Data

General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Specific Topics
Government Transparency
Collections
OECD Project on Representative Deliberative Processes
Location
Madrid
Community of Madrid
Spain
Scope of Influence
City/Town
Files
newDemocracy's proposal for Madrid Council "The City of Madrid Citizens’ Council"
¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid.
Reglamento Orgánico del Observatorio de la ciudad
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Approach
Co-governance
Evaluation, oversight, & social auditing
Consultation
Spectrum of Public Participation
Empower
Total Number of Participants
49
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
Stratified Random Sample
Targeted Demographics
Low-Income Earners
Elderly
Women
General Types of Methods
Long-term civic bodies
Direct democracy
Deliberative and dialogic process
General Types of Tools/Techniques
Facilitate dialogue, discussion, and/or deliberation
Legislation, policy, or frameworks
Propose and/or develop policies, ideas, and recommendations
Specific Methods, Tools & Techniques
Citizens’ Assembly
Citizens' Jury
Citizens' Initiative Review
Referendum
Legality
Yes
Facilitators
Yes
Facilitator Training
Professional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Ask & Answer Questions
Storytelling
Information & Learning Resources
Written Briefing Materials
Expert Presentations
Decision Methods
General Agreement/Consensus
Voting
If Voting
Majoritarian Voting
Super-Majoritarian
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
New Media
Traditional Media
Type of Organizer/Manager
Local Government
Funder
Madrid City Council & the Department of Citizen Participation, Transparency and Open Government
Type of Funder
Local Government
Staff
Yes
Volunteers
Yes
Evidence of Impact
Yes
Types of Change
Changes in how institutions operate
Changes in civic capacities
Changes in people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior
Implementers of Change
Elected Public Officials
Appointed Public Servants
Lay Public
Formal Evaluation
No

CASE

El Observatorio de la Ciudad (The City Observatory)

14 novembre 2020 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
18 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
13 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
12 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
10 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
9 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
8 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
7 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
5 ottobre 2020 martincarrascosod
30 settembre 2020 martincarrascosod
1 settembre 2020 martincarrascosod
30 agosto 2020 martincarrascosod
General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Specific Topics
Government Transparency
Collections
OECD Project on Representative Deliberative Processes
Location
Madrid
Community of Madrid
Spain
Scope of Influence
City/Town
Files
newDemocracy's proposal for Madrid Council "The City of Madrid Citizens’ Council"
¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid.
Reglamento Orgánico del Observatorio de la ciudad
Start Date
End Date
Ongoing
No
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Purpose/Goal
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
Approach
Co-governance
Evaluation, oversight, & social auditing
Consultation
Spectrum of Public Participation
Empower
Total Number of Participants
49
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
Stratified Random Sample
Targeted Demographics
Low-Income Earners
Elderly
Women
General Types of Methods
Long-term civic bodies
Direct democracy
Deliberative and dialogic process
General Types of Tools/Techniques
Facilitate dialogue, discussion, and/or deliberation
Legislation, policy, or frameworks
Propose and/or develop policies, ideas, and recommendations
Specific Methods, Tools & Techniques
Citizens’ Assembly
Citizens' Jury
Citizens' Initiative Review
Referendum
Legality
Yes
Facilitators
Yes
Facilitator Training
Professional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Face-to-Face
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Ask & Answer Questions
Storytelling
Information & Learning Resources
Written Briefing Materials
Expert Presentations
Decision Methods
General Agreement/Consensus
Voting
If Voting
Majoritarian Voting
Super-Majoritarian
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
Public Report
New Media
Traditional Media
Type of Organizer/Manager
Local Government
Funder
Madrid City Council & the Department of Citizen Participation, Transparency and Open Government
Type of Funder
Local Government
Staff
Yes
Volunteers
Yes
Evidence of Impact
Yes
Types of Change
Changes in how institutions operate
Changes in civic capacities
Changes in people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior
Implementers of Change
Elected Public Officials
Appointed Public Servants
Lay Public
Formal Evaluation
No

The 'Observatorio de la Ciudad' is the world's first example of a permanent deliberative body—implemented in Madrid's City Council. However, it is also the first one to close down (only a few months after opening)—a fact which reveals the challenges of institutionalisation.

Problems and Purpose

Problems

In 2015, following the change of government in Madrid City Council, a citizen proposals platform (‘Decide Madrid’) was created; however after two years of functioning, it showed a major pitfall in its legitimacy mechanism. For proposals to be selected, they are first required to reach a minimum threshold of votes; only after they have reached this threshold are they considered by the Council’s Plenary, which may (or may not) pass the proposal and send it to referendum. The threshold—which worked to ensure the legitimacy of the process—was set at 2% at first of registered voters, and after no proposals reached the threshold, it was later changed to 1%. Despite this change, by 2018, only two out of 26 0000 citizen proposals had reached the minimum number of votes.[i] This difficulty to surpass the threshold jeopardised the selection process, risking that their selection would be less dependent on merit than on the campaigning effort (in a similar fashion to California’s direct initiatives),[ii] and thereby generating a pitfall in the legitimacy mechanism. There was also a concern that Decide Madrid—through its online discussion system, which is similar to Reddit—was not deliberative enough. There was also a concern that voters were not necessarily informed about proposals, which is arguably a key step in making (well-informed) decisions.[iii] 

