One little comment on EU funding and #CAPSSI

[One year ago, Tim Bonnemann wrote a post at Intellitics’ blog about a new EU funded e-Democracy project: D-CENT.
This is the post:

Some days ago Dr. John May commented it and included a reference to my paper “The e-(R)evolution will not be funded”, which was published at the European Journal of ePractice. I commented too, providing some extra information on the paper, on D-CENT project and, more in general, on EU funded research.
Since I consider the subject quite relevant, I’m posting my comment here too]

Thanks John and Tim for the references.
Actually, the best place to get the paper on EU’s e-Participation is this:

…as this version includes some paragraphs that were deemed too “critical” for the journal. 🙂

Coming to D-CENT: they are trying hard, and for example some of the trials/pilots they aim to do in Spain (with Guanyem Barcelona, Podemos) are connected with very interesting bottom-up initiatives which are really challenging and changing “Politics” in Spain.
But Tim skepticism was right: the project aimed to solve too many problems at once and, not surprisingly, they are not succeeding at doing it.
For sure: a lot of improvisation is clearly happening, as for example both Guanyem Barcelona and Podemos, that I mentioned before, did not even exist when the project was approved.
So far, there is not such a thing as the D-CENT Platform. Pilots at each country do different things with different tools, and probably the platform will never come into being as something “consistent”; if at all, the whole thing could be presented as a “Frankenstein platform”, but just to justify the funds and pretend the original plan was achieved.


EU’s CAPS calls (hashtag #CAPSSI) are an attempt to move EU funding in this area into the right direction. This must be acknowledged. These calls are the most hacker-friendly FP7/H2020 calls ever seen in Brussels. But so far… they are having little success. Other CAP’s projects, like CATALYST or CHEST (the ones I know best), are also delivering rather modest value so far.

In Brussels everybody knows this way of funding innovation is not really working.
But the problem is felt as systemic, as too complex and wicked, and out of the hands of any single actor to fix it. Thus… everybody just keeps doing. Pretending not to see the elephant in the living room.

Have a look at the video of the last CAPSSI-InfoDay, specially at the beginning of the event where CAPSSI call is explained, and at the event’s closure by Mario Campolargo, Director of the European Commission’s DG Connect (7:05:00 in the video).

CAPSSI Info Day - Mario Campolargo

The last part of his speech requests participants to be different, unconventional, and to bring out change along different EU research programs. His last words are something like: “Be different. Bring different solutions to our societies, that need to be different than in the past if they want to survive”.

The EU is somehow challenging project proposers to change what they do, how they do it and even who they are… but EU is itself not changing its way of doing, or the main characteristics of their funding calls: huge money, big multi-country consortia, paying for nice proposals but not for results or real impact, long multi-year projects, incredible bureaucracy and red tape, focus on big actors, poor impact evaluation, no follow up on closed projects, etc.

There is not a single “real innovation” in the funding mechanisms, or the incentives these provide, that stands extraordinarily out. Even its good intention, of using the CHEST project to reach out to smaller and more diverse innovators… has been jeopardized by poor execution and the bureaucratic burden imposed on the project participants.

It is thus not surprising that EU’s success continues to be so limited! As suggested in my paper, this is what normally happens when you “scratch where it doesn’t itch”, as the EU frequently does. As Einstein once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

I first launched a conversation about the paper at PEP-Net’s blog more than three years ago. In different occasions during the last years several EU officers responsible for, or at least involved in, these areas have received my paper. But so far… I never obtained a real response from them. I’m not even sure if it was ever read. I even visited their headquarters and complained about what and how they were doing… but to no avail.

[youtube width=”318″ height=”238″][/youtube]

It would seem EU officers were not aware that Mario’s words apply to them too: that even the EU needs to change, to do things differently, if it wants to survive.


