Open data in Spain – guest post by Ricard Espelt

Ahead of speaking this week in Barcelona, I spoke to a few people in Spain about the situation regarding open data in the country. One of those people is Ricard Espelt, a member of Nuestracausa, “a group of people who wanted to work on projects like MySociety [in Spain]”. The group broke up and Ricard now runs Redall Comunicacao. Among Ricard’s projects is Copons 2.0: an “approach to consensus decision making”.

This is what Ricard had to say about the problems around open data, e-democracy and bottom-up projects in Spain:

I think there are three points to bear in mind when we to try to analyse how the tools are changing politics & public administration:

  • The process of the governments to review data, so it will be easier to use data for all the citizens. Open data.
  • The process of the governments to involve the citizens in the decisions. E-democracy.
  • The action of the citizens (individuals or groups) to engage other citizens to work for the community. Is a good way to make lobby and influence in the decisions of the governments.

Spain, like other countries, has been developing all these points with different levels of success.

About the first point, a few governments have started some projects to make the access to data easier. The Basque country and Catalonia are two good examples of the effort of the government to change. But it is not always easy.

A lot of times the public administration is its own worst enemy. It’s very complex because the structure of the administrations make it more difficult to involve everybody and public employers in the change.

Sometimes some encouraged workers try to change the tools: using a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, etc. And then the top level of the administration involve themselves in trying to change the structure of their organizations.

However, the local administrations don’t need so many steps and it’s easier to find some successfull projects. Gijón Council is a good example of the benefits of working together in opendata project.

Maybe at the end of the long tail of small communities we can find the best projects about opendata. Maybe they don’t have the best tools but their projects can involve better the citizens in the change. Abla and Copons are a good examples of changing in rural spaces.

Security and attitude

In my opinion, the biggest problem is always the same: security and attitude. The first one is the excuse to not do anything that somebody wants to change and the second one is worse. Because it needs the encouragement of everybody in the organization to review all the processes in their job: public service.

The second point isn’t better. The biggest problem is the choice of roles. A lot of times, the politicians in Spain haven’t been able to express their own opinions and decisions, their political parties decide for them. The political system doesn’t allow individual opinion.

Also the voters can’t choose their political representatives, because the lists are closed. Very often, the political parties haven’t made the lists thinking about the citizens.

The third point is the progress of projects. There are some projects to engage the citizens in politics. But I think it is not easy, maybe the problem is the second point. Only a few people want to get involved in social political projects because a lot of people think that nothing will change in the political system. Some of the projects aren’t bad, but it’s not easy to get results. ‘Arregla mi calle’ is similar to ‘Fix My Street’ in the UK. And the ‘Voota’ project in Spain is like ‘They Work For You’ in the UK. It won’t be easy for these projects to engage a large number of citizens to shake up the structure of the political parties.

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