In addition to the Decide Madrid platform, ‘local district forums' were created (one forum for each of the 21 districts). Nonetheless, as Mendiharat and Carson report, forums failed to reach everyday citizens and instead attracted already existing citizen organisations.[iv]

In light of these problems—as the report on Decide Madrid written by Participalab (a laboratory within Madrid Council’s participation branch ‘Medialab Prado’) points out—“[i]t became clear that Decide Madrid needed to enable channels for meeting, collaborating and forming groups for collective intelligence”.[v]

Purpose

The Observatorio was designed to complement the digital participation platform, and more widely, it was designed within the governing party's (Ahora Madrid) broader aim of extending citizen participation further. In this manner, the Observatorio aimed at providing an alternative way of legitimating the selection of citizen proposals by introducing 'stratified sortition' and 'deliberation' into the decision-making process. In this way, it aimed to overcome the threshold problem and the danger for the mechanism "being appropriated by populist movements or economic lobbies"; as well as providing a solution to other problems such as the need for extending citizen engagement beyond “the usual suspects”[vi], and covering the deliberation gap in the democratic process.

Background History and Context

After the Indignados movement (also known as 15-M), new parties emerged to represent some of the demands that emerged from the movement. In 2015, one of these parties, ‘Ahora Madrid’—born as a horizontal and assembly-based citizen initiative—won a supermajority at Madrid’s municipal elections with the support of PSOE (the traditional left party). After its election, the new Council created a ‘Participation Department’ (hereafter, ‘the Department’), and Pablo Soto (a well-known Spanish software developer) was appointed as head of the Department. At this stage, Soto started developing a digital participation platform for Citizen Proposals and Participatory Budgeting called ‘Decide Madrid’. The creation of the Department allowed for other projects to be developed, such as MediaLab, a laboratory for citizen participation, and within it, Participalab was created. The Department and ParticipaLab were closely connected, Councillors would come in and out, exchanging new ideas. [vii] In this spirit, ParticipaLab, motivated by the growing global evidence (Iceland, Ireland, Oregon) about the efficacy of sortition and deliberation, decided to organise a G1000 event in order to gain some experience and draw attention to these innovations. The event, in turn, prompted a search for a more serious format, for which ParticipaLab organised a series of workshops for generating new ideas.[viii]

During one of these workshops, a project combining digital participation with a Citizens’ Jury (called ‘Hybrid Democracy’)[ix] was selected to be further developed with the help of other volunteers. The Department got interested in the project and decided to attempt to implement it in Madrid City. To accomplish this task, researcher Arantxa Mendiharat was contracted together with Lyn Carson and the ‘newDemocracy Foundation’ to develop the project further.[x] After the project was finished and submitted by newDemocracy, it was further modified by the Department. Foreseeing the other parties opposition to the project, the Council decided to implement it at the highest level of municipal law (‘Ley Orgánica’). In order to accelerate the process, the Council decided to implement the project within the framework of an already existing transparency institution called the ‘Observatorio de la Ciudad’ (hereafter, ‘OC’) where officials were appointed by the governing party and "which had not organised any meetings for several years".[xi] The OC’s ‘Ley Orgánica’ regulation was finally passed by the Council’s Plenary on the 29th of January 2019 with the support of ‘Ahora Madrid’ and ‘PSOE’ (and rejected by the other parties). One of the main criticisms from the opposing parties was that the OC allegedly duplicates the Plenary’s functions.[xii]

Organising, Supporting, and Funding Entities

There were several actors involved in the design and institutionalisation of the OC, but the Department was in charge of providing the necessary resources for the smooth functioning of the OC. This includes organising the sessions, contacting experts, organising briefing papers, making sure rules are being followed, etc.[xiii] The Department’s Civil servants took part in the laborious sortition process of following up with each participant, i.e. responding to calls, and generating motivation and confidence among those who had been selected.[xiv]

The seven OC facilitators were employees from an existing contractor which specialised in facilitation; and on top of their qualification as facilitators, they received a two-day training which was organised with the help of the newDemocracy.[xv]

Ahora Madrid supported the creation of the OC because direct democracy and democratic innovation are among the core goals and principles of the political party.[xvi] The PSOE supported the OC because it was in a coalition with Ahora Madrid. 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Participants are recruited through stratified sortition. This recruitment method allows for the sample to (approximately) represent the population, and ensures that a diversity of perspectives (representative of the population) are included in the deliberation—in this way granting legitimacy to the OC’s decisions.

