Episode#43 Barcelona: European Capital of Democracy or "Collective Intelligence"

Guests: Arnau Monterde, the Director of Democratic Innovation at the Barcelona City Council

Date of recording: 6 September 2023


Find transcript here


Summaries of Key Takeaways:  

  • European Capital of Democracy: Barcelona's recognition reflects its impactful democratic innovations over the last eight years. 
  • Participatory Budgeting Success: Citizens decide on the allocation of over 30 million Euros through participatory budgeting, demonstrating direct democracy in action. 
  • Diverse Citizen Projects: Projects range from playgrounds to car-free streets, showcasing a wide variety of citizen interests and priorities. 
  • Conflict and Consensus in Democracy: The city navigates between different citizen needs, balancing desires for more or fewer cars as an example. 
  • Collective Intelligence: Emphasizing the value of gathering insights from citizens, experts, and officials to make more informed decisions. 
  • Historical Influence on Innovation: Barcelona's rich history of social movements and labor rights contributes to its innovative approach to democracy today. 
  • Citizen Assemblies by Sortition: Innovative assemblies involve citizens directly in decision-making, enhancing engagement and representation. 
  • Challenges of Inclusivity: Efforts to ensure all voices, especially marginalized ones, are heard and considered in the democratic process. 


“To you, what is a Smart City?”

Arnau Monterde: “Uh, to me, a smart city, uh, is a city who I, I say who because has this capacity to be as a, as a, as a kind of, uh, collective, uh, and human. But a smart cities is a city that includes the cities and the civil society organization than the social, uh, actors in the, in the process to design, uh, democratically the, the, the city, the needs of the city, the services of the city. Um, actually to me, uh, a smart city is a democratic city, is a city where the citizens has a, a very important role and the government work together with, with the cities and the, the, and the, the the as to ensure that they have a, a better place to live, to enjoy and to, yeah, and to be part of,”   



  • There needs to be a permanent conversation between citizens and city representatives

"I think that we have to create the channels to have a permanent conversation between citizens and the government. We need to know the needs of the citizens, but at a global level, because the citizens are diverse. There are people that have specific needs and other with other needs. And the government has to manage that. And sometimes this means conflicts. For example, in the city, we are seeing the battle with the people who want more cars and the people who want less cars. And we have to manage that. This is what the government has to do. But I really believe in the idea to have this permanent negotiation and also to explore the possibilities of collective intelligence, because if we get the information from citizens who know perfectly the city, from the experts, the managers of the city and also the politicians, then we can start to create something more intelligent. But we need to respect the principle of democracy, basically." - Arnau Monterde

  •  Collective intelligence enhances decision-making

"For example, when we have an election we are electing the mayor and maybe 10 or 15 concillors. But these 15 people, they don't have the whole knowledge of what happened within the city. And we have a lot of huge challenges for the 21st century. And the only way to tackle them is by combining the different knowledge that we have in the city, attending, definitely, to a general purpose, but we need to know what happens: what are the needs of the people? What are the problems? What are the specific things that happens in the city? And the only way to do that is asking and working together with the people to understand the needs of the city." - Arnau Monterde

  • Inclusivity in democracy requires commitment and adaptability

"It’s very difficult because you have to put a lot of effort on [ensuring that marginalized voices are heard and represented in the discussions]. If you want to have a bridge democracy, you have to gather the conditions to make it happen. And the first thing that you need to do is engage people and to involve people to have a political commitment. This is the first thing that I'm committed to: participation. I'm committed to the results of the process, and I'm committed to you. And this is the first sign that you have to give to the people if you want to involve them. This is the first thing. But then you need a lot of resources. You have to communicate in different ways, and you have to reach everyone, and you have to be flexible because the people, they have a lot of things, family charges, and works, and jobs, and studies, so you have to be flexible in terms of adaptation to the needs.” - Arnau Monterde

  • Democratize digital infrastructure for self-governance

“We are running this digital platform for citizen participation, and we open process where we allow people to create proposals and give comments, but we always mediate this as a city council. My dream is to have something more self-governed where anyone can create everything. I would really love to have this, also at this like more political or institutional level, where the government provide you a digital infrastructure to be part of, in a secure way in, with democratic guarantees, preserving digital rights. But you can have their voice and you can have a way and a capacity to express yourself and to connect with others, and organize things together. We always talk about political networks. It is not a social network. It's a political network to address different political initiative, to promote the self organization of the people at the city level. ” - Arnau Monterde

  • Democracy must address global challenges inclusively

We have to see how through democracy and through a democratic way and involvement - we can not just preserve and keep our rights safe - how we can win other important rights at the global level. We have war here, we have a lot of inequalities. We have the people dying on the borders of Europe, and how we can address that? Because these are huge problems that we have to see and we have to face, and we have to face in a democratic way. We cannot say “just everyone in their own country”. We need to see how we can create more democratic, more inclusive and more respectful societies at the global level. It is a very important issue.” - Arnau Monterde