Conference on Democratic Innovation (III). Regional planning and citizen participation

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

Regional planning and citizen participation
Chairs: Laura Suñé. Sub-directora general de Participació Ciutadana de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Regional planning guidelines in Euskadi
Rafael Sanchez Guerra. Tècnic del Govern Basc

When one mainstreams citizen participation in policy-making (e.g. regional planning), participation is not something that is added somewhere in the project, but that is taken into account in all key points during the deployment of the project. Sometimes as a one time thing (e.g. a participatory processes), sometimes as a structural thing (e.g. advisory councils).

Doing participation processes during the design of a political instrument may seem as it slows down things, but in reality it provides useful information and legitimacy that, afterwards, is less conflict, better instruments and, thus, policies that run smoother and faster.

It is important to disclose all processes, to adapt language and concepts to the different target groups that one is addressing, be sure that everyone understands each other, have flexibility to adapt to different timings.

Master regional plana of the Generalitat de Catalunya
Josep Armengol. Sub-director general d’Acció Territorial i de l’Hàbitat Urbà de la Generalitat de Catalunya

Trust between different actors — especially between the Administration and the citizens — is a must. There is no way things will work in the future (or in the present) without increasing levels of trust. Indeed, oftentimes participation is not as much about policy-making but as trust-building.

Initially, master plans in regional planning were regulated by the law. Thus, departments used to follow the regulation strictly, and implement participation processes where the law had put them. But it did not work. Citizen platforms would appear regardless of the regulated spaces for citizen participation.

One also would doubt about whether citizen organizations were really democratic themselves, whether they represented many people or none, etc.

Honest, flexible, ad-hoc participation processes came to improve this two-ways lack of trust. Participation has been rich in their contributions, in reducing conflict, in being able to tell who wants to build for the common good and who wants to destroy and who wants to make the public good work for one’s own private interest.

Participation is now introduced at the very beginning of the process. It is not an information session, but a diagnosis and design session. Participation is open where decision-making is still open: it is crucial to match expectations with reality. Mapping actors correctly is also very important to gather all the different realities and views upon a given topic.

Regional planning strategy in Aragón (EOTA)
Carlos Jesús Oliván. Cap de Servei de Participació del Govern d’Aragó

LAAAB methodology, based on an open and collaborative design of public policies, as in a lab. Using design thinking during the design of policies and also of participatory processes.

For the regional planning strategy, participation sessions were turned into workshops, where real proposals had to be designed, not just stated. Besides, “real people” endorse or sponsor all proposals, so that one can come back to them for more details, etc.

The return phase is crucial, and one has to clearly explain what proposals were accepted and put into practice, and which ones were not, and why.

Participation processes are about building trust. Sometimes they may not be very productive in terms of content, but they are productive in terms of building citizenship.

Conference on Democratic Innovation (2019)