The OC is composed of 49 participants and 49 stand-ins. The sortition process begins by sending letters to 30,000 addresses selected by lot. These letters include information about the OC, as well as a survey asking for gender and age. 49 participants are selected through sortition according to quotas representative of Madrid's population: age (five groupings), gender (53% women in Madrid) and residential area (there are five areas which are grouped by income).[xvii] The same procedure is repeated for selecting stand-ins. Both stand-ins and participants are only allowed to take part in the OC once in their lives. Stand-ins replace participants in case of vacancy, absence or illness. Participants receive a stipend of 65€ per session.[xviii]

There is some information about why participants accepted the OC’s invitation. Ganuza and Menéndez (from now on ‘G&M’) conducted a short interview after the first session where seven participants—four women, and three men (representing 15% of the total)—were interviewed. G&M point out that all of them shared a common concern for their City as well as experiencing a day-to-day unease about how the city affairs were being carried out. Although this criticism of theirs was not enough for them to decide to enrol in the different participatory bodies available in the City (such as local district forums) or joining a local association, their dissatisfaction and critical attitude were decisive for accepting the OC’s invitation.[xix] Although this interview is informal and the sample too small, it can still provide an idea of some of the reasons why some participants decided to take part in the OC.

The president—like in Citizen Assemblies—ensures the neutrality of the deliberative process. The president is an external person who is recognised by all and is elected by simple majority. However, as Mendiharat points out, this is an unusual way of proceeding in Citizen Assemblies, as the president is usually allotted to someone accepted by all political parties; but in this case, it is the participants and not the political parties who select the president.[xx]

In the OC, participants are also responsible for selecting different ‘experts’ to answer the questions—according to the induction they received at the beginning of the first session, diversity is sought among experts in order to bring in different perspectives. In this respect, G&M point out that this is quite a challenging move, noting that in every debate organised under the principles of deliberative theory, it is necessary to ensure that participants have access to diverse (and opposed) perspectives about the matter of discussion. For this reason, this task is usually assigned to organisers, because it is an essential aspect for ensuring the quality of the debate.[xxi] In this way, although selecting experts has the potential of reducing external influence to a minimum, if misused (e.g. by failing to bring in different perspectives around a particular topic), it can jeopardise the deliberation process.

Methods and Tools Used

The OC’s design combines several established methods from existing experiences around the world for bringing a solution to Decide Madrid proposals’ failure to reach the 1% threshold, as well as aiming to improve the deliberative component of the process. According to the OC’s rules and regulations (Reglamento Orgánico),[xxii] the OC is a citizen participation body able to pass its own operating rules. According to Carson and Mendiharat,[xxiii] the OC has three main functions:

  1. Analyse and pass Decide Madrid proposals to a city-wide referendum—and in this way increase the chances for citizen proposals to go to referendum. However, according to the OC’s rules and regulations, there is an imperative to analyse the most voted proposal from Decide Madrid first. In case the proposal is not successful, the OC can also modify it and vote on it.
  2. The OC is responsible for setting its own agenda by passing its own proposals and sending them to referendum (it can modify a proposal, or create its own). More broadly, it is also responsible for analysing municipal policies.
  3. Making use of the OC as a built-in mini-public that can inform public-opinion and decision-making, the Plenary, the Mayor's Office or the Governing Board may also ask the OC to deliver reports on particularly significant policy issues which may need the assessment of the OC.

Additionally, the OC also elaborates a final report on the proposal, “gathering the most relevant findings that have helped in the decision-making process—following a simplified form of the CIR Oregon model” and summarising the reasons for and against the proposal.[xxiv] On top of this, the Council made a public commitment to send the OC's approved proposals to a referendum, thereby making the OC’s decisions binding. It may be observed that the OC counts with an unprecedented level of autonomy and power, as not only does it have the ability to set its own agenda and analyse municipal policy, but it is also a ("world first")[xxv] permanent binding deliberative body.

The OC closes a system of participative mechanisms for putting the citizen at the centre: (1) Decide Madrid’s citizen proposals are reviewed by a (2) deliberative mini-public (the OC) which may pass a citizen proposal—or elaborate its own—and ultimately submit it to (3) public consultation. Through this system, the OC realises a system of ‘double representativity’: public consultation on one side, and sortition on the other—which are two systems of representation.[xxvi]

In this manner, the OC may be said to fit in within what Mansbridge has termed “a systemic approach to deliberative democracy”,[xxvii] which focuses on the interdependence of the democratic institutions within the larger system—instead of focusing on individual sites of deliberation in legislative bodies.[xxviii] It is in this way that the OC closes a system of deliberative democracy whose sovereignty is directly dependent on the citizens from beginning to end, and in which politicians do not take part: the system begins within the wider citizenry through Local Forums and Decide Madrid proposals; proposals are later decided upon through deliberation by a representative sample of citizens, and whose decision is brought back to the wider citizenry through a city-wide referendum for deciding whether to approve or reject the proposal.

The OC can also be classified as a form of technodemocracy, as it is connected to the wider citizenry through the digital platform Decide Madrid with its more than 400,000 registered users.[xxix]

In terms of its functioning, the OC is subject to the rules and regulations stated under the ‘Reglamento Orgánico del Observatorio de la Ciudad’ (a document where certain parameters are specified). [xxx] The OC’s regulations also allow the OC to make its own operating rules (as long as these do not collide with the rules and regulations mentioned before). The Observatorio is meant to meet at least eight times per year, and it can also convene as many extraordinary meetings as it may require. The OC also counts with an information system available to its participants, which could be consulted at the Council’s institutional webpage. This system allows participants to keep up-to-date with the different policy areas (such as Strategic Plan, Government Plan, Budget).[xxxi]

