Decidim: A Digital Participation Platform for Greater Manchester?

Building on our ongoing Developing Coproductive Capacities research with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), we invited Arnau Monterde – a supervisor of Barcelona’s Decidim platform – to share Barcelona’s experience in integrating digital platforms as part of a wider transformation of the democratic process. Hosted at GMCA’s offices on 17th October, the meeting brought together seven officers from the GMCAs Policy & Strategy, Culture, Engagement, and Information teams alongside Cllr Eve Holt and Claire Tymon (executive director of Future Everything).

Finding its roots in the indignados social movements that swept across Spain from 2011 onwards, Decidim is an open-source digital participation platform intended to support broad-based participatory democratic processes. First implemented in 2016 following the election of progressive municipalist platforms in Madrid and Barcelona, Decidim has now been adopted by more than 35 municipalities ranging from Helsinki to Mexico City. During our codesign sessions, the Jam & Justice project identified digital democratic platforms as one of the key priorities for developing more co-productive approaches to the city.

The need for platforms such as Decidim is simple. It is widely acknowledged that Western Democracies are characterised by a fundamental democratic deficit, and that paradigmatic changes are required to how societies make collective decisions. Whilst digital participatory technologies aren’t an elixir, they can both enable and function as part of a wider process of democratic renewal. Furthermore, platforms such as Decidim can help us to democratize control of our data, taking back ownership of information that is currently harnessed by mega-tech corporations such as Google for private profit.

As GMCA’s Chief Information Officer made clear in our meeting, there are no technological barriers to the implementation of platforms such as Decidim in Greater Manchester. Yet what must drive the roll-out of Decidim in Greater Manchester is the political momentum and commitment to a broader transformation of how we make decisions in our cities. Rather than a top-down technological ‘fix’, this needs to be driven by communities and facilitated by local councillors willing to experiment with how this could be useful in their localities. With senior leaders and the GMCA increasingly interested in co-productive approaches, perhaps the time for pilot-studies into a Decidim Manchester is upon us?