Citizen participation in a network society

Citizen participation in a network society

Citizen participation in a networked society

This article on citizen participation is the translation of the introduction of the Decidim administration guide, published in March 2010 on the occasion of the release of version 0.10 of the platform (downloadable here).

This introduction is of particular interest since it explains the vision of the founders of Decidim. You will find here the theoretical resources mobilized to build the Decidim framework. They inscribe the platform as the heir of a long intellectual tradition; however, you will see that Decidim deeply renews this tradition and updates it by considering the new challenges of the 21st century.

Photo by Marc Sendra martorell on Unsplash

The future of a networked society

Information and communication technologies (hereinafter ICTs) and associated practices are bringing about irreversible transformations in the social and political world. From the small residents' association to the most intense election campaigns, from a neighbourhood organisation or rally to the European Union, political relations are increasingly determined by the use of digital tools and technologies. It seems that the future of democratic participation and collective action will be through the development of digital platforms and hybrid processes, which renew traditional practices and combine them with digital practices (Fuchs, 2007).

This transition coincides with the decline of representative systems in recent decades (Norris, 1999; Pharr & Putnam, 2000; Tormey, 2015), which has contributed to the questioning of the legitimacy and meaning of democracy itself, reduced and often identified with this system (Crouch, 2004; Keane, 2009; Streeck, 2016). Several authors have used the term "post-democracy" to refer to the decline in the power and meaning of representative institutions, which ranges from globalization to the political disaffection and desertion of citizens (Brito Vieira and Runciman, 2008; Keane, 2009; Rosanvallon, 2011; Tormey, 2015). Various attempts to improve participation have failed to reverse this trend (Keane, 2011; Tormey, 2015).

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash


This long-term political crisis emerged after the economic and financial crisis of 2008, and is directly related to it. Thus, millions of people mobilized against this crisis have not only demanded real democracy, they are actually experiencing and building it. The key step in this process is the 15M network movement. It is in a context of technological hypermediation that ICTs, used in the 1980s and 1990s to accelerate financial flows and globalization (Castells, 1996), have become crucial spaces and tools for a multipolar reappropriation of politics and democratic experimentation (Martinet Ros et al., 2015).


After four years of many successes and failures, new political citizen initiatives succeeded in May 2015 in taking power in the main Spanish cities, including Barcelona. In fact, they followed in the footsteps of countries such as Iceland, where the economic crisis has led to a period of citizen reappropriation of institutions and fertile democratic innovation, based on an intensive and creative use of ICTs.


Since 15M, most of the experiments aimed at introducing new forms of participatory and deliberative democracy (Barber, 1984; Habermas, 1994, 1996; Della Porta 2013) have used technology as an intermediary. As can be seen from the Icelandic case (and others, such as the Finnish example), democratization processes such as citizen mobilization and empowerment require techno-political coordination (Rodotà 1997; Martinet Ros et al., 2015) to achieve maximum depth and diversity. Technopolitics emerges from the politicization of technologies and the technological re-assembly of politics as well as from the co-development and co-production of technologies.


These techno-political deliberations and participation take different forms; digital and face-to-face practices, spaces and processes connect and mutually nourish each other on several levels. These participatory devices aim to increase the number, variety and parity of individuals taking part in the common government of the city, thereby expanding and enriching the areas, forms and periods in which they occur and helping to improve collective intelligence (Levy, 1997), capable of dealing with the complexity of contemporary urban life. Technopolitics must overcome the many limitations of what has been called "digital democracy" (Hindman, 2008) by first freeing itself from the "techno-centric" and "techno-optimist" narratives around digitally-assisted participation.


New participatory mechanisms are being built in a context full of opportunities, albeit perilous. The Government Programme for 2015 and the Municipal Action Plan (MAP) 2016-2019 established for the city of Barcelona give pride of place to participation and, more specifically, to innovation and the development of new models of participation. The MAP, whose construction has brought together thousands of people, corresponds to an equivocal social demand calling for a profound questioning of the democratic system and participation mechanisms.