For the deliberation process, participants gather in seven working groups, which get mixed around during the session in order to maximise deliberation. In order to avoid charismatic speakers among the experts, these are required to present their points in a round, moving from one table to another.[xxxii] Decisions should be taken through agreement. However, in case there is no consensus or a clear majority, participants are required to vote according to predefined majorities. There are two predefined majorities: in the case of voting for a Decide Madrid Proposal, a simple majority is required; and in the case of modifying a Decide Madrid proposal, or making a new proposal, or a proposal from the Council, an 80% majority is required.[xxxiii]

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The process for institutionalising the OC was quite long due to the challenges of establishing it at the highest level of municipal law (‘Reglamento Orgánico’) and the challenge for gaining support from other political parties.[xxxiv]

First session - March 30:

In the first session, all 49 participants were received by Mayor Manuela Carmena and the Department Councillor. There was an inaugural session for welcoming the OC, as well as explaining the OC’s functions and duties, and a brief explanation on how the Council works;[xxxv] there was question time, and after, there was a brief introduction on critical thinking and cognitive biases.[xxxvi] After this, participants proceeded to evaluate the first proposal: ‘Derecho a jugar’ (the right to play) which proposed a series of measures for a child-friendly Madrid.[xxxvii] The citizens who elaborated the proposal (which had been partly developed at MediaLabPrado) presented it to the participants, and another Q&A followed.

At the end of the session, in the limited time of one hour and a half, participants had yet to work out which additional information they required for making a decision, as well as choosing the experts. In relation to choosing the experts, participants filled in a form where they were asked what information they need for answering the question (from the list of questions made by participants) and who they trust to answer this question.

In the OC, the experts are selected by participants, a fact which according to G&M, generated some confusion because participants generally do not know experts.[xxxviii] At the end of the session, there was a call for volunteers for the vice-president role: one of the participants (a young man) volunteered. Mendiharat points out "everything went smoothly on the first session and the evaluation (participants were required to fill in a questionnaire) showed that participants were quite happy with the first day”.[xxxix] They also agreed on the agenda for the next session.[xl]

The ‘Department personnel’ had the task of gathering information. However, G&M observe that the proposal ended up being too large: it proposed a strategic plan oriented to develop the necessary norms and the infrastructure and to help improve children’s daily life—which is quite an extensive topic. The participants had trouble getting into terms with the proposal and being more specific when asking for information, which led the ‘Department personnel’ to ask for a large quantity of ‘raw’ information from other departments.[xli]

Unfortunately, before the second session could take place, municipal elections took place, and the governing party lost against an unprecedented coalition between the three right-wing parties (Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox—the new far-right party). The coalition decided to modify the OC back into a transparency body composed by senior officials, and in which there are no opposition members, thus leaving the OC’s participation component aside, alleging "that there is already enough participation through the local district forums and Decide Madrid".[xlii]

Notwithstanding, the backlash from the other parties did not come as a surprise, as they had already opposed the OC’s transformation into a participatory body since the beginning; and because in Spain it is a normal practice to dismantle everything that the previous party has done—either from the right or the left.[xliii] In Spain, there is significant political polarisation, and in the cities where there is a lot at stake—such as Spain's capital—polarisation is even stronger.[xliv] And furthermore, the OC was seen as part of the left-wing agenda.

Second session - June 8:

The second session took place as planned on the 8th of June. Participants began with the task of electing the President. The four candidates for the presidency came to the OC and introduced themselves. After listening to them, the participants voted, and a researcher and professor at the University of Salamanca was selected.

The next task was to continue evaluating the proposal from the first session. Briefing papers had been provided only a few days before the session—when they were supposed to receive it at least one week ahead. G&M observe that despite the fact that participants did not gather the information themselves, they also took it for granted and did not question it (a fact which may show the failure of the brief training on critical thinking and cognitive biases). At the same time, the two experts who came to the session shared a very favourable opinion about the proposal: one of them was the person in charge of the ‘Madrid City’s Children and Adolescence Department’, and the other was the representative of a Spanish municipality that stood out for its successful reforms for creating ‘a children’s city’. According to G&M, the result was a poor deliberative session compared to prior deliberative experiences. They reflect that this was probably due to the lack of diverging proposals: there was only one perspective, that of a very optimistic view of a children’s city.[xlv] However, the fact that participants were provided with a vast quantity of information containing a lot of raw data, demanded too much time and required a particular informational background in order to understand the information. Against these challenges in the deliberation process, G&M also note that organisers (personnel from the Department) and facilitators faced the challenge of finding a—methodological and operational—compromise between each other for both maintaining the OC’s autonomy while at the same time ensuring the deliberative component of the process.[xlvi]

Aside from the participants' difficulty processing such a large amount of ‘raw’ information, there were other difficulties. Throughout the course of the session, it seemed that a lot of procedures and timings were not clear to the participants. The functioning of the Observatory is complex and has multiple rules, so the morning saw participants struggling to understand them all. There was a general feeling that, overall, there was a lack of time and a sense of constantly running late. Participants voted on the proposal, and it did not go through. According to observers, this was due to participants feeling unsure and unready to vote for the proposal. This first decision gave participants the feeling that they were doing something, working with real rules. One participant noted that, after the vote, their work was making sense. Participants still seemed happy to participate and were getting more confident and even created a ‘WhatsApp’ group.

Some weeks after the second session, the new Council announced the closure of the newly-created OC. However, because the OC was instituted at the highest level of law, it took several months to close it. Meanwhile, the OC kept functioning with ever-decreasing means and with less motivation. The contract with the previous facilitation company ended, and the new Council did not renew it, and so, from the third session onwards, the facilitation was undertaken by the Department’s civil servants. On top of this, other changes took place as well: sessions were not open anymore to external observers (aside from political parties), and information about the OC’s work ceased to be published.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Due to the OC’s closure after the first session, it is not possible to talk about results in a straightforward manner, because although sessions continued, in the following sessions, the OC functioned with ever decreasing means.

In terms of its influence, the OC as a ‘world first’ permanent participatory body pushes the realm of possibility in deliberative and participatory democracy, not only by showing that there is demand for their institutionalisation—which is reinforced by the subsequent institutionalisation of Ostbelgien’s Citizen Council—but also by showing that a permanent—and autonomous—participatory body is possible. This is arguably an important benchmark for academics, policymakers and activists alike, as it represents a first step towards the permanent implementation of randomly selected deliberation bodies. And furthermore, it shows that there is an interest for taking these democratic innovations even further by equipping the OC with all the ‘extra’ features—such as setting its own agenda and analysing municipal policy—which grant the OC an unprecedented level of autonomy. Despite its closure, the OC has introduced some of the population to an alternative way of making decisions, especially to the traditional left (‘PSOE’), who defended the OC even after its closure. Consequently, the OC experience brings the possibility of implementing similar bodies in other cities or similar contexts.

Aside from being a world-first participatory body with extensive autonomy, the OC is also groundbreaking because it accomplishes a ‘system of double representativity’ —through public consultation and stratified sortition—where citizens are the only ones in charge of making decisions throughout the process.[xlvii] It also completes a deliberative democracy system composed of Local District Forums, an e-democracy component (Decide Madrid), and public consultation.

The OC more specifically is a mini public where the decision is made by its participants from beginning (agenda and even selecting experts) to end (passing the proposal). The OC also shows a potential way of connecting a mini public to the broader population by combining it with a digital citizen platform with more than 400,000 people registered, and with a referendum feature.[xlviii]

As Mendiharat and Ganuza point out in their book ‘La Democracia es posible’ (which translates into ‘Democracy is possible’), the OC brings in a completely novel political landscape where the political process is carried out by people who have been selected through sortition.[xlix] Both the OC and the Ostbelgien experiences bring in a new idea about how, as of today, citizens can be put at the forefront in our contemporary political systems.[l]

At a smaller scale, the exciting sortition process where the Council’s civil servants were so much involved in, must have left its mark; as well as the thousands of people who received the invitation to participate in the OC.[li]

After the OC’s closure, some of the participants organised a session at the square in front of Madrid’s old Council building as a protest against its closure—with the topic “No os quitamos los ojos de encima”,[lii] which translates into ‘we are not going to take the eyes off you’ (referring to Madrid City Council and possibly politicians in general). They were also joined by Ahora Madrid and PSOE.

Analysis and Lesson Learned

Despite the premature closure of the OC, it is still possible to draw some lessons from it—aside from the lesson that institutionalising a permanent participation body is a real possibility and that there is a demand for it. There are two different kinds of lessons to be drawn from the OC: (1) on one side, the OC's experience provides a sense of the complexity involved for developing it and the different mechanisms at play for the well functioning of such an institution; (2) and on the other side, it sheds light into the challenge of institutionalising a permanent participation body.

(2) In regards to the latter side (the OC’s closure), one of the possible mistakes is the lack of—or little—public debate and citizen involvement “around the creation of the Observatory”[liii] and its institutionalisation, which is ever more important “in a city (and country) with no public knowledge about civic lotteries (sortition) and deliberative processes”.[liv] Another mistake is the lack of a supermajority or agreement between all parties for institutionalising the OC. On the contrary, the OC was only supported by Ahora Madrid and PSOE, a fact which stands in stark contrast to Ostbelgien's Citizen Council, which was adopted unanimously. Due to strong political polarisation in Spain between left and right, and the fact that the OC was proposed from 'the left' may bring a rejection by ‘the right’ of similar initiatives in the future. However, this mindset may also change with future participation experiences. The general lesson then is that in order to institutionalise a permanent participation body, it is necessary to gain majority support, and potentially involve the wider population. As a side note to this, Carson and Mendiharat point out that,

“newDemocracy projects for cities/local government in Australia start with an all councillor workshop as a way of ensuring there is an understanding that any design is non-partisan and, thus, ensuring there is broad support for the innovation. This was not an option in Madrid and is a key reason for its immediate demise when there was a change in power.” [lv]

In this way, they conclude that the need for “joint ownership from elected representatives across political parties... is essential as a starting point for any deliberative design”.[lvi]

