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

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

Shifting participation into sovereignty: the case of decidim.barcelona

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

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

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

Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download

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

Citizen participation on new digital platforms

Notes from the Citizen participation on new digital platforms conference, organized by Open University of Catalonia and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 15 January 2019.

Quim Brugué, Universitat de Girona
Participation: what are we talking about?

Participation is not new. We’ve been hearing about this since the 1970s and there already is a boom of citizen participation in the early 1990s. The first decade of 2000s, until 2007, witnesses a quick rise of citizen participation, with a strong support of the Administration. These are years of learning to participate in “good times”. It was an experimental period. There was no consensus of what was the purpose of participation. Many times the issues were not crucial to citizens, but very marginal: no “serious stuff” was shared with the citizen. It generated some not purely legitimate practices where participation was a means to give local administrations or civil society organizations either resources or a public platform were to air their ideologies. This experimentation also led to more focus on the methodology rather than on the issues: people did not want to solve a specific issue but “do participation”.

Experimentation, lots of resources, focus on the instrument rather than on the topic led to some tiredness and disenchantment with citizen participation. This did not last long: the 2008 crisis put a stop to the whole trend.

2011 — 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, Arab Spring, Occupy — was the outburst of a sense of lack of quality democracy. Citizen participation came back to the spotlight, but not on a period of dire crisis. The paradox was that when participation was most needed, lack resources due to the crisis could not meet the needs.

So, what is citizen participation? Many things:

Representative democracy Direct democracy
Additive democracy Democracy of the moderns: do not trust citizens, trust representative. Risk: “they do not represent us” Referendums, polls. Empowerment vs. experience of elder people
Deliberative democracy Democratize policies: participation, consultation vs. authority, legitimacy Democracy of the elder: trust citizens, do not trust representatives. Risk: elitism

Technology plays a different role in each different approach. While it is not yet clear neither the better technology or methodology nor the impact or degree of improvement, it does seem clear that there is a trend towards empowerment of the citizen. And a thing that has not changed is that every option carries an underlying ideology: while deliberation is about the “we” and about building a solution, polling is about the “I” and winning the preferred option.

Antonio Calleja, Internet Interdisciplinary Institute
Decidim

Especially since 2011 we’ve been witnessing a crisis of representative democracy and a rise of “datacracy”, where who owns more data can affect or even interfere representative democracy and its processes.

Decidim aims at being an alternative to big corporations controlling the platforms that will be used by “datacrats”. Decidim is thought as a political network.

As a political network, Decidim has a community around the platform that deals about strategic and technological issues, also including research, dissemination, etc.

Decidim begins with the strategic plan of the city council of Barcelona in 2016. Initially based on the citizen participation software of Madrid, Cónsul, it was later recoded as a new platform on 2017. New features have been added since.

An important feature is the ability to track what happens with a given proposal by a specific citizen: how it is included in an approved political measure and the degree in which this measure is executed.

(NOTE: case study on Decidim: Peña-López, I. (2017). decidim.barcelona, Spain. Voice or chatter? Case studies. Bengaluru: IT for Change)

Rosa Borge, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Research project to test the deliberative capacity of several projects that have used Decidim to enable citizen participation. 18 projects were analyzed, choosing first level processes such as strategic or investment plans at the local level.

Decidim has become central in organizing and managing participation processes in municipalities. It is worth noting that the platform was used by municipalities with governments from different parties, and ranging from left to right in terms of ideology.

There does not seem to be a pattern between the number of participants, number of proposals and number of comments to these proposals. The evolution of participation processes varies a lot depending on a wide rage of reasons.

The tool has proven useful to run three dimensions of participatory processes:

  • Participation
  • Transparency
  • Deliberation

The reasons to run participation processes and to do it online are many. Sometimes it is a honest need, sometimes a way to be trendy and get more votes in the coming elections, sometimes it is mandatory by law depending on the kind of policy to be passed. What is clear is that many times there lacks a deep reflection on why and what for developing participation initiatives at the “theoretical” level (purpose, design, limitations, etc.).

The research analyzed the quality of deliberation performing content analysis and according to several indicators like equality in the discourse, reciprocity, justification, reflexiveness, pluralism and diversity, empathy and respect, etc.

