How can cities measure how well they involve citizens in their e-governance? Are cities truly putting people at the centre of their digital services? Barcelona doesn’t have the answer to all questions yet. These are some of the riddles they are hoping to solve with the partners in the UserCentriCities project.
Joan Batlle Montserrat, Responsible for Technology and Digital Rights at the Commission of Digital Innovation at the City of Barcelona, has answered a few questions about the project’s ongoing work and expectations.
How has Barcelona worked on citizen participation until now?
In the past 25-30 years, we collaborated with associations distributed on the territory and linked to specific sectors. Through an elected representative, these organisations participated in the city council discussions.
In 2018, the Barcelona City Council also launched the Decidim.Barcelona digital platform. This opened the door to more direct citizen participation that complemented what already existed. The platform hosts a lot of different processes; some are at the scale of the whole city, others are tailored to the neighbourhood level.
We also created a Meta-Decidim involving researchers, activists, and associations to discuss how the platform should evolve. What we learned is that the platform works best when it is paired with events in the neighbourhoods, assemblies, and face to face discussions with people. Citizen participation is about discussing issues that directly impact people.
In the current mandate, we also created the lab of democratic participation – a living lab that works with citizens on how local and participatory democracy should be exercised and evolve.
How are you hoping that the UserCentriCities project helps Barcelona achieve its goals in terms of citizen participation?
Under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Laia Bonet, we are working on a new concept to understand digitalisation in cities: ‘humanising technology’. This means using technology ethically. Technology should be used to solve people’s issues, and for this, we need to listen to people and understand their concerns.
Our next step is to develop a way to measure our progress towards humanising technology, towards putting people at the centre. So, we started looking at what others were doing to develop indicators that could measure this.
That is how we found UserCentriCities. For us, it is interesting to collaborate and learn from this project to identify user-centricity indicators, because finding indicators that can give you an accurate view of your progress is challenging.
Why is it important to develop such indicators?
Indicators have different uses. You have to use indicators to measure your work, but you can measure other things with them. The value of indicators is to measure what you are doing compared to your end goal.
Indicators are also necessary to do benchmarking, which can be used to understand what others have done to achieve the same goal and use this knowledge to improve your strategy or action plan.
Indicators and benchmarking give you insights you can use to design your future actions better. This is how we learn: you observe, you analyse, you ask questions about the process and the results, and you can take inspiration from others.
What are the next steps for Barcelona and the project?
We already analysed different questions related to user-centricity through the project – for example, accessibility, comprehension, findability, quality – and now we have to figure out how we can develop a small number of effective indicators to measure these.
We are interested in seeing what other cities in the project are doing. And we are looking forward to using benchmarking as a tool that helps identify what works, analyse it, and adapt it to our context.
In the future, we hope to achieve more widespread use of the methodology. The more cities we will involve once the methodology is developed, the more best practices we will identify and learn from.
Keep an eye on the progress of the UserCentriCities project and join future events here.