(1) On the other side, the OC hints at some important questions and lessons about its functioning. One of these questions is the desirability for the creation of a permanent set of rules (in this case the 'Ley Orgánica') rather than allowing for more operational flexibility. This problem is further accentuated by the lack of testing of the OC's rules before their institutionalization; which makes it impossible to change its procedures, and may have ultimately limited its autonomy and capacity to overcome its own inconsistencies. This limitation becomes more apparent when looking at the French Climate Convention, which shows a tendency to gain more autonomy over time. In the French case, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic—and despite the Government's restrictions on non-essential journeys—participants not only decided to make an online session, but they also (unexpectedly) adapted the agenda "to discuss the economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and how recovery measures could support climate action".[lvii] Had the OC run for a longer time, it would have been possible to see if the OC would have exercised its own autonomy, and been able to stand against the political interests of the governing party. However, the protest in which some participants took part after its closure already hints towards this possibility—and was helped by the autonomy of its president, who does not depend on any political party but acts in the OC’s own interest. The OC’s closure itself might also speak for the politicians’ fear about the OC’s powers.

In their article titled ‘Learnings from Madrid’,[lviii] Carson and Mendiharat point out some aspects of the OC which would need to be addressed. One of these issues is the OC’s imperative for analysing the most supported proposals as the OC’s primary task. Originally, the proposal by the ‘newDemocracy’ suggested that participants could pick any proposal from Decide Madrid, hence selecting proposals on their merit, and not based on votes. However, the Department was biased towards ‘being fair’ to the votes by Decide Madrid members. newDemocracy saw Decide Madrid more as a citizen platform for proposals—which highlighted problems and suggested ideas—and not so much as a representative voting system, because its users only amounted to 12% of the population. In this context, they also point out that the Department which reviewed the project did not have any prior experience with a citizens jury. This is arguably a crucial issue from which many errors may stem, because not only did the Department lack the experience but the wider culture in Madrid and Spain also lacked this experience.

Among the different lessons which can be drawn from the first and second session, there is one lesson which stands out: the realisation that the critical thinking and cognitive biases training that participants received in the inaugural session was insufficient—this was shown when participants did not even question the source nor the information they received in the second session. Critical thinking is a recurring issue in deliberative processes and which should by no means be underestimated. This issue is even more important considering that it is the participants who are in charge of selecting the information they need and are responsible to choose the experts; whereas in citizen juries, it is usually the organisers who ensure the deliberative quality of the process, in this case, it is the participants who are responsible for ensuring the variety of expert perspectives—and which the OC failed to accomplish in practice, thus showing the problem and requirement of critical thinking and knowledge about cognitive biases. Nonetheless, invoking Carole Pateman, “[p]articipation develops and fosters the very qualities necessary for it; the more individuals participate the better able they become to do so”.[lix] Thus, according to this view, the training required for participating can also be developed through the exercise of participatory democracy, which inherently provides the necessary social training for its practice—provided that the institutional conditions are right. In this way, the solution is to carry on with the OC and quite possibly, this criticality will be developed through time, assuming that there is the necessary context (institutional, social, economic).

Another problem hinted at by Carson and Mendiharat is the OC’s imperative to “report back quickly and ‘show progress’ rather than allowing participants the time they needed” to make one single final report instead of one report per session.[lx] One other aspect that needs improvement is the overloaded OC's agenda which is an obstacle to its core task, which can be summed up under the question of "what proposals are worth taking to a city-wide referendum?".[lxi] In regards to the available time for the OC to perform its tasks (8 Saturdays a year), it is also not premature to say that it lacked the necessary time to carry out its many tasks and functions. G&M also point out at the oddness of a situation where a Council—with no prior deliberative experience—makes the OC’s rules, highlighting the resulting tension with the deliberative dynamics which were performed by a facilitation company with broad experience on deliberative process.[lxii]

In order to solve this problem of overloading the OC with multiple and time-consuming tasks, some academics (such as Graham Smith) support the idea of dividing the different functions into different bodies, like in the case of Porto Alegre’s Participatory budgeting model; which is composed of three different bodies with different functions each: one for setting and applying the rules, another one for prioritising investments for allocating the budget, and sixteen popular assemblies where citizens bring ideas and elect delegates and councillors.[lxiii] In this way, the different responsibilities attached to the OC could be divided between different bodies.

Carson and Mendiharat also add that “needless complexity was also added through the President and Vice-President roles and other bureaucratic processes that took up valuable time”.[lxiv] There were also some lessons to be drawn in terms of the representativity of the OC’s population sample. G&M’s research points out that the OC was biased towards ‘the usual suspects’. OC participants filled in an inquiry whose result showed that 74% of them knew about Decide Madrid prior participating in the OC,[lxv] whereas a study shows that only 34% of Madrid’s population knows about it[lxvi]—a fact which shows that the OC did not entirely succeed at reaching much further than 'the usual suspects' (a balanced OC would have been one where only 34% of participants knew about the OC prior to receiving the invitation). This bias towards people who knew "Decide Madrid", may jeopardise the OC's representativity, because people who participate in the platform generally identify with the ideas of left-wing parties such as Ahora Madrid and PSOE. In this way, stratification and the representativity of the population sample is something that needs to be further improved—in order to better represent the population, with its different political ideologies, economic situation, immigrants, etc.[lxvii]

There is one last lesson from the OC which is worth bringing attention to: in a short interview after the first session, G&M found out that all seven interviewees shared a sense of criticality and dissatisfaction towards the way public policy was being carried out in the City, and despite this, they did not take part in political activity, but once they were given the option to take part in the OC—a citizen body with actual decision-making power—they decided to take part in it. This, in a way, demystifies the general sense that citizens are not interested in carrying out public affairs; they just need appropriate and efficient channels to exercise their will. Invoking Pateman once again, ‘democratic malaise’ is a function of context, rather than of the human being itself; and thus, by providing the appropriate context (institutions, social and economic conditions), democratic participation can take place and become desirable.

