Conference on Democratic Innovation (I). An architect meets a biologist

Notes from the conference Conference on Democratic Innovation. Open territories. Rethinking the physical space with the citizens, organized by the Secretary of Transparency and Open Government of the Government of Catalonia, and held in Barcelona, Spain, on 19 November 2019. More notes on this event: territorisoberts2019

An architect meets a biologist
Itziar González, arquitecta, Institut Cartogràfic de la ReVolta
Ferran Miralles, director general de Polítiques Ambientals i Medi Natural
Chairs: Nel·la Saborit, Enginyera civil del Gabinet Tècnic del Pla Estratègic Metropolità de Barcelona

Saborit: what is the importance of regional planning?

Itziar González: the good thing about regional planning is that a collective plans how it wants to live, and does it collectively. But we have to make compatible the “vertical” approach with the “horizontal” approach. If it is too much vertical, it usually goes top-down and forgets or undervalues the feelings and approaches of the ones in the bottom. We should speak more about co-operation and collaboration instead of just “planning”.

Ferran Miralles: regional planning is like the hardware that other softwares use to run upon. Regional planning is about efficiency and efficacy. Planning is, above all, about scales, about addressing the most appropriate scale. The scale will determine what is efficient and what is effective and at what level.

Nel·la Saborit: what is the relationship between regional planning and open government?

Ferran Miralles: there is one approach to open data that is knowing what is out there and/or showing what is being done. But we have to shift from descriptive mapping to impact mapping. We have to be able to listen to what the territory talks. Open data adds value to mapping, makes it able to measure impacts or outcomes and not only outputs or results. Evidence-based decision-making should be the norm, but oftentimes decisions are made after personal feelings or impressions. Open data can address this bias.

Itziar González: regional planning is deliberative, is complex, has to go down to the ground. Regional planning has to be brought naturally into the public agenda and be part of the daily lives of people. When people can speak-out they can provide rich data and approaches to policy-making. Open data is about trust, is about solving problems, is about disclosing the whole process, beginning with values.

Itziar González: what do we expect from the territory? An economic revenue or a sustainable place to live in? These are approaches that need to find a common ground, which will only come from deliberation.

Ferran Miralles: the further the decision is from the citizens, the more the need to participate and encourage participation. One of the roles of the Administration should be to guarantee the coherence between different political or collective decisions, that what is done at one lever or in one place is not undone elsewhere by other decisions. When there is trust, regional planning is no more a zero-sum game, a fight, but an agora to reach long-term agreements.

Itziar González: regional planning should not be a static discipline, but a dynamic one. The world changes, people change, and so should policy-making in general and regional planning in particular. Let’s think of regional planning as a guide, not as a framework.

Ferran Miralles: as important as an accurate diagnosis is an accurate monitoring and assessment. And an added problem is that when there is lack of trust, plans are difficult to change — and thus adapt to the new realities that monitoring and assessment uncover.

Nel·la Saborit: maybe we should stop talking about regional planning and talk instead about regional processes. What are the big challenges today?

Itziar González: listen, listen and listen. And build trust. And empower public servants.

Ferra Miralles: citizens have to be clear on whether they want total control and guarantees in what matters the Administration, or whether they prefer more trust that gives some freedom back to the Administration, with post-hoc control and accountability.

[my take in this is surely part of the job of public controllers could be taken by individual citizens by means of transparency an open data. It surely needs a change of culture, training new intermediaries and totally opening all the infrastructures of public decision-making.]

Itziar González: we need to reset public spaces, make them more deliberative, re-balance legitimacy and authority between public bodies and citizens.

Ferran Miralles: we have to strengthen the communication channels between the Administration and the citizens, especially when it comes to citizen assemblies, councils, etc. That these bodies have all the information, that they have feedback, etc.


Ramón Pintó: trust has to be earned. And the Administration should take the first steps towards regaining trust.

Laura Suñé: There is lot of room to improve things without making more and more regulations. Sometimes talking is enough. But talking, deliberation, requires time, quality information, etc.

Roger Buch: what are your experiences on citizen deliberation? Is it productive? Itziar González: if one creates spaces for deliberation, if one maps correctly all actors and especially minorities, then this investment pays back. It is also a good idea that deliberation processes have different intensities: there are people that want to decide, others to speak out, others to be informed. It is all fair, and one has to make compatible different levels of commitment and that these different spaces feed each other. Ferran Miralles: projects work better when they are about specific things and when there is time enough to sit and talk.

Jordi Güell: we have been talking about participation between the Administration and citizens, but we also need participation or co-operation between different levels of the Administration. Itziar González: better actor mapping could contribute to that, by acknowledging that e.g. municipalities also are actors that should have their own voice.

Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)