Participatory Democracy in Local Government: An Online Platform in the City of Madrid
In 2015, the local government of the city of Madrid (Spain) introduced an
electronic participation system. This initiative stemmed mainly from the social
movements that had occupied the squares of many Spanish cities since 2011.
As a result of the local elections in 2015, many of those same activists gained
institutional power, took citizens’ participation very seriously, and decided to
use the possibilities offered by the internet for political and administrative participation. In this article, we seek to assess the impacts of the Madrid city government with the e-democracy experiment – based mainly on establishing an
online platform to facilitate citizen participation in political and administrative
decision processes. Drawing on qualitative and documental data, our research
indicates that whereas the overall aim of the project was to give citizens a say in
local policy and decision making, our case study shows that participation was
very low since most of the population does not feel concerned by these processes. Indeed, one of our findings showed that citizens’ involvement offline surpassed in some cases their online participation. To identify who is politically active online and offline is a great challenge, to which the promoters of the project did not pay much attention. Although e-participation was meagre in relation to the electoral turnout, the case study also shows that many proposals from the public were incorporated into the local policies, indicating that from a qualitative point of view, e-participation influences decision-making processes. Perhaps local governments should use a more strategic and integrated approach towards the use of electronic technologies to foster and motivate citizens’ involvement in local politics and administration. This more integrated approach should be less dependent on ideological incentives, more institutionalized, and must incorporate citizens’ perceptions and inputs before the introduction of new technologies.