Poor start of Code For Europe in Barcelona

The association I work for -the “Symbiotic Cities” Association– is committed to the development of electronic participation. As a result, we have tried to monitor whether the actions and projects governments undertake in this area make sense or not. Our article “The e-(R)evolution will not be funded: An interdisciplinary and critical analysis of the developments and troubles of EU-funded eParticipation” was actually an urgent wake up call to the European Union, showing how the millons of euros they had invested for the promotion of e-participation during the last decade did not have much impact, and demanding from them different innovation support strategies that reach the real innovators.

In October 2011 we participated in a Workshop in Brussels, on “Collaborative production of eGovernment Services”, where we communicated this message directly to the officials responsible for these failed programmes.

One of the things we regretted in our presentation was the absence of a “Code for Europe” program that emulated the successful “Code for America” from the USA. This program awards fellowships for “hackers” and all kind of innovators: they work for a year working within a city’s administration, developing innovative tools and applications that meet citizen needs in their city, but also with the aim of later extending their use to other cities.

You can imagine my delight when I found out that, as part of the European project “Commons4EU”, a “Code4Europe” initiative had been launched, which imitates the American model. Moreover: Barcelona, one of the six participating cities, was planning to construct a civic engagement platform. Some days before discovering the initiative I had been discussing with Carles Agustí, the head of Civic Engagement of the Municipality of Barcelona, in LinkedIn. He had expressed some interesest in the Association’s activities.

We thought it might be a good opportunity to put our knowledge to the service of Barcelona and, at the same time, to contribute to the success of Code for Europe. We are used to see EU projects that are much better in “pretending” to have results than in achieving real impact. We expected, however, that the “Code for Europe” project would be different, because of the nature of the project and its aims. We therefore applied to one of the Fellowships in Barcelona … and the truth is that what happened since then has been rather disappointing.

From our perspective, the selection process could not have been worse.

To start with: the deadlines set for the selection process were not respected at all. The decision was meant to be taken during December, in order to start with the work in January. But one week before Christmas holiday nothing had happened. We sent an e-mail asking about the process. As a result, the City Council of Barcelona mailed for the first time to to the applicants, explaining that they had problems because of some last minute changes. They were planning to initiate the selection process immediately, and “would contact applicants a soon as possible in order to inform about this process”.

But this never happened.

The last day of the year, after verifying that the project website had not been updated, and was still reflecting a calendar that seemed completely impossible to fulfill, we contacted again the coordinators, asking them about the process. Our email got no response.

Finally, on January 14, one week before the start of the fellow’s training week that -even as today- is announced in the project’s website, I wrote them again. This time I copied Esteve Almirall, the Project Lead of the Commons4EU project. This time, I received answers from the coordinators of the selection process.

They apologized and explained that, after a last minute change on the projects to be implemented in Barcelona, they had incurred in a delay in the selection process. They also recognized that they had not managed properly the external communications. Finally, they reported that the selection process had recently ended and they planned to inform selected candidates shortly.

This response made it clear for us that the process of selection -if there had been “something” worthy of the name- had been very sloppy. I wrote them again, one last time, kindly requesting some empathy with my perspective, and demanding some extra information about: 1. How was the project calendar affected by these delays; 2. Which were the projects that would be implemented in Barcelona; 3. Some detail on how the selection process had been done (here you can see the entire series of e-mails).

But unfortunately… again they decided that it was not worth answering.

So… from our perspective we can do no more, and no less, than publicly sharing our experience and declare that this was a “Poor start of ‘Code for Europe’ in Barcelona” :-(.

As we told them in our las post:

Because we are commited to “Code 4 EU” we understand that, precisely to help the project to develop successfully, such deficiencies should be reported publicly. In the  same way that positive aspects of the program must be praised, you deserve also to be “scolded” for the negative ones.
This morning we decided to write you again before publishing anything about our bad experience applying to the fellowship and trying to communicate with you.
Please answer our three questions, to give us a little more of understanding, and probably we will not need to publish anything.

They chose not to answer.

So… we are scorning them a bit, and we wish them all the best for the future. Hopefully the project will finish better than it has started.

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