Between October 2017 and June 2018, at U·TRANS we hve been working for the municipality of Tossa de Mar rethinking citizen participation, launching a new participation process, co-designed with citizens from the very beginning.
Fashion? Novelty? Style?
The answer to this question should be “No, it’s participation”, recovering the primitive sense of the word: having or taking part in one thing, keeping something in common. Citizen participation accounts for many initiatives, but the balance of this is not clear. In fact, the vast majority of municipalities are still in the basement. It allows those who decide to start a citizen participation to do this by applying the learned lessons, avoiding mistakes especially from its conceptual approach.
Adapting the method
Accordingly to the particular context in Tossa de Mar, we decided to implement a working methodology for a new way of focusing on participation and assuming a before and an after in what had been done so far in Tossa. Firstly, we established the following phases:
- Reformulate: links between the old model and the new one
- Promote: identify the social agents map in Tossa to constitute the Impulse Group as the body for co-production and leadership throughout the process
- Build: Design the process of citizen participation in a collaborative way
- Execute: Implement the citizen participation process based on the Work Plan agreed with the Impulse Group
- Monitor: work sessions to track the process
- Evaluate: Impact evaluation and conclusions
Secondly, after the firsts working sessions, it became clear that Tossa de Mar had not followed a structured methodology for their participation processes. Therefore, the results had been quite irregular and there was a certain disorientation about what approach to follow. More specifically, the “lessons learned” that could be detached were:
- Collective decision processes had existed but were closer to some kind of social mobilization rather than in a structured process of citizen participation
- There was a perception that collective decision processes had produced results that were subsequently not taken into account by decision makers at the time of making decisions
- There was lack of communication, which had led to the fact that some citizens had not had the real opportunity to participate
- The participation increases when there is a feeling that the changes will directly affect citizenship, because of proximity
The results obtained
By chance, it was necessary to make a decision about the future use of City Council old building, since it will move to a new location in a near future. What new use for the City Council old building? That was the question. Initially, a large number of proposals were collected that were finally synthesized in the following uses:
- An annex to expand the Tossa de Mar High School, where it can be taught Baccalaureate and VET in Tourism
- Social housing, allocating the space to create social housing for the young people
- Parking for vehicles, responding to the need for parking places, especially in the months of greatest influx
- Civic Center or “Ateneu”, since this facility does not exist in Tossa, which will reinforce social interaction
- Urban park, because the town center needs to be sponged by means of urban natural environment
- Exhibition room, to give a new impetus to the fast painting contest of Tossa, as a new location to showcase the pictorial town heritage
The participation was open to citizen older than 16 years. Four assisted polling stations were enabled and an app was launched to facilitate online participation. Likewise, graphic support materials and a communication plan for social networks were developed. The turnout has been 3.43% of the total census, with this distribution:
- Civic Center: 48% of the votes
- Annex Institute 18% of the votes
- Urban Park 18% of the votes
- Social Housing 13% of the votes
- Exhibition Hall 2% of the votes
- Parking 2% of the votes
Certainly, it can be considered that participation was too weak, but it still is a participation percentage similar to that obtained in similar processes. Additionally, Tossa started this process from zero and, therefore, the results are a good starting point. In spite of everything, however, civil society did not end up mobilizing and in that sense, thongs can be improved.
On the other hand, it should be noted that it has been a citizen led process through the Impulse Group, which will continue to be a stable body in order to collaborate with the City Council for new participation processes. In short, Tossa de Mar is in a position to start the path to using public participation for public policies design, an approach that U·TRANS has always promoted.