However, this dynamic occurs in a context defined by : a) the social, political and economic exclusion of large parts of the population; b) increasing difficulties of access to participation resulting from the economic crisis situation; c) the crisis of legitimacy and effectiveness of the representative democracy regime and public authorities; d) the immense technological dependence on private infrastructures and services; e) a political and legislative context of opposition to direct democracy, social independence and territorial sovereignty; f) an abysmal institutional disadvantage in understanding social complexities using behavioural data analysis techniques and models that large technology companies and digital services possess.


Data monitoring and digital infrastructure for democracy and citizen participation


In the context of new configurations of information capitalism (Castells, 1996), often referred to as "data capitalism" (Lohr, 2015; Morozov, 2015) or "surveillance capitalism" (Zuboff, 2015), the new digital infrastructures of democracy run the risk of contributing to dynamics that are contrary to the principles of privacy and technological sovereignty.


Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Proprietary, closed and opaque platforms geared towards the exploitation of social activity for profit act in an undemocratic manner and increasingly occupy social life. This model is particularly dangerous in view of the new democratic infrastructures and arrangements we are calling for.

Compared to the model of private and proprietary infrastructure, the model of public communes, which we believe the development of should be inspired by, is oriented towards the development of platforms whose design, ownership and organization are free, open, participatory, shared between public agents and citizens (organized or not). Through this model, not only the code of the platform but also the data it generates are managed and made available in a common and public way. The opening of all sectors to participation, the establishment of commons as a political principle (as opposed to the private sphere and even the public sphere -étatique - Laval & Dardot, 2015) seems to be a sine qua non condition for participatory mechanisms to be really functional.

Participation must therefore be recurrent: it must help to define and establish the structural conditions for its own existence and influence the design, development and management of participatory platforms, consultations and the results (i.e. data) generated in this framework.

Placed in the hands of large digital service companies, the algorithmic organization of social life and of the subject that concerns us, political participation, poses a risk to democracy and technological sovereignty that only an effort to produce common public services in the digital infrastructure sector can counter. Only platforms based on free, open, transparent, secure and common software offer sufficient guarantees when it comes to building better democracies. The democracy of the future must therefore be built with democratic infrastructures.

This conclusion is perfectly consistent with the philosophy adopted by Open Source Politics since its inception. The use of free software, which we have made the fundamental principle of our activity, puts into practice our desire to develop digital commons in the service of democracy. We have explained this choice at length in a previous article, accessible here.

Decidim, a technopolitical project

Decidim, a technopolitical project

Decidim, a technopolitical project

Decidim, a techno-political project, a digital platform for citizen participation in a democratic city, built in an open and collaborative way using free software.

It is a public infrastructure that falls within the scope of the commons. Public because it has an obvious institutional impetus and from the commons because the code is open and free; in other words, anyone can see it, use it, copy it or modify it.

It is a platform for coordinating participatory spaces and processes, which aims to extend and facilitate access to citizen participation, opening up new spaces for deliberation and collaboration for the co-construction and co-production of public policies.

It also wants to open up new spaces for direct participation and democracy, leading to disintermediation and cooperation between citizens, institutions and civil society organisations.

We have translated part of the Decidim administration manual (downloadable here), which summarises a lot of crucial information about the history of Decidim, its construction and its philosophy.

1. Principles

The Decidim platform has been built and developed on the basis of a set of principles that promote democratic exploration and innovation in the digital age as well as the possibilities for improving, opening up and developing policies for citizen participation and democratic forms of multi-level government (with a special focus on the municipal level). These principles are listed below:

Technopolitical hybridization

This is the key to avoiding what we call 'digital reductionism' (Calleja-López, 2017), a variant of technocentrism that focuses mainly or exclusively on the digital infrastructures and aspects of new forms of participation. This is without addressing the important innovations occurring in participatory practices, processes and culture through the hybridisation of digital and physical participation. A hybrid approach attempts to connect the spaces and activities taking place on with the spaces and activities taking place in the physical world, and considers the multiple variants that could be envisaged in order to encourage new forms of collective action.

Enhanced and multi-modal participation

The result of 'digital reductionism' is the encouragement of 'click participation' (Calleja-López, 2017), in which participation becomes a phenomenon circumscribed first and foremost by its digital aspect, and more specifically by its practicality, speed and non-interference with other actors and ideas. There is thus a need to bring out enriched forms of interaction between individuals on, as well as between individuals, the contents of the platform and hybrid participatory processes in a broader sense. This implies, on the one hand, enriching participatory processes with functionalities that go beyond simple voting (information and data visualisation, deliberation etc). On the other hand, it implies building hybrid processes (e.g. physical meetings connected to the platform), which make participation a multimodal, enhanced and comprehensive process, rather than a reduced and simply "clickable" one.

