The European metropolis of Lille: building a public policy of participation

The European metropolis of Lille: building a public policy of participation

Case study - The European metropolis of Lille: building a public policy of participation

Open Source Politics accompanies the European Metropolis of Lille for one year in the development of its participation policy. It was therefore an opportunity to exchange with Delphine Eslanof the MEL's Concertation and Citizenship service, to review the work done since the service was launched in 2014.

When you have chosen Open Source Politics to accompany you in the realization of your digital and physical participative approaches, the European Metropolis of Lille already had a certain tradition of citizen participation. Could you retrace this history for us? When did the MEL decide to promote this way of building its public policies?

Delphine Eslan: Before 2014 and the metropolitan elections, the cross-cutting dimension of participation was not particularly exploited since the two mechanisms in place (regulatory consultations and the Development Council) did not have the ambition to feed into each other.

The change of executive and the arrival of Damien Chastelain as president has spurred profound changes in the vision and treatment of citizen participation at the metropolitan level. The Mission Concertation et Citoyenneté was created on this occasion, but its roadmap has not been defined.

We therefore had to build our own roadmap, in agreement with the elected representatives, of course. We decided to submit the elaboration of the participation policy to the inhabitants of the territory. The elected representatives were very much involved in this "Citizen's Factory", which gave birth to a Charter of Citizen Participation. This Charter still gives us the orientations of the Metropolis on the subject, the methodologies to be followed and a precise action plan. Finalized at the end of 2016, this Charter was voted on by the Metropolitan Council on December 2.

We didn't have Decidim at the time, so from December 2015 we had to adapt the back-office of the website at that time. The consultation that led to the Charter also made it possible to raise this necessity: the Metropolis had to equip itself with a dedicated digital tool. In mid-2016, a call for tenders in this respect was therefore issued to all civic tech companies. At the beginning of 2018, after an initial trial, we adopted Decidim, the free software proposed by Open Source Politics.

Let's now get more into the practice of participating in MEL. A metropolis has an often complicated position to manage within the French political-administrative organization. The lack of recognition often observed sometimes makes citizen participation difficult. How do you determine which themes are relevant to be submitted for consultation?

We are a department that is intended to support the technical departments. We are focused on MEL's skills, which allows us to easily fit into the French political-administrative organization since it is the services that come to us with a willingness to integrate participation in the construction of their public policy. We therefore have few conflicts of competence.

MEL's Decidim platform is one tool among many, but services often enter into participation through this tool; it is up to us to show them how to take into account the different participatory modalities. The relevance of a theme for participation often depends on the participatory mechanism put in place.

If we take the specific example of the concertation on walking, could you describe how you built this approach?

The concertation on walking is a good example of virtuous concertation: it has been well anticipated since the Walking Plan is to be finalised in 2020. We have developed a process that makes it possible to work on the concertation targets and the ecosystem to be mobilized. In addition, we have to add to this the time needed to shape the approach that we want to propose to citizens: we wanted to use digital technology to establish the diagnosis and to add face-to-face devices to it.

An exploratory city walk proved to be very helpful in confirming the diagnosis. Our Decidim platform also allowed us to draw lots from the proposals we evaluated during the Fab'MEL, by inviting project leaders to come and pitch their proposals before the participants present improved them thanks to a workshop in an open forum format.

This approach is therefore, in my opinion, the result of a beautiful hybridization very well managed by Decidim: it is possible to jointly manage digital and other modes of participation. We wanted to refute the technological solutionism that is sometimes present today, both among elected officials and civil servants.

The Urban Exploratory Walk, an alliance between digital and physical forms of participation

How did you ensure the impact of citizen contributions?

At the end of the consultation on walking, the department concerned drew up an analysis report establishing major trends in the profiles of walkers in Metropolitan France. It is complicated to define what will come out of this process beforehand. The outcome of a public policy construction process is often in the form of a technical and financial analysis that is difficult to get out of the services.

When the approach includes participation, it is even more necessary to provide feedback to participants on the impact of their contribution, through a feedback event and on the Decidim platform. This is why we are striving to standardize the output format beyond the consultation on the march. In particular, a standard framework for consultation assessment has been produced following another consultation process (on mobility), which clearly illustrates this need.

Indicating at the outset of the process the impact of the contributions will have increases citizens' confidence in the process.

Have the services been trained? If so, how?

We organized several optional one-day training sessions on the Charter. Three additional days of training, focusing specifically on project methodology, were then conducted with a consulting firm in consultation.

Now, some departments are making specifications for AMOs without us; they have become autonomous and that's good! We don't have time to do everything. On the other hand, given that we have the expertise of the Decidim platform and that we manage its administration, any willingness to use it requires our involvement in the participative approach.

