Participation project name: Decide Madrid

How the CONSUL DEMOCRACY software came to life in Madrid

The Consul Democracy software emerged from a transformative period of social conflict—the renowned anti-austerity protests in Spain known as the 15M or Indignados movement. Born out of the desire for real democracy, this movement brought together thousands of citizens who took to the streets in protest.

In this best-case scenario, we will explore how the citizen participation culture in Madrid evolved from its grassroots origins and became a global reference for establishing digital citizen participation in the long-run.

In response to the public outcry, the city of Madrid recognised the need for citizen engagement and took a proactive step in 2015 by developing a participation software. This marked the birth of the CONSUL DEMOCRACY Software: a digital participation tool conceived in the spirit of co-creation between citizens and governments, with values centered around transparency and openness.

Madrid's success story - measurable impacts in the long run

As illustrated in this article, the Decide Madrid platform was successful from the very first year in engaging citizens in a project to remodel the city’s Plaza de España, where 26,961 citizens voted and commented on the proposals.

Between 2015 and 2018 the number of participants rose from 45.000 to over 90.000 thousands and the budget allocated to participatory budgeting rose from 30 millions in the first cycles to 100 millions in 2018, earning the project the UN Public Service Awards.

Open source and global expansion

The success in Madrid quickly gained global attention, thanks to its open-source nature, adaptability to diverse participation processes, and scalability. Its adoption extended beyond Spanish municipalities and reached Latin America, where it found further acceptance. This expansion led to the evolution of CONSUL DEMOCRACY into a global democracy project, known today as the CONSUL DEMOCRACY Project, steered by the Consul Democracy Foundation. The Consul Democracy Foundation was in fact established by a coalition of civil society organisations with the purpose of supporting governments in their journey towards digital citizen participation with a tool and network they can trust.

Today the CONSUL DEMOCRACY software is used worldwide in 39 countries by approximately 200 governments and 90 million citizens.

Surviving a change of government

A change in political landscape is one of the most common fears for all actors involved in establishing new ways to enable citizen participation. Will the commitment for participation fade away? Will the results be taken into consideration? These questions are all the more pertinent when the commitment for opening up decision-making processes to citizen participation are tied to political leaders.

In the specific context of Madrid, the Mayor Manuela Carmena was the political leader supporting this change with the participation platform Decide Madrid. It is her coalition “Ahora Madrid” that included in its electoral program a commitment to implement tools for citizen participation through the Internet and created Decide Madrid to implement this commitment.

In June 2019, a change of government took place in the municipality of Madrid. The left coalition was defeated by the conservative right.

As highlighted in a recent paper, despite such a strong change in government, Decide Madrid has remained an integral part of policy-making processes. The new government keeps using the Decide Madrid platform and further implements digital participation processes including participatory budgeting and bottom-up processes such as the ‘citizen’s initiatives’.

Positive impacts for the democratic culture

According to a recent study the launch of the platform Decide Madrid led to lasting positive impacts on the democratic structures, such as an increase in knowledge of participation opportunities among citizens and higher satisfaction with the government’s performance.

Another article shows a connection between the Decide platform and the economic landscape of Madrid, as Madrid's per capita GDP has surpassed the national average by 36.1%. The data suggests a positive correlation between participatory budgeting and local economies, as demonstrated by the success of Madrid's economic growth.

Ensuring continuity and institutionalisation

A crucial factor in successfully establishing citizen participation with new tools is implementing internal changes to ensure a long-lasting success.

Upon assuming office, the Ahora Madrid government took a significant step by establishing the General Directorate for Citizen Participation, a specialised department responsible for coordinating participatory processes.

By integrating the participation platform Decide Madrid into the city's policy-making processes, there has been a noticeable shift in the perception of staff from various departments regarding direct citizen involvement. Moreover, internal collaboration with other departments has been remarkably high, indicating a strong institutionalisation at the internal level. As a result, the continuity of the participation culture with the CONSUL DEMOCRACY software appears to be secured, at least for the foreseeable future with the new government in place.

Behind the scenes in Madrid

Simon Strohmenger, new director of the CONSUL DEMOCRACY Foundation went in person to Madrid in April 2023 and had the chance to see with his own eyes, how the government change impacted the participation culture. There, he had the opportunity to meet the people responsible for citizen participation and observe the structures in place from within.

In Madrid, the offices for citizen participation are not tucked away in small corner rooms or separate buildings. Instead, they occupy an entire floor with 60 staff members dedicated solely to citizen participation in the main city hall.

One noticeable change since the new government is in place is the budget reduction for the participatory budget processes. Previously there was an annual citizen's budget of over 100 million euros, which the citizens could freely decide upon. Now citizens can make proposals on a budget of 50 million euros every two years.

However, the new government firmly believes in the effectiveness of bottom-up participation processes and encourages other governments to take the risk as well.

Maria Pía Junquera Temprano, General Director of Public Governance of the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Function, emphasised in fact the importance of bottom-up processes, as it enables citizens to make proposals and actively shape their environment.

Participation is expensive but it’s worth it. We must give the citizens the freedom to become actively involved themselves. Only then will it work but it should be well-structured."


Author: Ingrid Woods

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