Transparency and traceability

With the exception of data that may affect the privacy of users, the details of the activity of participatory processes in digital media must be fully traceable and public if a new level of transparency of participation is to be achieved. Transparency of participation and traceability are necessary conditions for maintaining trust in these new processes.

Opening / publication

The principles of publication and openness refer first to the code and functionalities of the platform, then to the data and content of the processes and finally, more generally, to the processes themselves. This implies, in the first two cases, the use of the most demanding free standards and licences (e.g. Affero GPLv3 for the code, CreativeCommons for the content, Open Access Database Licences for the data). Decidim should be an open platform where anyone can see, modify and reuse the code on which it is based. In the case of processes, these principles are linked to others mentioned in this list, such as transparency and accessibility, and aim to make these processes as participatory and reusable as possible at different scales.

Photo by Chris Slupski on Unsplash

Cross-sectional participation

Building on many of the keys to the success of recent initiatives such as the 15M [the Indignant movement that began on 15 May 2011], the deployment and communication strategies of must be directed towards the search for legitimacy first and then participation, reaching out to as many social and political groups as possible.

Knowledge, technoscience and collective intelligence

New forms of participation must be able to benefit from the possibilities offered by both citizens' knowledge and data science (drawn from the participatory processes themselves) to improve decision-making and participation. Informed and expert participation, therefore, capable of catalysing social knowledge.

Collective participation in a network

There are a number of central challenges when aiming to improve participation based on digital technology. One of these is the ability of participatory processes to foster the collective in the face of current atomising trends, which often result from virtual, remote and disconnected participation. This implies the use of features that encourage interaction between users in collective processes, whether in person or on a platform.

Public-common orientation, re-appropriation and recurrent participation

The new digital infrastructures of democracy must be a space owned by, from, and for the commons. If democracy is to be promoted, the infrastructures themselves must be inherently democratic. This implies promoting an innovative, alternative model to the privatisation of the public sphere. To this end, Decidim must be a digital infrastructure of public-common construction, ownership and use. In other words, it must correspond to what we define as "technopolitical commons": a technology open to everyone's participation in its construction and management, managed by distribution and with models of collective production and free sharing. Compared to closed and exclusive platforms controlled by large corporations, Decidim is a democratic infrastructure for democracy.

Accessibility and technopolitical training

It must also be a public service, which is why it is essential to ensure that citizens have sufficient access and training to take part in and exploit the platform's full potential. Promoting its use by local populations as well as by excluded social groups is a crucial challenge. and the digital participatory processes should be governed by more demanding accessibility standards (e.g. those of the Web Accessibility Initiative, WAI).

Independence, emancipation and affiliation

If social movements have demonstrated anything in recent years, it is the central role played by self-organised collective action in initiating and accompanying change processes. To this extent, and the processes using the platform should encourage social independence and self-organisation. Furthermore, institutional affiliation should be a prerequisite for the majority of the platform's processes, as it is a key element of its operational legitimacy in the medium and long term. In other words, social independence as well as bottom-up processes should be affiliated to public institutions.

2. Brief historical review

During its public presentation in September 2015, Decide Madrid, a digital participation platform launched by the Madrid City Council and based on Consul software, began experimenting with several participatory approaches such as public debates and citizen proposals. Launched by Barcelona City Council, the Decidim Barcelona project, which was also based on Consul with important modifications and adapted to new needs, was presented in February 2016. Its original objective was to coordinate the participatory process of drafting the Municipal Action Plan(MAP) as well as others that would arise in the city in the future.

Photo by AquaChara on Unsplash

Around 25,000 people registered in two months, 10,680 proposals were made, 410 public meetings were held and more than 160,000 votes were cast. As a result, a space for collaboration and deliberation was opened up between citizens, civil society organisations and the Barcelona City Council.