What are the next projects you would like to work on between now and the municipal elections?

The Charter provides for an assessment of our action. In parallel with the consultation processes which must be accompanied between now and then, it is this assessment which awaits us. With hindsight, we find that the Charter is very technical and not very accessible to the general public. It could, however, be a moral contract between the MEL and the citizens, but it is not drafted as such. It is only for internal use; it is a good start, but we should now be able to project ourselves.

Finally, we would like to work on indicators to evaluate the consultation processes that we are putting in place. For example, we have in the drawers the idea of setting up a "citizen label" that would appear in official documents to distinguish the added value that comes from consultation. So we have a lot of projects, and a lot of enthusiasm to take them forward!

Comment mettre organiser un budget participatif : le cas d’Angers

Comment mettre organiser un budget participatif : le cas d’Angers

Case study - The first participatory budget of the city of Angers

The first participatory budget of the city of Angers was completed at the beginning of November. It is an opportunity to look back on this experience and to establish good practices to make this essential consultation process a success.

Designing a PB, mobilizing citizens, the role of services, let's take a look at best practices for building the city together!

Angers has entered a club that is less and less closed: 90 French cities will have a participatory budget in 2018, compared to only 25 two years earlier. In addition to equipping itself with a digital tool to steer its approach, the city has thus been able to benefit from the experiments carried out elsewhere. These lessons have directly benefited the municipal team, and the success is there: the figures below place Angers in the high range of the first editions of a municipal participatory budget.

Find here the Le Monde article detailing the French context of the BP.

The 7 successive phases of this first BP angevin extend over the whole year 2018 (if we do not count the realization of the winning proposals). As you can imagine, they allow residents to propose projects and then choose those that will be carried out by the city the following year.

Home page of the platform

Achieving a successful participatory budget in 7 phases

The precise division of a PB into seven steps gives security to all stakeholders, whether citizens, city services or political authorities.

Phase one. Design: how to ensure the impact of participation?

Once the political will établie - c 'is the first basis indispensable - nous was able to start the design of the approach itself. The advantage of a participatory budget is undeniable for citizens who, by participating, decide on the use of part of their city's budget. They have the guarantee that their expression is transformed into impact. Understandable and sequenced, the steps build a citizen's journey amplified by digital technology that promotes participation through its clarity.

Decidim's citizen path: functionalities integrated in a step-by-step approach

In Angers as elsewhere, the definition of the criteria for the admissibility of proposals and the assembly of an efficient project team are the two points that need to be specified and clarified before the launch of the system. It is on the basis of these criteria that the city council will have to decide whether or not to accept the proposals from residents and transform them into projects submitted to a vote.

In the advice we provide to the institutions we work with, we ensure that these criteria are objective and easy to analyse in order to prevent the irruption of arbitrary or subjective biases. The city of Angers decided on the rules of this participatory budget before the opening of the platform. This eliminates the risk of misunderstanding, or even frustration, with regard to the process and mechanically increases the confidence of the inhabitants in the exercise.

Coordinating the smooth running of a participatory budget requires a significant involvement of the administration. A project team had to be assembled from the outset. At the centre of all consultation processes, the Citizen Participation Mission brings together the various skills and responsibilities. Our team has trained and accompanied it over the weeks for an optimal use of Decidim.

Phase two. Proposal: how to encourage contributions?

Between the beginning of February and mid-April, the phase during which the inhabitants could directly propose their ideas for the participatory budget was intended to open up different channels of expression for the Angevin people. The hybridization between face-to-face participation and digital participation was particularly emphasized during this phase. While the majority of proposals were submitted directly online by the promoters, six meetings were organised inMarch, covering all the city's districts, to attract different audiences by diversifying the contribution methods.

Example of a proposal on the Decidim platform of Angers

The proposal submission functionality is one of the most advanced features of the Decidim platform, with its automatic comparison of similar proposals, and the possibility for the user to fill in a category, a neighborhood, an address and an attachment. Some proposals have been really enriched by long exchanges of comments between several interested inhabitants.

Phase Three. Evaluation: which proposals should be filtered?

Once the proposal submission phase is complete, the evaluation phase is the responsibility of the municipality. By exporting directly from the platform, it consists in checking that the proposals comply with the admissibility criteria defined and indicated to the public as soon as the participatory budget is launched. The Angers City Council, through its Citizen Participation Mission, has worked hard on transparency requirements during the participatory budget process. Thus, during the evaluation stage, each user who submitted a proposal received a public response directly on the page of his or her proposal.

Screenshot of the platform

Phase four. Feasibility: to what extent should projects be anticipated?

