Library of San Fermin
The Library of San Fermin case study is about how the The Madrid City Council started the construction of the library of San Fermin in response to a local demand that under the slogan “Library in San Fermín NOW” had been active for more than 25 years (since 1994, and more effectively since 2008). A neighbourhood with a desire for culture and books is the backbone of the new proposed services to different population groups, including the marginalised or in a situation of exclusion: Kids from families with few resources, elderly willing to bridge the age gap, or young people at risk. These services had the objective of completing an offer of culture and leisure of quality.
Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The stakeholders formed a multidisciplinary team with the technicians of the Directorates, the Neighbourhood Association, other neighbourhood entities and individual neighbours. The team was organised and dynamized by external consultants (GEA21 and Basurama). The beneficiaries of this project are the neighbours of the San Fermin neighbourhood in Madrid, Spain.
The Area of Culture and Sports of the City Council (through its General Directorate of Intervention in the Urban Landscape and the Cultural Heritage and the General Directorate of Libraries, Archives and Museums) and the Municipal Company of Housing and Land (EMV), pressed by the long-standing neighbourhood’s demand, decided to start a process of participation with different agents to design the new library and its uses. The content of the participation process included three related elements:
- The library model. What library do you want for the neighbourhood? What services, activities, functions should the facility fulfil and how should they be produced? How will the future library be related to the other facilities, entities and projects of San Fermín?
- The library building. What spaces should the library have? How should the distribution of spaces be, considering their future uses and users, and also including the public employees and management and volunteers?
- The surrounding public spaces. How should the library relate to its surroundings? How to get the best out of the public space surrounding the library?
Digital Transformation Process
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The designing, developing and management processes of the library in the San Fermin neighbourhood (LSF) has become one the symbols of the past government of the municipality of Madrid. San Fermin is a modest neighbourhood located in the south-west outskirts of the city of Madrid and the LSF became one (if not the most) relevant example of collaboration between public institutions, private facilitating entities, civil organisations and individual citizens that can be found in the municipality of Madrid, from 2015-2019. Out of the information we have gathered about it, the Madrid City Council started the construction of this library in response to a local demand that under the slogan “Library in San Fermín NOW” had been active for more than 25 years (since 1994, and more effectively since 2008). A neighbourhood with a desire for culture and books (promoted by the initiatives of the Neighbourhood Association of San Fermin) is the backbone of the new proposed services to different population groups, including the marginalised or in a situation of exclusion: Kids from families with few resources, elderly willing to bridge the age breach, or young people at risk. These services had the objective of completing an offer of culture and leisure of quality that helped achieve the overall ideas of “confluence and dynamism”  currently driving all agents of the LSF project.  The neighbourhood covers an area of 1.47 km2 and 23,794 inhabitants, 23,5% of immigrants (Padron municipal, http://www-2.munimadrid.es/TSE6/control/seleccionDatosBarrio. Accessed 4-6-2019).
Challenges & Bottlenecks
As a pilot project, LSF participants faced a very steep learning curve, motivated by the initial distrust between each side. In fact, in the beginning, they felt as two sides. But before engaging in the first meeting, “internal opposition [within the municipality itself] was the first hurdle. We solved it selecting for the team those people we thought were more open, flexible.” Then, they needed to generate trust, externally and internally. They were helped by professional facilitators, because there are a lot of amateurs regarding methodologies, approaches. Still, “although everyone was called in to participate, the ones that did not participate were the technicians of the District Council. We had some decisions to make about the facility, which ultimately is theirs, but they didn’t come. Still, they are informed of everything.” Another internal issue needing clarification was “to check if this participatory type of design differs from the design made by the municipal architect that adds one more facility to the 50 he has already planned and which those differences are.” It resulted in a process that “lasted longer than usual due to the technical adaptation of the municipal architects. And probably the one that suffered the most was the architect, because he was the more reluctant to work this way. It is much more complicated to change management than design.” The issue of the over-extended design and execution times seems contradictory: “Probably, the only drawback was the time that was probably over what is conventionally usual. But we didn’t go over the nine months that were expected.” But the overall feeling is that “The process has been long, at times disappointing but with commitment we have achieved the result.”
Transferability & Replicability
LSF has left an invaluable legacy for Madrid and how facilities can be designed and built: “What it is that we have learnt about this process? The learning about silence, noise, or the collaboration with neighbours are in the requirements of the new bids (tenders) for the six new libraries in Madrid. In these new projects, the Architects Association of Madrid firstly were worried about the new public tender requirements based on the learning from LSF, but then they were especially happy with them.” The role of community or neighbourhood symbols: “The facility needs to be distinctive, a banner of the neighbourhood. A place everybody loves, where everyone is welcomed. Needs to be physically different to the rest of the district buildings. And this is a ‘strong idea’.”
Specific success elements of a co-design process are generally related to the level of attachment of each participant to the project. In the LSF case, since the number of participants was so high, the project caught on the spark that the neighbours’ association had started years ago and really produced a significant social impact. They expressed this as: “Our experience with participatory processes was similar to someone’s who comes and asks what’s your opinion on X? In this case, they came and said ‘there is nothing planned’. And this had an extremely catalysing effect. Also, the work relationship was horizontal, without hierarchies, interchanging experience and information (including telling where the limits were). This was very rewarding.” But other benefits were also exposed by our interviewees:
- “The good co-design may be seen as slowing the process of decision making. If everyone has an opinion and shares it, that enriches the discussion; and then through discussion, the project gains trust and commitment. Participation shows people that they have authority. The rest, the results, are secondary.”
- “It has never before happened to me. The collaborative process was so engaging, so wonderful, and the people were so nice. We were a great team. There was not a single problem. Four months were enough time to accomplish many things.”
- “Co-design may mean to work on-demand, but with the regulative limits of an administration, and that resulted in tolerant, knowledgeable neighbours.”
This project’s agents perspired satisfaction. They were proud of the work they have done, the output, and process they created. And they believed this new alternative to design public services arrived to stay at the municipality of Madrid. From a public policy perspective, the case presents the following highlights: At the tactical level:
- Co-design with users is engaging for every agent
- All agents must agree on every decision; formal decisions are as important as content decisions, and co-design involves both
- All agents need a constant process to educate them along the co-design process
- Finding a common language is a need of every session. More than games and other dynamics, it is videos and pictures that make this work
- Members of the working team do not need to represent all potential users or public agents; members though need to have access to several sources of information
- Non-users, such as consultants or members of the community, should be involved anyhow. They enrich the project, both in form and content
- Public services, from the neighbours’ perspective, are more than the coverage of a number of needs: In the LSF case, neighbours see the library as a main driver of community cohesion, and the bridge to enact the connection of elderly and youth
- The public team must be carefully selected.
- A champion facilitates¾not necessarily makes it easier¾the project. Without her/him the PSL paradigm might not be feasible due to its richness and unexpected outcomes.
- Time is not an issue. Co-design processes do not take longer than conventional design.
- Neighbours become absolutely engaged and supportive using co-design.
- Service co-design might be lacking from a complete set of metrics that connect the social and framework outputs with the economic and political ones.
- The connection between this type of citizen engagement and the effectiveness in terms of votes is not clear. We know the satisfaction levels with the Council have peaked to maximum. But we have not asked how much of that satisfaction is linked to having participated with the Council in developing Madrid.