Many municipalities expressed their desire to implement similar processes, taking advantage of the technology used, given its success and the fact that it is free and reusable. More specifically: the city council of A Coruña, through its participatory budget platform A Porta Abierta; the city council of Oviedo, with Consulta Oviedo and its space dedicated to citizens' proposals; and finally the city council of Valencia with decidimVLC, for the preparation of participatory budgets. There were also many examples of local authorities and other institutions showing great interest in the project and its implementation, such as the city councils of L'Hospitalet, Badalona, Terrassa and Gavà, as well as the Barcelona Provincial Council and the Localret Consortium.

This series of changes and adaptations led to a new technological need for the adaptation of a technology that would ensure the independence, diversity of local authorities and medium-term sustainability of the platform. A decentralised (scalable) and evolving development strategy was determined, which made the whole project capable of flexibility and long-term growth, but also of generating a strong development, design and support community at municipal but also (more importantly) inter-municipal level.

This led the Barcelona City Council to seriously reconsider the architecture of the platform and to undertake a complete rewrite of the software based on the principles and needs mentioned above. From this rewrite came the Decidim project, a generic, participatory democratic framework based on Ruby on Rails that any group, organisation or institution could use with minimal technical knowledge.

3. Open development and free software

The Decidim platform project has been developed with open source software (both in its initial phase with Consul and after the complete rewriting of the code) and all its development has been done in an open way, making it fully traceable and monitored from the beginning.

Its creation through free software means that the source code of the platform is licensed under the AGPL v3 (GNU Affero General Public Licence), which implies that the code must incorporate the possibility of being consulted, copied, modified and reused and that the same licence is applied to any work or product derived from it. This is one of the licenses that guarantee the most freedom and that put copyleft into practice. To this extent, it makes perfect sense for public authorities to make a clear commitment to this type of software, since it is through this type of licence that one can receive a "social return" on public investment.

"A bright red and blue neon reads "open" by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash

Use this link to access the licence text file.

Copyleft refers to a wide variety of licences that can be applied to software, artistic and other creations. Supporters of copyleft see copyright as a means of reducing the individual's right to make and distribute copies of a work. A copyleft licence, in effect, uses copyright law to ensure that all those who receive a copy or derivative product can use, modify and even distribute both the original product and the derivative versions. In a strictly non-legal sense, copyleft is thus the opposite of copyright (Wikipedia, 2017).

The fact that the software has been developed in an open way means that the whole development process is transparent and accessible. In other words, everyone can see, from the beginning of the software development, every modification, every contribution, every developer involved, etc. Therefore, transparency is becoming a fundamental principle of citizen participation but also for software development.

All this was done on a platform built for open collaboration in software development: GitHub. This platform allows access to code and control of software development. GitHub is dedicated to hosting Git repositories; there are alternatives, for example GitLab.

4. Decidim Barcelona

Decidim Barcelona is the first instance of Decidim and remains the origin of the project. Decidim Barcelona was born out of the need of the Barcelona City Council to build a citizen participation process supported by technology for the Municipal Action Plan (MAP), with three main objectives: to build a transparent and traceable process, to increase participation through the digital platform and to integrate digital and physical participation.

This process aggregated more than 10,000 proposals and more than 160,000 votes in favour, with a final result of 71% of citizen proposals accepted and included in the MAP, within more than 1600 initiatives. Decidim was originally built exclusively for this process, but the need to extend it to other participatory processes was soon expressed. This is when the idea of the current Decidim was born: a participatory platform that makes possible as many participatory processes as one wishes, divided into steps and with the possibility of activating several functionalities at each step. A door has been deliberately left open to the development of new functionalities that could be quickly integrated into the processes (surveys, collaborative writing of texts, monitoring of results, etc.), as well as the integration of new participatory spaces such as citizen initiatives and participation councils. Decidim Barcelona hosts at the time of writing (May 2018) 12 participatory processes and already has 28,400 participants, more than 12,000 proposals, 5340 results, 930 physical meetings and 189,000 positive votes. The good results of the platform in Barcelona have led to its dissemination in several other municipalities, such as L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Sabadell, Badalona, Terrassa, Gavà, Sant Cugat, Mataró and Vilanova i la Geltrú.

5. The municipalities of Decidim

Decidim is a software that allows you to open as many platforms as you need, with a single installation.