After the first filtering of the criteria, the Citizen Participation Mission distributed and transferred the admissible proposals to the competent services at the end of the spring in order for them to assess their technical and regulatory feasibility, as well as their cost. After receiving a private message from the City directly on the platform, the project leaders had the opportunity to discuss and meet the department in charge of analysing their proposal during a meeting, which also greatly helped transparency.

Carried out over the summer months in the case of Angers, this work is intense for the administration, especially when it was necessary to go back and forth with the project leaders in order to clarify and possibly merge certain proposals. However, this workload can be greatly reduced by developing good interaction with the various departments that study the proposals.

Phase Five. List of projects and Voting: how to maximize citizen mobilization?

At the beginning of the school year, the final list of projects submitted for voting is presented to residents on the Decidim platform and in a printed brochure. Each project contains a budget quotation, a detailed presentation, an illustration and, to ensure the traceability of the process, a link with the citizen proposal(s) that inspired it. Voting comes next: during this phase, Angers continued to combine digital and physical participation, among other things by installing an Agora on Place du Ralliement, the largest square in the city.

Physical votes for participatory budget projects

Vote online on

The Citizen Participation Mission also had a greater physical presence in all the city's neighbourhoods to enable everyone to vote for 18 days (three weekends), with each resident choosing the five projects that he or she felt were most relevant to the city's future. The proposals are located on a map of the city and it is possible to filter them by category and neighbourhood.

These high points allowed the project leaders to present their projects and the participants to vote by paper ballot or online on the Decidim platform with tablets; direct contact is an essential key to mobilize the maximum number of residents.

The Agora of the participatory budget on the Place du Ralliement


Phase Six. Validation: how should the political agreement be highlighted?

As soon as the voting phase is over, the results counting stage begins. During this phase, the Citizen Participation Mission counts the paper ballots in the presence of elected representatives from the majority and the opposition. The paper and online votes are compiled to obtain and present the final list of winning projects by the mayor at a public event and accessible on the platform.

As in many other equivalent approaches, paper votes outnumber online votes.

In the regulations of the participatory budget, the City Council has undertaken to integrate the winning projects of the 2018 vote and their amounts into the investment section of the initial 2019 budget that will be proposed to the vote of the City Council in March 2019.

Phase 7. Realization: how to enable the collaborative transformation of the city?

The latest étape - la plus longue - constitue is the culmination of this year of participation by the Angevin-es in writing the future of their city. The realization of the projects must take place within two years and the holders of the winning projects will be involved in this last stage. The "Follow-up" functionality will be activated on Decidim to document at regular intervals the realisation of the winning projects.


We are proud and happy to have accompanied the Angers City Council on this first intense and conclusive participatory budgeting process. We are already passing on the good practices put in place in the framework of the participatory budget of the Angers town hall to other institutions. After the department of Loiret and the city of Romainville (93), Nanterre (92) and Saint-Jean de Braye (45) are launching their first participatory budget on Decidim at the end of 2018.

Open Source Politics is working with Decidim, a true digital commons that has shared governance and shared success stories in its DNA. We are therefore building step by step with our Club of French-speaking users of the platform a support community in which each member organisation can benefit from the know-how of the others, thus enabling them to get started while increasing their chances of success.

What's new in version 0.12 of Decidim

What's new in version 0.12 of Decidim

What's new in version 0.12 of Decidim

We took advantage of the summer to upgrade our instances of Decidim to version 0.12. This is an opportunity to present you the main improvements of this important update, especially in terms of graphics. The Decidim version upgrades are going on very quickly with the goal of a v1 in November. We haven't made a dedicated article since v0.9, but you can find the detailed changelog of versions 0.10 and 0.11 onthe official project blog.

Named "Ada Lovelace" in honor of the first female programmer in history, version 0.12 introduces a new design of some essential platform components. Initially designed as a v1.0, this update was not considered stable enough by the developers. The iteration cycle therefore continues, with the prospect of a more complete version 1 at the next Decidim JAM in November. The roadmap was updated last May.

Three expected innovations have arrived with the 0.12 update of Decidim: new cards of proposals and meetings, the integration of real personal profiles of users and a first version of the search engine.

Proposal and meeting cards

They have been completely redesigned to increase their readability, accessibility and attractiveness.

New proposal maps on Decidim

New map of a meeting on Decidim

Users' personal profiles

They have also been revised to accentuate the platform's role as a social network. Although the most important changes on this point will take place in the next update, version 0.12 already introduces substantial modifications.

Notifications are now directly integrated into user profiles.

Search engine

The last important feature of this new version is the first prototype of the search engine, which will eventually cover the entire platform, but which already allows to search on any proposal or meeting integrated into Decidim.

Example of a search result

Would you like to discover Decidim in action before launching a consultation in your city, your company or your association?

We have updated our demonstration instance.

Contact us to access his admin panel.


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

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