PS: By the way, CitySENS was presented at the last CAPS-InfoDay too. You can see our three minutes presentation at the official InfoDay video (5:20:20) or directly here:


“Solving Public Problems with Technology” and CitySENS

We have been selected to participate in the course “Solving Public Problems with Technology”, organized by Prof. Beth Noveck and other members of the Governance Lab. This course aims to “offer the knowledge, tools, tactics, and networks to help change agents create actionable public interest projects that improve people’s lives.”


The course will be offered in-person for graduate students from the MIT Media Lab, the New York University (NYU) and the Arizona Stat University. It is additionally offered, online, to selected individuals and teams worldwide. The course is geared to the purpose-driven participants passionate about a public problem and helps them develop a project from idea to implementation. The course starts in September and lasts till December.

At Kyopol we have followed the work of the Governance Lab for a while. Under the leadership of Beth Noveck, they have become one of the leading players on the Open Government field. The course’s programme is one of the most focused and accurate we have seen anywhere, and we loved its action-oriented approach. In short: we thought that it matched very well the current status of the CitySENS project and decided to go for it.

Last July we became one of the 15 UnLtd Spain‘s GameChangers. With the support of our mentor, Daniel Torres, we plan to leverage all the research on “good Open Government” and all the advocacy and networking activities we have done so far, and concentrate our energies on delivering an increasingly powerful prototype of CitySENS.

The course’s weekly workshops and small-group, online discussions will provide an extremely fertile and challenging environment to discuss about our advances.

As part of the course, we are supposed to create a blog were we report about our advances. We will use this post as a mini-blog, in order to maintain the consistency of our “Road to Lórien” blog.


Solving Public Problems course

2014.09.11 – 1st week assignments: Problem definition

As part of the first week of the course we were asked to reflect on the problem we aim to solve. Here you have our…

Problem Statement for “CitySENS”, the Civic Information System for enlivening communities

What problem do you seek to address? What is the need?

Most local governments find themselves in a very difficult situation, which includes growing demands and challenges, reduced resources and capacity and a diminishing legitimacy of political actors and institutions. A situation that urges city governments to transition toward new governance models based on Open Government principles of Transparency, Public accountability, Civic engagement and an intelligent use of technology to support them.

By opening up political processes to citizens’ scrutiny and participation it is expected that new reflective, creative and implementing powers can be summoned, which will help tackling the many wicked urban problems. Therefore, Internet technologies need to be leveraged to foster an improved and more effective participation. But so far governmental initiatives have failed to exploit Internet’s collaborative potential: even the most successful experiences have been quite modest experiments with little real impact and almost no continuity, scalability nor replicability.

Why? There are many causes, but the main is that Citizen Participation poses serious conflicts of interests to political elites and civil servants, who would like to have more legitimacy because of citizen participation but at the same time, want to retain their discretionary decisional power. Citizen participation is desired but unwanted. Thus, governments’ attempts to promote it have frequently been half-hearted and designed for “top-down” control.

In order to stimulate meaningful Participation it is necessary to promote new tools that really focus on the perspectives, needs and capacities of citizens. These tools should still grant municipal authorities the privileged role they deserve in participation, but withdraw from them an “absolute” power and control, in order to open up their monopoly of civic engagement tools and processes.

The Spanish context: a privileged “window of opportunity”

Last years’ events have shown how in Spain there is a growing share of citizens that are not only worried about the crisis and its social effects, but are also willing to act together and work with others to help those in need. Thus, thousands of neighbors have met in public squares, organized assemblies, formed groups… to dialogue with each other and organize actions that ameliorate the general situation.

They are aware that government alone is not going to provide the solutions. In fact, in many cases governments are rather seen as part of the problem, as their actions (and/or inaction) are contributing to aggravate social emergencies. Hence, people have created different initiatives that have acted in diverse areas, like sanitary exclusion, unfair evictions or infant malnutrition. These groups have strongly networked between them and their actions have combined cooperation with public institutions with autonomous actions, and also with pressure or even opposition to public authorities when it became unavoidable.

But this kind of citizens’ collaborative work has proven to be very difficult, as there is a shortage of tools and methods that support it effectively. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are good to spread news and give visibility to salient initiatives but they are not well suited to sustain local, on-going, fractal efforts, or replicate them. There is a strong need from social movements to improve their civic connectivity by means of new tools and new sources of knowledge and guidance. Local authorities, on their side, often feel frustrated because of their inability to connect with the citizenry and get to know about their concerns.

There is an unfulfilled need for tools and methods that enhance the ability of both citizens and politicians to work together in solving their daily problems, and thus promote a renewal of politics. Tools that are powerful and attractive, and have been specifically designed to meet local actors’ needs and empower them to act in a symbiotic, deliberative way. Tools that not only seek to strengthen the capacity of the government to establish a collaborative and ongoing dialogue with citizens, but also empower citizens themselves to interconnect with each other autonomously and coordinate actions, initiatives and resources that are necessary to address their civic interests.

Concrete “pain points” that need to be solved

Currently it is difficult for citizens, first of all, to get to know about all civic activities and events happening in their city that match their interests. It is also difficult for citizen groups, Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and social movements to reach out beyond the “usual suspects” and those who are already connected to them, a problem that local administrations suffer too. For them it is, additionally, very difficult to know what citizens want and what they are worried about.

These interrelated problems would be addressed by our platform, CitySENS, which aims to provide a central repository where all relevant civic actors, events and initiatives would be listed. This would lower the cost to keep informed and make involvement easier and more effective, which in turn would facilitate that a “critical mass” of citizens get activated and become civic-oriented networked citizens.

By working together with all relevant local actors (including citizens, citizen groups, CSOs, neighborhood associations, local media and local government) we will identify the essential sets of information, shared knowledge and relationships that are required at the local level to increase the effectiveness of civic engagement. We will create a platform that gathers, structures and publishes all relevant information, facilitating its viral circulation.

Furthermore, by means of a meaningful gamification and an optimized user experience, CitySENS aims to motivate individual citizens and local actors to contribute their share of information, help to curate and spread it, and slowly also establish new links and cooperation with each other.

Who are the people most impacted by this problem?

CitySENS aims to benefit the entire population of the cities where it will be implemented. We understand that not everyone can take part in everything, or engage with the same level of participation. CitySENS will prove relevant and useful to both active and engaged citizens and those who wish to participate more sporadically. In fact, it will also help those who just want to stay informed, and even those who do not participate at all, as they will be indirectly benefited.

We want to provide the tools necessary, yet unavailable, that will drive civic action and foster communication between representatives and those represented. Citizens, administrations and all types of organizations can benefit from the continued use of spaces for dialogue and civic mobilization.

2014.09.17 – 2nd week: Crowdsourcing and Personas

After the second session we were asked to reflect about crowd-sourcing in the context of our project, and to create some “personas” that characterize the future users of our system.

This is actually an exercise we did a long time ago. We identified different profiles from the domains of “Government Organizations”, “Civil Society” and “Citizens” and reflected on their needs, motivations, capacities, life-contexts, etc. Our personas included a mayor, a city councillor, a public worker from the municipality, a local journalist, the chair of a neighborhood association, a member of a cultural association, an “extremist”, a researcher, a retired person, a young student and an immigrant.

In the meanwhile we have replaced “imagination” with real ethnographic work: we have done a lot of participant observation and shadowed “real world people” that broadly corresponded to our personas (we are still missing the ‘mayor’, but he is clearly not the most important one user 😉 ). Working together with social movements in Alcalá de Henares we have also launched a “collaborative calendar” project, the “Agenda del Henares”, that allows us to validate our most important assumptions and our theory of change and also has helped us to strengthen our ties with our future community of lead users.

During the last years we have thus slowly followed the collaborative path we had set ourselves to co-build CitySENS.

Collaborative Creation of Kyopol

Now we face the final real work: to construct the prototype for CitySENS and to pilot it in Alcalá, before scaling its use to other Spanish regions.