There are many examples of such multi-tenant architectures in the software world, for example the free software WordPress for blog projects. This is particularly useful for institutions that want to provide Decidim as a third-party service. The case of the Provincial Council is particularly important as Decidim can be used with a single installation - i.e. it is maintained, updated and hosted by a single entity - by as many local authorities as desired. This reduces installation and maintenance costs and provides technological solutions for improving citizen participation to small and medium-sized institutions that would not otherwise have similar access to such resources.

Open Source Politics is an official partner of the Decidim project, which gives us an important role in the development of the tool - something we are particularly proud of. We have also already had the opportunity to deploy platforms for a dozen institutions in France and Europe.


Read our second article on technopolitics here

The new features brought by Decidim version 0.9

The new features brought by Decidim version 0.9

The new features brought by Decidim version 0.9

The Decidim development team announced on February 6, 2018 the arrival of an update for the platform, making numerous code improvements, solving some issues and introducing new features for all its users. We translate here the announcement of the new features in order to transmit them to the French-speaking community.

New features

This new update includes many improvements, mainly in terms of communication between participants, such as

Nicknames : Unique nicknames for participants have been added. #2360

Verification of users: From the administration panel, administrators can verify certain users and write a text about the verification on their profiles. #2405

Public Profile : The public profile page now includes the following information: Name, Nickname, Avatar, Official Label, Personal URL, Short Biography. #2391, #2360, #2401, #2405, #2494.

Mentions : You can mention another participant in a comment and they will receive an email notification. #2491

Notifications : New notifications relaying the activity of the platform have been activated, in different categories:

  • Subscribers to a participatory process receive a notification when a new phase is opened. #2544
  • Subscribers to a participatory process receive a notification when a new component is opened. #2515
  • Subscribers to a proposal receive a notification when a response is posted. #2508
  • You can follow other participants on the platform and receive notifications about their activities. #2401, #2452

Banners to promote specific content:

  • Permanent banner: You can add a permanent banner to highlight specific content. #2547
  • Banner of highlighting A banner can be added to the homepage to highlight specific content (which can be a space, a process, a feature...) #2572

Assemblies : Assemblies - which we have translated into Agoras - are now integrated into Decidim (they are enabled by default from now on) #2510 and agora administrators can be created#2463

Debates: Debates (a category that was previously only available in Decidim Barcelona) are now integrated in Decidim, and are available for all participatory processes. They have also been improved since the original module, such as allowing participants to create debates themselves. This link gives you access to the list of new features: #2506

New features for administrators

  • Private exchanges between admins : Administrators of a space can add private comments to proposals through the admin panel. #2490
  • Monitoring of participatory budget proposals : Participatory budget projects can be linked to the "Monitoring of projects" category, to monitor their implementation. #2467

Improving the user experience

Administration : The proposal administration panel allows sorting by different criteria. #2419

Editing proposals : Proposals can not only be edited for a defined period of time, but can now also be withdrawn as long as they have not received any support. #2289. Withdrawn proposals are not deleted, they appear in the "Withdrawn Proposals" list without any information about their author.

Newsletter : The Newsletter has been improved by adding a link to unsubscribe and the possibility to open it in your browser. UTM codes have also been added in order to allow the traceability of connections and thus better control quantitative analyses. #2359

Comments : Comment counters now take into account reply-to-comments. #2551

Navigation in the features menu : The horizontal navigation bar has been removed. #2495

Default notifications : Notifications are enabled by default. Participants can deactivate them from the emails that notify them of new notifications. #2517

Conversations : The list of conversations is sorted in ascending order from the most recent conversations. Conversely, the thread of messages within a conversation is in chronological order (the most recent are at the end). #2520

Bug fixing

Project monitoring : The average percentage is calculated based on all items. #2638


  • Conversations by a participant with him/herself are not allowed. #2630
  • Multiple conversations with the same participant are not allowed. #2376
  • Conversations are now accessible from mobile devices. #2364

Redirection after login : #2321, #2504 Links or buttons that require authentication are now accessible. Once authenticated, you are redirected to the original URL, thus avoiding the loss of your navigation thread.

