Observatory of the City
The Observatory of the City case study describes how the municipality of Madrid embarked in a radically new form of citizens’ participation: the citizens’ jury or assembly or as they called it “The Observatory of the City”. This case explores this Observatory as a services design example aiming to capture the general interests of the citizenry of Madrid through the individual opinions of a permanent group of randomly selected citizens that meet regularly.
Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
After the national government passed the law 39/2015, and most specially, due to its article 133, developing article 23 of the Spanish Constitution, any new norm in Spain is subject to public scrutiny by the citizens. Expanding this requirement, the municipality of Madrid embarked in a radically new form of citizens’ participation: the citizens’ jury or assembly or as they called it “The Observatory of the City”. This case explores this Observatory as a services design example aiming to capture the general interests of the citizenry of Madrid through the individual opinions of a permanent group of randomly selected citizens that meet regularly.
This complex case is representative of two different levels of co-design of public services: 1) public and private agents got together to co-design the format of this citizens’ jury aiming at proposing public services and policy, mandatory for the government of the city; and 2) the jury’s members – 49 randomly-selected citizens – co-design public services and policy aided by city officials, outside experts and other citizens in working sessions, mediated by specially trained facilitators. We address both levels to enrich the view of this relevant case of value co-creation in the public sector.
Digital Transformation Process
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The Observatory performs three functions: Analysing and approving – rejecting – the most voted citizen proposals for new services on the Decide Madrid participation digital platform; reviewing municipal decisions and public policies and suggesting related actions; and calling for public consultations and proposing any type of new public service or policy. Summarising the innovative outputs of the Observatory case, we identify the following:
- “The city of Madrid had no experience in putting up a random, lottery-like selection and a deliberative process. It was through MediaLab and the involvement of NewDemocracy that both became real. Without the two processes, Decide Madrid would have stayed as the individual participation digital platform it already was.”
- The stages of design and development of the Observatory probably have been innovative from day 0: The idea in the Area of Participation and how the team in the government formed; the design and prototyping in the Collective Intelligence for Democracy workshop and the interaction with the Area; the design of the logistics of the Observatory; the design and implementation of the facilitation of the sessions; and the processes the members of the Observatory are following to reach agreements. All have been examples of innovative processes and finally public services in Madrid.
Challenges & Bottlenecks
The main problems we identified in the set-up of the Observatory and work of the participants seem derived from a very initial stage of this municipal organ:
- “As far as the operational part, the potential issue that we can see is the lack of diverse information for citizens to make decisions. We tend to think that the Council would give citizens just limited information from limited sources.”
- “Another potential problem is related to the selection process: We have not seen a properly diverse room. In Australia, we diversify based on education level and things like earnings, but that was difficult in Madrid; they allocated quotas to certain parts of Madrid trying to cover the economic certification in the room. People who are more educated and better off are more inclined to participate in this process, and they tend to group together in the decisions.” Coincidentally, “after the first draw and election of the members of the Observatory, we realised that certain groups of people have voluntarily declined participation (blacks and other ethnic minorities). We have spotted people that are not feeling part of the city, and we would like to know if this is something we could facilitate. Being aware of the potential biases influencing the decisions, we in the municipality government needed to be trained in how to prevent them.”
Transferability & Replicability
We might highlight the following as the most transferable outcomes of the Observatory case when confronting the reality of collaboration with citizens for service design:
- “After testing and validating our design methodology for experimentation, we have four big projects (ParticipaLab among them) that could have their autonomy and start an ecology or network of labs to reach a larger population and transform it. They could even propose new ideas and adapted methods.”
- The most evident outcome of the processes described here is the Observatory itself – Madrid has now the first permanent citizens’ jury with the aim of reviewing citizens’ proposals, public policies and any topic they choose. “The process went really well. There was a confluence of interests and desires and they all fitted well (once in a lifetime this thing happens): from a prototype in a Lab, it went all the way to being implemented as a service development and public policy instrument. Some things we would have changed, but the final Observatory is part of a new way of negotiating by the public officials. Also, making it happen and in this short time was a big success. Ideally, this will continue and improve over time, since a design of this magnitude cannot have everything right from the outset.”
- Other complementary outcomes, some more subtle, are related to the new relationships the government has established with the experimentation practices of MediaLab (Madrid’s government-owned living lab), the internal shortcuts they have designed to establish participation in the municipality, and the learning they have got from the actual jury meetings.
The complexity of the Observatory case is mostly based on its reach. As a complementary “chamber” to the elected members of the municipality council, the Observatory was made possible by merging several initiatives. As of January 2018, the Area of Participation began to work on a new regulation for the Observatory; in parallel, ParticipaLab (a living lab) began to collaborate with external experts in participatory processes and juries and co-designed the final draft of the Observatory. Both the design and the regulatory processes fed each other for several months. The co-design process, which had started with the Collective Intelligence for Democracy workshop (also a living lab) months earlier, concluded with the presentation of a final proposal or advice (https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/2018/11/15/the-city-of-madrid-citizens-council/) to the Area of Participation. It significantly influenced the final design of the Observatory (mostly, composition and times of the deliberation process). On January 29, 2019, the city council passed the new regulation and the new Observatory format had its legal framework as the first permanent deliberative chamber of citizen participants in any European local government – and definitely a pioneering experience worldwide. On the one hand, it regulated a lottery-elected citizens’ jury, with annual rotation. On the other, using a digital platform, it connected citizens’ initiatives for new services (collected through Decide Madrid) with citizens’ deliberative practices (the Observatory) which produces a double representation system for citizenry decision making. Complementary, the deliberations of the citizens’ jury are also connected with the entire population (through the Decide Madrid platform).
Being this a complex project, with such relevance for the city and government of Madrid, we have experienced certain disconnections in the representatives of each agent we have talked to. Although everyone knew what the others were doing, their connections with the public agent were not always clear. The language barrier might play a role here, not only because of different actual languages, but because of different uses of the same language. A participatory process like the Observatory, both in the design and the operational parts, would initially be thought of as plagued with statistical assurances for getting the right quotas, segmentations, and the like. But it is not. The statistical significance is probably less relevant and what really matters is to have the right distribution of citizens that actually participate and show up for each session. The goal then is to avoid spontaneous groupings by economic or education achievements that can bias decisions. On the other side, there are no control groups to check whether the actual selection makes significantly different decisions than a proper statistical selection of citizens. An interesting point is the confusion of participating citizens. Probably, we must understand that we face different degrees of maturity or readiness in those willing to contribute through participation. A first stage might be participation as a means to have their voices heard – whether they are complaining, requesting or merely criticising; a second stage might be the realisation of participation as interaction with other peers, with equal voices but different intents; a third stage might be the confirmation of the need for consensus or agreement, which might imply knowledge acquisition, sharing, prioritising and decision-taking; a final fourth stage might be the setting of certain control tools and processes to ascertain their agreements are met and differences or deviations are understood and acted upon. It would be interesting to understand the transition from one stage to the other, as results certainly emerge in stages three and, specially, in fourth, and the time involved in maturing from the early stages to the latest.