European citizens are asking more and more to participate in the management of their cities, and to have their voices heard in terms of policy priorities and budget spending. In the last decades, participatory budgeting processes – in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget – have spread all over the world. Many cities are carrying on participatory budgeting processes in which citizens set priorities for public spending, propose projects, votes others’ projects and monitor the actual progress of the most voted ones.
Each city, of course, need to adjust the process to its needs and to the specific demands of its community. In this, technology can help, by enabling a larger participation compared to face-to-face methods, allowing the engagement of categories for which is difficult or not usual to engage in public
debate, and by gathering and improving the transparency of the process itself. Of course the process and the needed technology can be costly, especially for small municipalities and particularly in period of economic crises. In this landscape EMPATIA provides an open source solution that can be easily adjusted to local needs and that has already been tested in several European cities.
Description of the outcome
Supporting democratic participation of citizens by opening up cities’ budgets
Empatia is for participatory budgeting what WordPress is for websites: it gives a modular, adaptive and interoperable platform that is ready to use to the persons in charge of participatory process within each municipality. Each municipality can personalize EMPATIA not only in terms of graphic outlines, but also tailoring the features of the platform on the deliberative procedure of any participatory process. It means that any municipality can autonomously decide for example the parameters required to submit a proposal, how many stages of consultation will take place, what kind of voting method will be used to select proposal, and many other features that could be configured dynamically via the backend interface. It is important to highlight that a single installation of EMPATIA is able to manage multiple processes and multiple websites.
When it is not used “all-in-one”, EMPATIA’s tools can be integrated in already existing participatory software by using only the modules that are really needed. EMPATIA has been developed by putting the need to make participatory budgeting inclusive at the centercentre, the need to make participatory budgeting inclusive so that the technology is designed for allowing access to different users despite their language, digital skill and level of education. Finally, EMPATIA allows citizens to better interact with local governments and to learn from previous experience by providing impactful metrics and analytics about the whole process and by allowing better transparency and independent assessment on the results of each process.
Pilot Sites (where EMPATIA is/has been actually used to deliver Participatory Budgeting processes):
- City of Wuppertal (GER): https://www.buergerbudget.wuppertal.de/
- City of Lisbon (PT): https://lisboaparticipa.pt/
- City of Milan (IT): https://monitoraggio.bilanciopartecipativomilano.it
- Ministry of youth (PT): https://opjovem.gov.pt/
- City of Riçany (CZR): https://ricany.empatia-project.eu/
- OIDP: https://oidp.empatia-project.eu/
- City of Condeixa (PT): https://opcondeixa.empatia-project.eu/
- City of Cormano (IT): https://www.cormanopartecipa.it/
- City of Monza (IT): http://www.monzapartecipa.it/
- City of Pavia (IT): https://partecipa.comune.pv.it/
Some information is available on the main project site (old version): http://empatia-project.eu/, it will be realised in a new version in March 2018 which will include a new version of the demo page: http://demo.empatia-project.eu/ and documentation for managers: http://docs.empatia-project.eu/
What you need to use it
Interested municipalities can already start to use the code released publicly. Nonetheless, at the current stage of development of the non-technical documentation, it could be useful to get in touch with members of the EMPATIA team in order to receive proper training about how to use it. Once a municipality will start using EMPATIA solutions its citizens will only need a computer with an internet connection to interact on it.
EMPATIA also includes various features designed for being used also in combination with face-to-face participatory process. In this case, citizens will need no technology at all, but will take part to public events in which, for example, they will be able to vote using a specific device (kiosks based on RaspberryPI) also developed by the project.
Do you want to contribute?
The rationale behind EMPATIA requires that the technological choices are a consequence of the organizational model/procedure chosen. In this way technology do not drive the deliberation of citizen, but is used to support it in a complementary manner, to boost and amplify social innovations that have been delivered in-person for decades before crossing digital technologies. In order to allow it, EMPATIA is designed to ensure the highest flexibility and adaptability operable through a graphical backend interface. The skills required to configure and manage EMPATIA could be compared to those necessary to use the most common CMS based on PHP, like WordPress or Drupal.
Any city that is interested to use EMPATIA has two main options:
- Use EMPATIA in a SaaS deployment. In this case a third party will take care of the configuration of the platform for the specific use case. The third party could be a member of the EMPATIA consortium, but also new other private players that could be interested in providing services based on EMPATIA code, under the framework of the code’s license. Each municipality will still require to commit resources and personnel necessary to manage the platform along the process, including for example the moderation of comments and proposals, the management of multimedia content for public communication, the verification of users, etc.
- Install EMPATIA locally on its own server, using the code published on Github and related documentation. In this case a higher technical skills level is required to install and configure the platform properly. Even if more complex, this solution has the advantage to offer to city the full autonomy on the configuration of available features and full control of data collected and generated through the platform.
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