Statistics: The homepage statistics have been updated. #2221

You can test Decidim and all its features on our instance

Open Source Politics is a company that develops platforms for participatory democracy for public, private and associative actors. Contact us if you want to get involved in a consultation process or a participatory budget using civic-tech tools!

How does the Decidim participatory democracy platform work?

How does the Decidim participatory democracy platform work?

How does the Decidim participatory democracy platform work?

Decidim, whose name comes from the Catalan expression meaning "let's decide now", is a digital infrastructure dedicated to participatory democracy, entirely designed and implemented in a collaborative manner according to the rules of free software. On a technical level, Decidim is a framework (or development environment) designed with the Ruby on Rails development software. Decidim allows users to create and configure a web platform or portal for use as a social network for citizen participation. This portal allows any organisation (city or district council, association, university, NGO, local collectives, cooperatives) to set up massive consultation processes such as participatory budgets, public surveys or calls for ideas.

In order to fully understand how Decidim works, it is necessary to understand the distinction between participation spaces and participation tools. The nuance seems fine at first and can be difficult to grasp, but it helps to better understand the structure of the platform:

  • Participation spaces. They are the framework within which participation is organised, the channels and media through which citizens and members of collectives can formulate their demands, elaborate their proposals and take decisions. Four spaces of participation are available in Decidim: Initiatives, Processes, Agoras and Consultations. For example: a citizens' initiative to change a regulation(Initiative); a general assembly of a workers' collective(Agora); a participatory budget, an electoral process or a consultation to define a long-term objective(Process); a referendum on a specific issue(Consultation). Process and Agora are already integrated in the platform in version 0.9, the other two spaces will be available in late spring.
  • Participation tools. These are the functionalities that allow interaction between the platform and the participation spaces. Decidim currently offers the following tools: meetings, conferences, calls for ideas, submission of proposals, questionnaire surveys, discussions and debates, results, monitoring of project implementation, votes, pages and newsletters.

The users of the platform (the participants), interact through participation mechanisms - which we call participation tools - that perform specific functions within each participation space. In other words, Initiatives, Agoras, Processes and Consultations have tools at their disposal which compose and give rhythm to the different participation spaces.


The characteristics of the 4 participation spaces


  • Processes are a space where an administrator can create, activate, deactivate and manage different participation tools, with the possibility of linking them together and configuring them according to the different stages programmed.
  • The Agoras offer an administrator the possibility of defining groups and collectives that meet periodically, detailing their composition, listing their meetings (with geo-location), facilitating the holding of meetings by managing the agenda, the capacity of the venues and the registration of participants if necessary, taking a position on the proposals and deliberations issued by the assemblies.
  • The Initiatives allow an administrator to collaboratively launch citizens' initiatives, define their objectives and procedures, collect support, gather the results of discussions and debates, and organise the mobilisation of inhabitants around meeting points for signing petitions.
  • Consultations are a space for organising referendums, allowing for discussion and debate on the chosen topic. They are connected to a secure voting system and a space for publishing the results.

Within these participation spaces, different tools are therefore articulated, customising the space according to the will of the administrator or organisation launching the space.


The various participation tools


  • The proposals tool allows you to create a geo-located official or citizen proposal, to associate documents with it, to browse through the proposals and to apply filters to them.
  • The results tool transforms proposals into findings or decisions, making public an official response to their acceptance or rejection.
  • The monitoring tool offers the possibility of dividing action decisions into unit projects, the implementation of which is reported with a progress report module.
  • The survey tool can be used to design and publish surveys and polls and display their results.
  • The comments tool allows users to comment on proposals, rate them by voting, respond and react to responses by receiving notifications.
  • The voting tool offers the possibility to apply several voting modes to proposals: unlimited, limited, weighted, budgeted, etc.
  • The pages tool allows you to create pages with information content including formatted texts, images and videos.
  • The face-to-face meetings tool allows you to convene meetings, manage their location and date as well as the registration of participants, and then publish the minutes of the proceedings and the results of the discussions.
  • The conference tool (coming soon) allows you to create a website associated with a thematic conference with specific organisational tools (registration, workshops, programme, speakers, etc).
  • The newsletter tool is available to send a newsletter to people registered on the platform, or more selectively to those concerned by a particular area (to come).