See Also

Ostbelgien’s Citizen Council

Decide Madrid: Online Participatory Planning

Madrid G1000

MediaLab Prado

References

[i] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019). Future Democracies, p. 17. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD.

[ii] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019), 35.

[iii] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019), 40.

[iv] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 1. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RD-Note-Learnings-from-Madrid.pdf.

[v] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019). Future Democracies, p. 46. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD.

[vi] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 2.

[vii] Yago Bermejo Abati (2020) Interview, 19 April [ParticipaLab project manager].

[viii] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019). Future Democracies, p. 86. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD.

[ix] Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia 2017: Convocatoria abierta a colaboradores | Medialab-Prado Madrid. (2020). Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://www.medialab-prado.es/convocatorias/inteligencia-colectiva-para-la-democracia-2017-convocatoria-abierta-colaboradores

[x] Medialab Prado, 2020. Democracia híbrida. Un camino hacia la democracia deliberativa” en Laboratorios ciudadanos. Experiencias en Medialab Prado (pending publication).

[xi] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 3. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RD-Note-Learnings-from-Madrid.pdf.

[xii] Bermejo, Yago et al. "Future Democracies". Internet Archive, 2019, https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD. Accessed 28 Sept 2020.

[xiii] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. p.106. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[xiv] Arantxa Mendiharat (2020) Interview, 20 April [Democracy R&D researcher].

[xv] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. p.106. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[xvi] Preguntas frecuentes | Ganemos Madrid. (2020). Retrieved 30 September 2020, from https://web.archive.org/web/20150408024255/http://ganemosmadrid.info/preguntas-frecuentes/

[xvii] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019). Future Democracies. p. 89. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD

[xviii] "Reglamento Orgánico Del Observatorio De La Ciudad (Reglamento Derogado) - Portal De Transparencia Del Ayuntamiento De Madrid". Transparencia.Madrid.Es, 2020, https://transparencia.madrid.es/portales/transparencia/es/Informacion-juridica/Huella-normativa/Reglamento-Organico-del-Observatorio-de-la-Ciudad....

[xix] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. p.105. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[xx] Arantxa Mendiharat (2020) Interview, 20 April [Democracy R&D researcher].

[xxi] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid, 107.

[xxii] "Reglamento Orgánico Del Observatorio De La Ciudad (Reglamento Derogado) - Portal De Transparencia Del Ayuntamiento De Madrid". Transparencia.Madrid.Es, 2020, https://transparencia.madrid.es/portales/transparencia/es/Informacion-juridica/Huella-normativa/Reglamento-Organico-del-Observatorio-de-la-Ciudad....

[xxiii] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 3. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RD-Note-Learnings-from-Madrid.pdf.

[xxiv] "Inteligencia Colectiva Para La Democracia 2017: Convocatoria Abierta A Colaboradores | Medialab-Prado Madrid". Medialab-Prado.Es, 2020. p. 90. https://www.medialab-prado.es/convocatorias/inteligencia-colectiva-para-la-democracia-2017-convocatoria-abierta-colaboradores. Accessed 28 Sept 2020.

[xxv] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 1.

[xxvi] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019). Future Democracies. p.91. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD

[xxvii] Mansbridge, J., Bohman, J., Chambers, S., Christiano, T., Fung, A., & Parkinson, J. et al. A systemic approach to deliberative democracy. Deliberative Systems, 1-26. pp.1-2. doi: 10.1017/cbo9781139178914.002

[xxviii] Mansbridge, J., Bohman, J., Chambers, S., Christiano, T., Fung, A., & Parkinson, J. et al. A systemic approach to deliberative democracy, p.1. Deliberative Systems, 1-26. doi: 10.1017/cbo9781139178914.002

[xxix]Yago Bermejo Abati (2020) Interview, 19 April [ParticipaLab project manager].

[xxx] See: Reglamento Orgánico, (also attached under the media section) https://sede.madrid.es/FrameWork/generacionPDF...

[xxxi] See: Reglamento Orgánico, p.10. (also attached under the media section) https://sede.madrid.es/FrameWork/generacionPDF...

[xxxii] Medialab Prado, 2020. Democracia híbrida. Un camino hacia la democracia deliberativa” en Laboratorios ciudadanos. Experiencias en Medialab Prado (pending publication).

[xxxiii] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019). Future Democracies. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD

[xxxiv] Arantxa Mendiharat (2020) Interview, 20 April [Democracy R&D researcher].

[xxxv] Observatorio de la Ciudad. (2019, March 30). [Presentation]. https://www.madrid.es/UnidadesDescentralizadas/ObservatorioCiudad/Documentos_Apoyo/Presentaciones...

