COSS introduces the CONSUL – Free open source software for citizen participation from the Madrid City Council
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COSS – the Finnish Centre for Open Systems and Solutions interviewed the people behind the CONSUL project. Please find the full interview below.
Would you tell us what the CONSUL project is all about? What is it’s history and maybe something about the organization and the people behind this project?
CONSUL is a project by more than 80 governments from all over the world to make citizens take part on the important decisions of their institutions. It is an open source project, so any government that wants to use it can just install and use it as they want without paying anything. It is a very special project, since it is not so common that governments from different countries decide to build technology together, so it has become the largest project worldwide of such kind.
From countries as Uruguay, to regions as Jalisco in Mexico, Cities as Madrid, Paris or Buenos Aires and also small cities, all kind of governments are using the platform. It has become not only a common platform, but a common bond to share experiences and knowledge on how to do these citizen participation processes effective. One can only learn by doing and sharing with others doing as you.
Since it is a free software project, there are also lots of developers from the civil society, not connected to these institutions that are helping to improve the code. And it is easy to understand because people from all over the world were looking for such technologies for changing how institutions work.
What kind of features and benefits does the CONSUL platform have?
CONSUL allows to start all the main citizen participation processes that are used by governments worldwide. For example it has a module for citizen initiatives, where citizens can make proposals and collect supports from other citizens for voting them. It has a module of consultations, to open votings on the important issues of the institutions. Another module for participatory budgeting, where citizens can decide part of the budget of the government. And other channels of participation as debates, collaborative drafting, crowdlaw, communities, etc.
The idea behind the platform is to make it easy for the government to open any channel of democracy that they want, and also for citizens to easily be part on the decisions.
Has anything like this been created before? If so, how does this differ? Or is there something especially unique in your platform that you would like to share with us?
There are other previous platforms that have done very interesting processes, but before CONSUL there was not a platform that allowed to have this wide variety of processes in the same tool. Since this tool is designed with the institutions that use it, is done understanding that the citizen participation projects from each government are very different, and thus the tool should be very open and flexible.
And regarding the citizens that is also a huge advantage. You do not need to register in a lot of different web pages, so you are informed easily each time a new participation process happens. Therefore the levels of engagement and participation are huge. This a unique feature that makes it a really effective platform.
The fact of all those very different governments working together in this open source technology is also really unique. Is not just a tool, but a worldwide open government project.
How widely is the CONSUL platform used at the moment? Would you like to highlight a few organizations that are using the platform?
It is very interesting to see the different processes that are being started with this technology. For example citizens of Buenos Aires decided how to spend more than 20 million euros last year in their participatory budgeting sending more than 30.000 proposals; in Madrid it was proposed a citizen initiative for a sustainability plan for the city that was voted and approved by more than 200.000 citizens; in Uruguay their new open government plan for the country is decided through the platform, etc.
Once the technology is available, is just about how creativity.
What are your goals in the future regarding the CONSUL project?
The goal of the project is keep growing and including more governments. Now there are no excuses to open our governments, and in the network we are really happy to help new governments to give the first steps, sharing not only the technology, but the experience in everything needed: the organization of the processes, the communication strategies, the legal procedures, etc.
How can one join the CONSUL project or contribute to it?
Absolutely. As commented any institution can just contact us and we will help them to make it work without any complications. Developers can join the github project and be part of the community of developers building the code. And for citizens without technological background, there is a really important way to help the project that is contacting with your local, regional or national government and invite them to be more open and let citizens take part of the institutions. That may seem small, but actually is very important, because there are lot of governments that do not start these kind of citizen participation processes just because they do not know how easy is to do it.