These tools therefore give real substance to the various participation approaches and provide a framework for the various forms that citizens' contributions to the platform can take. In order to contribute and/or vote, users must first go through a verification of their identity, which is potentially carried out in several stages designed to certify the seriousness and credibility of the platform.

Classification of participants


The participants in a Decidim platform can be divided into three categories, corresponding to greater or lesser possibilities of interaction with the platform's content:

  • Visitors can see all the content of the platform without registering.
  • Registered members can contribute to the platform: after providing a username, a pseudonym, a password and an email address (or identification via certain social networks), they can comment, make proposals, send messages and follow certain participants or events, receive notifications.
  • Verified Members have a broader level of participation. They can be accredited as a member of an organisation, or as a resident/voter of a municipality, or belong to a group with organisational or decision-making power (association, community, collective, etc). Once their status is confirmed, they can register for meetings, advocate for proposals, sign petitions and vote in consultations.

Participants can register individually or as a member of an association or organisation. Profiles representing groups of users can be created with the possibility to express themselves either collectively or individually. Notification preferences can be configured for both individual and group statuses.


More than free software, a real community


Decidim surpasses in quality anything we have seen in terms of free civic tech software. A dozen developers regularly contribute to the project, GitHub issues (problems in the code, filed on the GitHub centralisation platform) are dealt with in a few hours, answers are given to you in a few minutes on Gitter (an instant messenger dedicated to GitHub users) and the application is 98% covered by unit tests - i.e. each tool is tested individually to check that it works properly. These few details perfectly illustrate the dynamism of the Decidim project and the technical quality of its development, which make the platform a project intended for the long term and for the constant improvement of its functionalities.

It was while we were at the Decidim Jam, the annual conference that brings the community together around the tool, that we got a sense of what was behind the code. Decidim is run by a community of several hundred people from all walks of life. Citizens, developers, designers, public officials, politicians and researchers come together to co-construct this participation tool, which is envisaged as a real common ground that everyone brings to life through their contributions.

The community is organised around 4 main bodies:

  • An inter-municipal coordination group, composed of users who share their experiences and provide part of the funding;
  • A research group(Decidim Lab) bringing together researchers from 3 different universities, who organise meetings, conferences, debates..;
  • SOM decidim (physical) and Metadecidim (digital) which are the meeting and working spaces to co-construct the tool.

They are organised around five areas of reflection: tech, governance, research, user experience and mobilisation. It is on that new features are decided and planned. The diagram below describes the process of emergence, adoption and development of any new feature that the community wants to add to Decidim.

It can be seen that this process is relatively elaborate but still flexible, which illustrates the initial spirit of building Decidim. Thus, even the governance of Decidim (the addition of new features) is open, which allows full transparency of the process and less freedom of interpretation for the developers; the code is under the direct control of the institutions and the citizens.

To complement this process, it should be noted that there are also companies, including Open Source Politics, that maintain, develop new features and provide services around Decidim for institutions.

These specificities of Decidim's development organisation make it a particularly active digital tool. The advantage of adopting such a tool lies mainly in the automatic inclusion within a large panel of users who share their experience of the platform and thus guide any newcomer. It is also a question of building software that satisfies a maximum of possible uses, in a maximum of possible situations.

Test the tool on our demo instance

Open Source Politics is a company that develops participatory democracy platforms for public, private and associative actors. Contact us if you want to get involved in a consultation process or a participatory budget using civic-tech tools!


Decidim, the European-wide platform for citizen participation

Decidim, the European-wide platform for citizen participation

Decidim, the European-wide platform for citizen participation

This article on Decidim (citizen participation platform) is based on a series of conversations we had with Pablo Aragon, Xabier Barandiaran, Josep Jaume[1] and many other contributors to the open source project Decidim.

Invited in April 2017 to the event "Gouverner la ville autrement" organised by Grand Lyon and Le Monde, we met Francesca Bria, Head of Innovation of the Barcelona municipality, and discovered at the same time their new platform Decidim: an open source framework for digital citizen participation.

Where does the Decidim citizen participation platform come from?

