Barcelona is one of the most successful cases in terms of implementing the model of Smart Cities. Already from 2012, Barcelona started to incorporate smart city solutions across urban systems such as waste management, street lighting, public transit and parking. But one of the key smart city elements implemented in Barcelona is citizen engagement. The city of Barcelona aimed to provide tools to the public to systematically gather their opinions. This way, Barcelona puts citizens at the heart of decision making, stimulating a bottom-up approach.

How is Barcelona engaging its citizens? The city council utilizes an online platform that allows its people to propose initiatives, discuss matters, or cast their votes. This platform, which is easy to access on desktop, mobile and tablet, including via mobile apps, has seen an increase in usage. This platform is called DECIDIM, “we decide” in Catalan. Decidim today has more than 80 000 users, but it is interesting to see how the implementation process of this platform has gone and to look at the main challenges.

Implementation issues was implemented in 2016 and at first was used to enable a hybrid online-offline process for the development of the Municipal Action Plan of the city of Barcelona, the roadmap for the government’s public policies during its four-year mandate. Initially, developers tried to adapt already existing project from the Madrid city council. However it was not possible, because Madrid’s project was designed for this specific city council, and it was extremely difficult and time consuming to technically change the design of this platform for other city’s needs.

The problem that developers faced was “a monolithic codebase that needed to be forked for every new installation, as each organization required its own modifications. In practice, any new code upstream would rarely end up in every installation, as merging changes became more difficult and less worthwhile —and so installations were gradually diverging”. When faced with this problem, the developers realized that they should work not on an application, but on a framework, a kind of library that would gather many smaller applications. This way, each time an organization installed it, they could pick and choose which features they needed and implement a customized version.

By keeping Decidim as a library, the code contracts were much clearer and easier to respect —it was impossible for an application to couple themselves to non-public parts of the APIs (application programming interfaces) provided, and thus upgrades became safer. Decidim was built using Ruby on Rails technology, which is open source software that helps developers build websites and applications by simplifying common repetitive tasks. This library approach began to pay off immediately—more and more institutions came on board, and the ecosystem continues to thrive today.

What are the implications of Decidim for citizens? Each citizen can register on the platform, which means that thousands of people can organize themselves democratically by making proposals, attending public meetings, fostering decision-making discussions, deciding through different forms of voting and monitoring the implementation of decisions.

What are the implications of Decidim for governance? Using this approach, public authorities can build a truly participatory democracy where they make policies for and with citizens. The approach used in Barcelona allowed the platform to be easily adapted to the needs of other cities, making it the basis for similar platforms in other cities. Thanks to this, Decidim is now in active use by more than 30 city councils and 20 civil organizations worldwide, many of which have customized it to better suit their own unique processes.

Decidim in Barcelona:

Decidim around the world: