Smart City Expo debate on open source and technology to meet Europe's digital challenges
November 9, 2023
Representatives of different European cities analyze new ways to enhance digital democracy in the framework of the European Capital of Democracy.
In the red room of the Smart City Expo World Congress held at Fira Barcelona from 7 to 9 November, Arnau Monterde, director of Democratic Innovation of the Barcelona City Council, led a panel discussion entitled "Public code and technologies: next digital and democratic challenges for Europe". This event, which took place in the framework of the European Capital of Democracy, brought together experts such as Laura Dornheim, Councillor and Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of the City of Munich, and Paula Grzegorzewska, Director of Strategic Partnerships at OpenForum Europe, a think tank in Brussels where they work on digital policy issues such as open source software, standardization, cloud computing and AI.
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The debate focused on the need to imagine new models of production and technology based on open source, placing the issue of democracy and the digital rights of citizens at the center. With technological development advancing at a rapid pace, Arnau Monterde highlighted the growing inability to generate regulatory frameworks necessary for the public development of technology for democracy. Monterde stressed that "the context is difficult because we are losing control from the perspective of citizens at different levels, technological, data, software and hardware. In addition, we now have the challenge of AI, privatization and we are also losing the ability to lead in these democratic processes, from the public administration. We are far from the citizens and that is why we decided to create an open tool as a solution". In this line, he presented the Decidim model, a digital platform for citizen participation that has proven to be a success with more than 500 installations in 30 countries and more than 3 million participants. It has been implemented in cities such as New York, Helsinki and also in countries such as Mexico or Brazil and even in the European Union, for example.
Decidim has been a successful experience that addresses three purposes: the political (to encourage citizen participation), the technical (being an open source platform) and its architecture that promotes continuous and networked collaboration, being a democratic tool that evolves in a collaborative way. The director of Democratic Innovation of the Barcelona City Council also explained that the consistory has invested more than 3 million euros in the Decidim platform and that today for only 3,000 euros you can start to make it work in your own organization: "it is a gift from the city of Barcelona to the world", he assured, "this tool has public guarantees and is economic and must have a return to the citizenship".
Monterde also shared other success stories with the use of open source in schools, allowing students to have control of their own data. He also highlighted the value of learning in public procurement, with a cross-cutting approach that includes actors from academia and citizens to the private sector.
Paula Grzegorzewska, Director of Strategic Partnerships at OpenForum Europe, has proposed three key areas in which to work collaboratively. Firstly, policy recommendations to encourage the use of open source software, including comprehensive implementation strategies and guidelines, considering open source during legislation and establishing specialized offices in this area. Second, the importance of a more open economy with favorable tax incentives, a clear accountability regime for open source developers and publicly funded audits for critical open source projects. Finally, the need for a cultural change with the promotion of collaboration through a single digital marketplace and both bottom-up and top-down initiatives.
For her part, Munich City Councilor and Chief Digital Officer Laura Dornheim added that they have learned a lot from the experience with LiMux which, although not a success, was useful. Dornheim stressed the need for technical standards and collaborative platforms, especially in a fragmented federal system with 11,200 municipalities in Germany.
This roundtable discussion has highlighted the importance of developing open technology to address digital and democratic challenges in Europe, putting democratic issues at the center of technological innovation. Collaboration between cities, the use of open source and attention to citizens' needs are key elements to move towards a more robust and participatory digital democracy.
Mayors' Summit and cities workshop
Within the same framework of the Smart City Expo World Congress and EcoD, the 'Summit of mayors and mayors' workshop 'Strengthening democracy and the role of cities in the European Union' was also held, which for two days brought together more than twenty political representatives from European capitals and other cities in the Eurocities network. During the meeting, local representatives have called for greater participation of local authorities in European decision-making processes and new EU governance instruments designed specifically for cities.
On the other hand, the Barcelona Metropolitan Strategic Plan and Bable, an entity that connects cities and companies across Europe to drive smart and sustainable growth, organized a facilitated workshop to address the co-creation of the future of cities that brought together some eighty experts in urban planning and urban transformation to merge social and digital innovation with the aim of improving metropolitan governance.
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