The platform was launched in February 2017, a few months after the new municipality took office. The election of Barcelona en Comù's candidates to the city council came about in part throughthe identification of ultra-localized issues - Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, was herself a co-founder of the Platform of Victims of Mortgage Credit(Plataforma d'Afectats per la Hipoteca), an association created in response to the Spanish housing crisis. Anchored in local solutions, the City Council also had to think about the wider scale of the city and its surroundings from the outset: the different cities in the Catalan agglomeration had to be able to use dedicated and autonomous participation spaces on Decidim.

One of the main points of Barcelona en Comù's candidacy was its affiliation with the Indignant movement, and the adoption of the latter's demand for open democracy. This demand, which was directed against the practices of the Spanish political class as a whole, fed the reflection on the adoption of a digital platform that would facilitate the participation of all in municipal decision-making.

The need to multiply the points of view, in other words the need for inclusion, was thus expressed in the elaboration of the participatory process for the construction of the Action Plan of the city and the agglomeration. The people involved felt that a digital platform was necessary, and that it was important to use open source technology for this process in order to guarantee transparency and mutualisation. Initially, they thought of adapting the technology of the, Consul. Very quickly, the project team realised the difficulty of adapting the tool to the needs of the city of Barcelona, whose functionalities had been designed in the specific political context described above.

The same was true for the few other available tools, relatively few in number, which were studied before the construction of the Decidim citizen participation platform: e-petitions platform (United Kingdom), Your Priorities (Iceland), Open Irekia (Basque Country). The technical environment of the future tool was thus rather poor, and none of these platforms fully met the needs of the daily management of local institutions.

This multifactorial context led the new Barcelona City Council directly to the need to create a flexible tool. Its multiple configuration options would allow administrators to ensure that the participation features could be adapted to specific local needs. The modularity of the platform would therefore allow the platform to be used in extremely different contexts, from ultra-localized scales to the entire agglomeration and beyond, which required extremely advanced configuration possibilities for the platform.

The city of Barcelona then invested several hundred thousand euros in the development of Decidim. At the same time, the awarding of public contracts was evolving, which allowed the city to choose a consortium of several Barcelona SMEs at the cutting edge of innovation in the field of web development. From the outset, this public order was designed to avoid dependence on a single service provider: the contract was divided into several lots and an ecosystem of three or four companies shared the functionalities to be developed according to their preferred field. Within a few months, the first version of the software was released and several thousand citizens participated in the co-construction of the municipal action plan.

As one of the leaders of the project presented in an interview, the main objective of the development of Decidim was to build a tool that centralises numerous functionalities making multiple citizen participation in city policy possible. According to him, more than allowing a 'simple' participatory budget, it was necessary to allow discussion between residents on the widest possible range of subjects related to municipal policy. Thus, the city needed a tool that was halfway between a platform focused exclusively on technical and efficient decision-making and a social (and political) network. Decidim achieves this hybridity and sets itself up as a counter-model to the large American platforms by providing open source code and a structure that guarantees user privacy, transparency and independence from private structures. The team in charge of the project also wants the platform to establish, intrinsically to the code, respect for individual digital rights and equality [see the article on Decidim's social contract].

In addition to Barcelona, Decidim has been deployed in a dozen municipalities in Spain, and is about to be used more widely across Europe (Turin, Helsinki, etc.) and in national institutions (Federal State of Belgium). These institutions are part of a movement where sharing experience, inclusion, collaboration, transparency, pooling of resources and respect for personal data are at the heart of the construction of a digital participatory democracy.

This expansion of the use of the tool at the European level is one of Decidim's crucial projects in order to gather an ever-increasing number of experiences and thus potential developments of the platform. The new functionalities planned (and already financed) will therefore allow Decidim to become the reference platform for participatory democracy in Europe.

Since last summer, Open Source Politics has adapted the software to French-speaking needs. We have deployed it for several French institutions, including the Angers town hall, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and the Commission Nationale du Débat Public. Open Source Politics is now an official partner of Decidim and is highly motivated to participate in its development and adoption in France and Europe.

1] Pablo Aragon is a researcher at Pompeu Fabra University and Xabier Barandiaran is a professor of philosophy at the University of the Basque Country. Josep Jaume Rey is co-founder of the computer development company Codegram, which is involved in the code of the Decidim platform.

Open Source Politics is a company that develops participatory democracy platforms for public, private and associative actors. Contact us if you want to get involved in a consultation process or a participatory budget using civic-tech tools!


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