davis, C. (2014). “Innovation with open data: Essential elements of open data ecosystems”. In Information Polity, 19 (1), 17-33. Amsterdam: IOS Press.


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.


Current challenges of informal participation: what can an Artificial Intelligence do for citizen participation

  • Relevant topics
  • Latent topics
  • Informal participation
  • Reputation
  • Trends, clusters
  • Actor mapping
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Real time analysis
  • Ubiquitous analysis

Current challenges of informal participation

When we ask ourselves “what can Blockchain do for” or “what can Artificial Intelligence do for”, it is easy to begin with the solution (Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence) and then see whether that solution fits onto the “problem”.

In Current challenges of online participation: a citizen e-participation journey I listed what were the main hypothetical steps that one should follow to participate online, and what were the expected barriers or problems to overcome. The tacit idea being how could (if ever) decentralized ledger technologies or Blockchain help all along the whole way.

In order to prepare a meeting on Artificial Intelligence at the Administration and, most specifically, Artificial Intelligence for citizen participation, I here plan to repeat the aforementioned exercise, now for knowledge management in citizen participation, and most especially in informal participation settings.

Relevant topics

Informal participation begins on formal settings. There are lots of things happening around the formal discussion of a given issue. Thus, it is not always easy to tell the relevant topics from the irrelevant ones. And in two ways: relevant for the organization of the deliberative process, and especially relevant for the participant, which may find burdensome to go through all the information and proposals and comments that everyone else is doing — this is especially true on online participation platforms.

Being able to distill what information is relevant (a) in relationship with the topic at stake and (b) in relationship with one’s own interests is crucial for the smooth and effective evolution of the deliberation process. Scanning, analysing, tidying up, summing up, and presenting in a clear way is the first demand to do to any technology aiming at crunching information for good.

Latent topics

In the same train of thought of the previous point, but now in more positive or constructive terms, there is a lot of hidden information, or tacit or informal participation, within a formal setting. E.g. a debate on urban mobility can tell a lot about the participants: their wealth or income, the place they live and their commuting possibilities, their jobs, their educational level, etc. It can even tell us a lot about other latent variables or issues such as environmental awareness, concern on pollution, etc.

Beyond the explicit message that participants are sending, it is very valuable to be able to extract much more information either about the profile of the participants (without damaging their privacy, of course) and other topics that may be on the public agenda but that the Administration might be overseeing.

Informal participation

So, formal participation can bring forward topics that were not on the agenda, or even provide evidence on topics or general information on issues that, without being made explicit during, do lay in the background of the deliberation.

But of course lots of things happen outside formal settings. People do politics in their daily lives, constantly. Most of them will never get close to an institution; some of them will even circumvent institutions as much as possible. So, getting to know where do these daily politics happen is something that the Administration could use to approach citizens where they gather. This is not to be confused with chasing people to bother them. On the contrary, it deals about knowing the ideal settings, the adequate code, the relevant question at the relevant time.

In a face-to-face world, and most especially on smaller towns, this information quickly spreads word-of-mouth and is well known by everyone. In bigger communities, and in the most liquid ones of the digital space, either takes years of personal involvement in several communities, or an artificial intelligence can come handy in making time shrink.

Trends, clusters

Artificial intelligence does not only shrink time, but can help to make the (many time hidden) connections for you through trend analysis: finding communities, finding their interests, knowing where clusters generate due to increased interest in one topic and, finally and from a dynamic point of view, knowing when a threshold is reached and there is a critical mask ready to take action or prone to follow one.

Actor mapping

Beyond knowing whether there is a (hidden) hot topic on the public agenda and how it is evolving, it is very interesting to know what are the people interested in the topic and why.

It is important to note that what is interesting is not the specific identity of the individuals following a given issue, but their profile. First of all, because it may help to identify correlations between topics and, much more relevant, how intersectional a given topic is and the multiplier effects that take place when several issues overlap one another. E.g. we know that being migrant has a different impact on one’s life depending on whether the migrant is a man or a woman.

Identifying actors contributes to the necessary actor mapping that everyone should perform, thus, to measure the potential people impacted by a political instrument and, in consequence, to be able to formally invite them to any sort of formal participation initiative that the Administration may consider to foster.

As we have already said, the increasingly complexity of topics, the proliferation of shifting virtual spaces, the possibility of be part of different communities and play in different arenas, make it increasingly difficult that these tasks can be carried on by human beings, not to speak about a single person or a very small group with little presence on the streets and civil society organizations.

Sentiment analysis

If we want to find people —actually their profiles and characteristics— it is but natural to associate their thoughts with how they feel about them. Are they speaking positively or negatively about an issue? Assertively or full of fear?

Real time analysis

Last, but not least, we want to know it now.

This may be not as useful for the Administration —that can take its time to sit and analyse— than for citizens at large. They usually have much less time to deal with public issues than public servants or policy-makers. Basically because they have to earn a living, which usually is not related to policy- or decision-making. Being able to grasp at a glance the state of the debate —most relevant information, main positions or approaches, types of actors dealing with the issue, most important arguments made— saves time and efforts and contributes to drive the deliberation to the most fertile grounds.

A a well trained artificial intelligence sure can help in providing this analysis, inference and main insights in (almost) real time.

Ubiquitous analysis

Last, but not least, the application of artificial intelligence to support and improve citizen participation should not be limited to the possibility to feed it with documents. Sometimes data can be already produced in a structured way, sometimes it will be the most unstructured and natural of languages. Most importantly, most of the times the sources of information will be a mix of structured and unstructured information, different types of support —including image, audio and video— or meta-data coming from the interaction between humans and other machines.

In a nutshell, artificial intelligence can help citizen participation to make visible everything that was not, everything that was happening outside of formal spaces, everything that was happening even outside of our own conscience.