TRANSGOB is a research project which addresses the impact of the economic crisis on the forms of urban governance in Spain, contrasting the experience of our country with that of the United Kingdom. Full title: “TRANSGOB: Transformations of Urban Governance in the Context of the Crisis. Evolution and prospects for participative governance in Spain and the UK.”


“The discourse and practice of participatory governance experienced a boom in European cities in the aftermath of the new millennium, coinciding with a period of economic boom. This project thoroughly examines the role of participatory urban governance in times of crisis and austerity: Has participation strengthened? Has it weakened? Does it remain unchanged? Has it been reformulated?

In principle, the empirical evidence points to four contradictory directions: (1) the continuity of some pre-existing formal structures of participation; (2) residualisation and the disappearance of some others; (3) the emergence of new practices; and (4) the development of new meanings and new roles for participation. But do all these trends have the same weight or are there some that clearly dominate over the other? Are there significant variations from place to place? What are the explanatory factors for such variations? When we speak of participatory governance we are concerned not only with what happens to citizen participation mechanisms promoted from the “top” by the public institutions, but also we wonder what new participation dynamics emerge from the “bottom”

Overall, how are relationships between government and citizens evolving? Can we talk about new models, new paradigms? What political assessment should be made of them? This project addresses these issues through a comparative analysis of various British cities (Cardiff, Leicester) and of the Spanish state (Madrid, Barcelona, Lleida and San Sebastián).”

The Evolution of Participatory Governance in Barcelona After the 2008 Crisis

Excerpted from here:

“The case of Barcelona is a good example of the participation boom that took place in Catalonia and Spain – and in other parts of the world – in the beginning of the new millennium. However, Barcelona’s participative tradition can be traced back to the late 1980s, when some of the current mechanisms of citizen participation were set up. Citizen participation mechanisms, in fact, form part of a wider model of collaborative governance, in which local government maintains a leading role, but cooperates with different types of actors (public, private and communitarian) to reach collective goals such as urban regeneration, economic development and social and environmental progress. Collaborative governance has crystallized in the city as a tradition, spanning different mandates and resisting the effects of governmental change in 2011.

Consequently, continuity (rather than retrenchment, enhancement or innovation) is the dominant trend of collaborative (and participative) governance in the city of Barcelona in recent years. As anticipated by the theoretical framework of the TRANSGOB project, collaborative structures deployed over many years (two decades in the case of Barcelona) can become deeply institutionalised practices difficult to modify or transform, even in the current period of crisis and fiscal retrenchment. Collaboration has become a “policy paradigm”, that is to say, a cognitive framework that defines legitimate courses of action for politicians and state managers (Hall, 1993; cited in Fuller, 2010: 279). Moreover, the fact that the current government has not dismantled the existing participative structures – inherited from the former centre-left governments – might be related to the fact that the anticipated costs of eliminating them ‘could simply outweigh the benefits’ (Davies and Blanco, 2014).

The new conservative government of Barcelona certainly launched a modification of the current ‘Rules of Citizen Participation’ passed in 2003. Such modification was interpreted by some actors as a lost opportunity for a comprehensive and radical transformation of participatory structures in the city, something that some would have expected to occur given the intensity of social and political transformations under the crisis. The government’s discourses on citizen participation put the emphasis on (supposedly) innovative notions such as ‘open government’, ‘social innovation’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘e-democracy’, although such discourses have not had significant impacts on the structures of citizen engagement. In contrast to this situation of institutional paralysis, the crisis has framed the emergence of new social movements in the city such as the 15M assemblies, the PAH and new social groups which reclaim the community use and self-management of misused urban areas.

Such movements adopt new styles of mobilisation – more horizontal, more decentralised, more inter-connected via social networks and the internet. They are also reflective of a ‘pragmatic turn’ in collective action, which means that they tend to focus on specific problems (such as housing evictions and misused urban spaces) to which they try to create specific answers through direct action, complementing or compensating for state and market deficiencies. In a way, they could be considered as examples of what Davies (2014) has called the ‘every-day makers’, although they show an uneven capacity to challenge the status quo: movements like the PAH, for example, challenge private property and confront central actors in the capitalist system like the banks; whereas groups that reclaim the self-management of misused urban spaces contribute to temporary solutions to the shortcomings of the market and state, despite being critical of the neoliberal city.

The case of Barcelona illustrates an increasing mismatch between formal mechanisms and rules of participative democracy, and emerging practices and discourses on citizen engagement. Such mismatch provokes an increasing delegitimisation of existing (formal) channels of citizen involvement in local governance. However, the new social movements demand a new, more transparent, more democratic local politics, with more opportunities for direct participation such as popular legislative initiatives, community management of public goods and referendums. The debate on participative democracy is far from being over. It rather adopts new terms, and expresses ambitions formulated by new socio-political actors. The new government of Barcelona en Comú inherits the participative dynamics of the city. It expresses the emergence of novel concepts such as social innovation, coproduction and the urban commons that emphasize the need of developing more horizontal relationships between the local institutions and the citizens. It is also a reflection of the development of practices of grass-roots mobilisation, claiming a new way of doing politics in the city. The new government aims to give continuity to the participative and collaborative tradition of the city, although it is working on a fresh model of participative governance based on the strengthening of existing structures of citizen participation like the neighbourhood councils, the enhancement of direct democracy mechanisms like citizen initiatives and referendums, the community management of public spaces and facilities and the promotion of participation for underrepresented social groups such as the migrants, the youth and the homeless. To what extent such political intentions will be translated into tangible changes in the formal structures of participation in the city remains to be seen in the future.”

The full Report Series of TRANSGOB can be found here (English & Spanish).

Photo by Asian Development Bank

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