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Citizen participation and the rise of the Open Source City in Spain

Date added: June 15, 2017

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In the public sector, Spain has made big efforts not to lag behind digital leaders in terms of public e-readiness and e-government, but the country's economic and political frameworks have dragged it downwards in global Networked Readiness rankings. Literature shows that the crisis of participation and representation is pushing citizens outside of institutional politics and into new kinds of organisations which are strong in digital and social media. However, these efforts do not seem to be able to establish a dialogue with the institutions of representative democracy in order to perform the task that is needed – reform of the aforementioned institutions.

This Brief looks at initiatives that are working towards enabling citizen voices to be heard.

In the period between 2004 and 2011, the Spanish political arena was witness to many citizen initiatives where ICTs played a major role in accessing extra-institutional information and circumventing state institutions to coordinate and engage in political action. May 2011 saw action from the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets of dozens of cities in Spain. One of the clearest demands of the movement was the improvement of democratic processes and institutions, especially by increasing transparency, accountability and participation. There was a keen recognition regarding the key role that ICTs could play in realising this.

In 2015, Madrid, the capital of Spain, initiated a participatory democracy project, Decide Madrid (Madrid decide), to enable participatory strategic planning for the municipality. In 2016, Barcelona - the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia - issued their own participatory democracy project: decidim.barcelona (Barcelona we decide). The cities use the same free software platform as a base, and are guided by the same political vision.

Both city governments have ambitious plans so that the platforms become the axis of all decision making of the city, where the citizens will have a personal profiles through which they can propose, engage with, and monitor all the activities, topics, etc. that they might be interested in. The success of the initiatives and the strong political vision behind them have caused a proliferation of plenty of other initiatives around the whole state, especially in Catalonia, working to emulate the two big cities. The abundance of open documentation available demonstrates, for example, that decidim.barcelona has increased the amount of information in the hands of citizens, created momentum around key issues, and has led to an increase in citizen participation.

This Brief ends by saying that by leveraging the power of ICTs to bring more actors and more resources into the political arena, democratic processes can improve the state of democracy. However, time will tell whether the outcome will be as positive as expected.

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