[xxxvi] "Democracia Deliberativa." (2019, March 30). [Presentation]. https://www.madrid.es/UnidadesDescentralizadas/ObservatorioCiudad/Documentos_Apoyo/Presentaciones_2019-03-30/Material_Apoyo_Facilitacion/Democracia_Deliberativa.pdf

[xxxvii] https://decide.madrid.es/proposals/22742-derecho-a-jugar-para-un-madrid-mas-amigable-con-la-infancia

[xxxviii] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. p.107. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[xxxix] Arantxa Mendiharat (2020) Interview, 20 April [Democracy R&D researcher].

[xl] For further details about the first session, see https://www.madrid.es/UnidadesDescentralizadas/ObservatorioCiudad/Actas/Acta_2019-03-30/Acta_Sesion_Constitutiva.pdf

[xli] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. p.107. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[xlii] Lavan Guardia. (2020, Feb 25). Madrid elimina el Observatorio de la Ciudad heredado de Carmena. https://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20200225/473776329838/madrid-elimina-el-observatorio-de-la-ciudad-heredado-de-carmena.html

[xliii] Smith, G. (2019). Institutionalizing deliberative mini-publics in Madrid City and German Speaking Belgium – the first steps. Retrieved 30 September 2020, from http://constitutionnet.org/news/institutionalizing-deliberative-mini-publics-madrid-city-and-german-speaking-belgium-first

[xliv] Yago Bermejo Abati (2020) Interview, 19 April [ParticipaLab project manager].

[xlv] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. p.107. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[xlvi] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid, 106.

[xlvii] Bermejo, Y., Congosto, R., Durant, M., Mendiharat, A., Sauliere, S., & Abellán, A. et al. (2019). Future Democracies, p.91. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://archive.org/details/FutureDemocraciesLCPD

[xlviii] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 1. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RD-Note-Learnings-from-Madrid.pdf.

[xlix] Ganuza, E., & Mendiharat, A. (2020). La democracia es posible. Bilbao: Consonni, p. 142.

[l] Ganuza, E., & Mendiharat, A. (2020). La democracia es posible, 143.

[li] Yago Bermejo Abati (2020) Interview, 19 April [ParticipaLab project manager].

[lii] El Ayuntamiento aprueba el nuevo Observatorio de la Ciudad de Madrid - MADRID ACTUAL. (2020). Retrieved 30 September 2020, from https://www.madridactual.es/7705961-madrid-tiene-nuevo-observatorio-de-la-ciudad-sin-la-oposicion-ni-los-vecinos

Exvocales del Observatorio de la Ciudad convocan asamblea abierta este sábado: "Se monta, se exporta y se lo cargan". (2020). Retrieved 30 September 2020, from https://www.europapress.es/madrid/noticia-exvocales-observatorio-ciudad-convocan-asamblea-abierta-sabado-monta-exporta-cargan-20200228180425.html

Observatorio 49. (2020). Retrieved 30 September 2020, from https://twitter.com/Observatorio49/status/1232253636048302081?s=20

[liii] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 5. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RD-Note-Learnings-from-Madrid.pdf.

[liv] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, 4.

[lv] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020), 5.

[lvi] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020).

[lvii] Farand, C. (2020). Citizens' assemblies on climate change seek to shape the post-Covid recovery. Retrieved 30 September 2020, from https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/04/17/citizens-assemblies-climate-change-seek-shape-post-covid-recovery/

[lviii] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad.

[lix] Pateman, C. (1970). Participation and Democratic Theory, p. 43. Cambridge: Cambridge university press.

[lx] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 5.

[lxi] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, 5.

[lxii] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. P. 106. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[lxiii] Smith, G., n.d. Can Democracy Protect The Future?. 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity Press, p.108.

[lxiv] Mendiharat, A., & Carson, L. (2020). Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad, p. 5. Retrieved 28 September 2020, from https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/RD-Note-Learnings-from-Madrid.pdf.

[lxv] Ganuza, E., & Menendez-Blanco, M. (2020). ¿Te ha tocado? El sorteo llega a la política de Madrid. Recerca. Revista De Pensament I Anàlisi., (25), 95-110. P. 103. doi: 10.6035/recerca.2020.25.1.6

[lxvi] (2019). Retrieved 30 September 2020, from https://www.madrid.es/UnidadesDescentralizadas/Calidad/Observatorio_Ciudad/06_S_Percepcion/EncuestasCalidad/EncuestaMadrides/ficheros/2019/Informeinterdistrital_2019.pdf

[lxvii] Yago Bermejo Abati (2020) Interview, 19 April [ParticipaLab project manager].

External Links

Notes

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was challenging to do interviews. It would have been especially useful to interview either a Department civil-servant, a participant and the president. However, this was in some way counteracted by observers to the first session G&M, Mendiharat (who also took a major role in the design of the OC), and Yago Bermejo (who also helped with the OC as ParticipaLab manager).

In reference to the name 'Observatorio de la Ciudad', some articles written in English have translated it using either the name 'City's Observatory', or 'Observatory of the City'. This article refrains from translating it, as the ‘Observatorio de la Ciudad’ is a proper noun.