Citizens now have a key role to play in the decision-making process of the Madrid City Council. With Decide Madrid, the men and women of Madrid have a direct channel to get involved in municipal policy, that did not exist prior to 2015. Through this platform, anyone can make proposals, suggest specific matters of concern to be debated and can decide the city’s main projects.
Over the last three years, the men and women of Madrid have made proposals and have selected hundreds of projects that are financed by a municipal budget of €260 million; they have also decided that the Gran Vía should have more pedestrian areas and have chosen for renovation work to be done on Plaza España. In addition, two citizen proposals have been voted; “Madrid 100% sustainable” and “Single ticket for public transport” have been incorporated into municipal policies.
Decide Madrid already has over 400,000 registered users. Madrid City Council’s Department for Citizen Participation, Transparency and Open Government, headed by Pablo Soto has been sharing CONSUL with local, regional and state government institutions all over the world. CONSUL is the open code software that is the basis of the Decide Madrid platform. So far, the model has been exported to 95 institutions in 18 countries, all over the world. Cities such as Paris, Turin, Buenos Aires and countries such as Uruguay are using it.
Decide Madrid is the citizen participation mechanism that Madrid City Council has set up to serve the people of Madrid. What does it include?
Decide Madrid is the digital platform that we have set up so that people can take control. This platform has several different participation spaces. For instance, it has a space for debates, citizen proposals and for participatory budgets where people decide how to spend a considerable part of the budget.
It doesn’t make any sense that the best way we have of organising millions of people is to, on one day, decide who is going to have all the power for the next four years.
Can anybody present a proposal that will be put to the citizen vote?
Yes, anybody, whether or not they are from Madrid. However, to support proposals, projects and take part in voting, people must sign up, be over 16 years of age and must be included in the Municipal Register of Residents.
This is a huge change considering that, until now, no channel existed for people to make proposals nor to directly decide anything about Madrid. Democracy is not about who to elect every four years but rather about us deciding every single day. Therefore, we are here to provide the tools that allow the people to decide.
How many citizen proposals have been submitted so far?
23,000 proposals have been submitted however for them to be successful and be put to the citizen vote, they must be supported by at least 1% of those who are entitled to vote i.e. 27,662 people. Those who submit proposals have one year to secure the support they need.
Have any of them been successful?
So far, two have been successful. One of them is “Madrid, 100% sustainable” that is a set of environmental measures related to energy efficiency and sustainable mobility, among other things. The other one is a proposal that Madrid's public transport have a single ticket (valid for bus, train and metro). Residents that took part in the Citizen Voting in 2017 approved both proposals. “Madrid 100% sustainable” is in the process of being implemented and the “Single Ticket”, since public transport is not managed solely by the City Council, has been passed on to the relevant institutions for implementation.
What questions has the City Council put to citizens in recent years?
The City Council has put to the Citizen Vote issues of relevance, such as the mobility project for Gran Vía or the renovation work on Plaza España, along with other consultations that have been made at district level, for instance. In addition, in October 2017 there was a Citizen Vote in which the people of Madrid selected 11 renovation and design projects for public spaces all across the city.
With regard to the participatory budgets, what has the outcome of this process been over the last three years?
The participatory budgets are one of the mechanisms for participation that has achieved the most favourable reaction and acceptance among citizens. The first year, citizens decided how to spend €60 million of the municipal budget, and in 2017 and 2018 €100 million, which makes them the most valuable participatory budgets.
Have any other cities comparable to Madrid used these participation mechanisms?
Participatory budgets first emerged in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in 1989. Since then, several world cities have organised participatory budget processes, just like Madrid.
If you let people decide, you create societies that take better care of minorities, that generate less public debt, that are less violent and take better care of the environment. I have always dreamt that they would be ballot stations in the streets all the time, I think that appeals to people. People say that something important is happening.
The City Council is exporting its model of free software that runs Decide Madrid to cities and countries all over the world. How far has it got?
We decided to give away the platform for free to the whole world and several cities, regions and countries are now using it. It is already in 95 institutions in 18 countries and it is continuing to be implemented. For instance, we announced that Porto Alegre, the city with the most experience in participatory budgets, had adapted the software developed by Madrid City Council.
The Uruguayan government also uses our CONSUL software, as do cities such as Paris, Turin, Quito, Lima and La Paz. The capital of Argentina has also created Buenos Aires Elige (Buenos Aires Choses) and in Spain it is being used by numerous cities such as Zamora, Valencia, the Gran Canaria local authority and many more.
In addition, CONSUL software has received awards from international organisations. Isn’t that right?
Yes, we are proud of that. This year, Madrid City Council was awarded the Public Service 2018 prize by the United Nations in the category “Making institutions inclusive and ensuring participation in decision making”. This award is no small feat; it is the most important prize in the world that can be awarded to administrations for public service.
Is the city also nurtured by other cities and countries experiences of citizen participation?
All of these mechanisms are inspired by participative processes that exist in other democracies such as Switzerland, where each canton holds up to four referendums each year. Iceland is another example; new digital systems were set up to include citizens in decision making. Interesting independent projects have also emerged in New Zealand and Taiwan, to name just a few.
Finally, we would also like to hear about how the City Council is progressing with regard to transparency, which is another one of its functions.
Transparency is an area where huge progress has been made since 2015. First, the Transparency Ordinance was approved. This regulation is even stricter than the National Transparency Law. We currently publish 500 items of public information and we have set up a compulsory register of lobbies where all lobby groups have to be included, be they companies, individuals or groups that want to influence decisions made at municipal level. In the nine months since its creation, 272 lobby groups have already registered.