Results show that there certainly is a good degree of depth in the discourse and a real debate with pros and cons on the proposals. The dialogue shows almost no effect of echo chambers but, on the contrary, dialogues provide reasoning, proposals or alternatives.

Unfortunately, the debates that take place on the institutional platform are not transposed on other social networking sites like Twitter, were the audience could be bigger and reach a greater range of actors.

PESTEL and DAFO analyses were conducted to better understand the environment and main trends.

On the cons side, there still is a certain lack of commitment from political leaders. On the pros side, online participation attracts new actors to participatory processes that were not the usual suspects of citizen participation.

(NOTE: paper on this research Borge et al. (2018). La participación política a través de la plataforma Decidim: análisis de 11 municipios catalanes. IX Congreso Internacional en Gobierno, Administración y Políticas Públicas GIGAPP. Madrid, 24-27 de septiembre de 2018. Madrid: GIGAPP).

Discussion

Anna Clua: what has been the impact of the digital divide? Have municipalities taken it into account? Rosa Borge: municipalities do not have the resources to measure and seriously address the issue. Notwithstanding, some of them are aware of the issue and thus have made some projects (e.g. training) to try and bridge it during participatory processes.

Manuel Gutiérrez: does online deliberation create more or less discourse fallacies? Rosa Borge: in general, the research has not found many bad practices. On the contrary, quality of the debate was high according to the indicators chosen. Of course the methodology is arguable and there were some methodological issues that are worth being reviewed.

Quim Brugué: can we deliberate on everything? Should we deliberate when the government has already decided on a given issue? What for? Rosa Borge: of course if the decision is already made, it may not make a lot of sense. Notwithstanding, most dedicions are not “totally” made and all comments and shades of meaning poured on the platform are taken into account by decision-makers — as stated by officials and politicians during the research.

Decidim.index. Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Juan Romero: managing conflict to improve the democratic process

The democratic process is not only a model for governance, but a model for living together.

How do we manage conflict in democratic processes? Define, make explicit, mediate and measure. There are two different issues in conflicts: the dimensions of the conflict and the actors of the conflict.

Measuring the debate can be difficult and especially difficult to manage if we had not prepared it in advance. Technologies and methodologies can help to structure deliberations. Argument mapping can be very useful to achieve such structuration and thus improve deliberation and the whole democratic process.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)

Decidim.index. Miriam Sol & Carla Cordoncilo: Systems of indicators of quality

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Miriam Sol & Carla Cordoncilo: evaluation system for the programme of active democracy

The system was designed after the logical framework approach. A matrix of indicators (simple and complex indicators) was created and then came the design of the sources of verification. Finally, the evaluation system was created.

Active democracy includes:

  • Citizen initiatives.
  • Participatory processes.
  • Citizen consultations.
  • Participation bodies.

In this project the focus was put on participatory processes.

Main dimensions: accessibility, diversity, plurality, traceability, transparency, operations.

These aspects should not be measured outside of their context, as most of them are very sensitive to it. Thus, quality or achievement of specific thresholds in indicators should be measured in relationship with environmental values. E.g. diversity in participation has different meanings in neighbourhoods that have a multicultural social tissue or in neighbourhoods that are socially or culturally more homogeneous. Less diversity in the latter is to be expected, while low diversity in the former should be considered as a failure.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)

Decidim.index. Sofia de Roa: Systems of indicators of quality

Notes from the Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation, organized by decidim.barcelona and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 January 2018. More notes on this event: decidim-index.

Sofia de Roa: Systems of indicators of quality

The point of departure to design a system of indicators for democratic quality is transparency.

Two types of organiations in relationship to transparency:

180º organization:

  • What for transparency: to disclose information from the past.
  • Why transparency: external motivation: to look nice in transparency indices and gain recognition.
  • What do we make transparent: operative aspects related to production, such as people, economy, structure and processes.
  • How do we become transparent: on their own, with their own tools.

360º organization:

  • What for transparency: to disclose commitments and measure improvements.
  • Why transparency: intrinsic motivation: responsibility, work well done, the common good.
  • What do we make transparent: all the value chain, including vision and mission, values, strategies, etc.
  • How do we become transparent: in a participatory way, with all stakeholders.

How to operationalize concepts such as diversity, democratic quality, gender balance, social autonomy, etc.?

Systems of quality indicators: choose, improve, etc.

Decidim.index: indices for the democratic quality of online participation (2018)