Political participation has a positive impact on democratic quality
30/03/2017
Ainhoa Sorrosal
A study performed by the UOC has analysed the participatory democracy projects of Barcelona and Madrid

Participatory processes legitimize governments' decisions and, consequently, improve democratic quality. This is the conclusion reached by a study performed by Ismael Pea-Lpez, a researcher at the UOC's Applied Social Science and Behavioural Economics (ASSBE) group, on how citizen participation through the use of ICTs impacts on government structures and processes.

Pea-Lpez summarizes this impact in four points: deliberation is the new democratic standard; transparency and allowing citizens to have access to information is a prerequisite for debate; accountability and the legislative footprint is a key factor that confers legitimacy on the government and, lastly, citizen participation increases pluralism and strengthens social cohesion, fosters debate and closes the virtuous circle of deliberative democracy. According to the study, this is the only way in which democratic participation can be understood in the digital era. 


The new technologies as a key factor

However, these four points are meaningless without the new technologies. Increasing the role of new technologies is a necessary prerequisite for broadening political debate and channelling citizens' demands, because it is the way, says the UOC researcher, that democracy can be improved: by bringing more agents and resources to the political debate. 

“Inclusive norms, rules, and institutional practices focused on the citizen that guarantee democratic accountability in the era of data-based governance” have become a key political imperative.


Colau's Barcelona and Carmena's Madrid

In order to arrive at these conclusions, the participatory democracy projects of Madrid – Decide Madrid – and Barcelona – Decidim Barcelona – have been analysed. The two projects were conceived within a few months of each other as a means to facilitate the cities' participatory and strategic planning. Both cities use the same basic open-source software platform and follow the same philosophy.

Pea-Lpez points out that other cities in Spain have implemented similar projects. This has created “a network of open cities in Spain”, he underscores. 


Voice or Chatter

The study performed by the UOC – “Increasing democratic quality by returning sovereignty” – is part of the Voice or Chatter project, linked to the Making All Voices Count programme sponsored by IT for Change. This programme analyses new participatory processes in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe. The goal is to redefine the meanings of “participation” and “voice” in line with the present context.

 

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