“A model for the analysis of online citizen deliberation: Barcelona case study” by R. Borge, J. Balcells & A. Padró-Solanet. Paper ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, 2018

24 April, 2018

Paper presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, University of Nicosia, Cyprus, 10-14 April, 2018. Available at https://ecpr.eu/Events/PaperDetails.aspx?PaperID=38198&EventID=112


Abstract: Following wins by new left-wing parties in Spain’s 2015 local elections, new participatory platforms were launched to enhance citizen participation and debate on local public policies. Platforms rolled out in Barcelona and Madrid are now being adopted by other Catalan, Spanish and European cities. The modular design of these platforms allows local governments to open up web pages for participatory deliberation with themed nesting of comments (similar to that of social media). But are these platforms really facilitating meaningful public deliberation? To answer this question, we assess the deliberative quality of one relevant online conversation developed within the local government online platform Decidim Barcelona. Our analysis focuses on the most commented citizens’ proposal discussed for the elaboration of the Barcelona’s Pla d’Actuació Municipal (strategic city planning), i.e. the granting of new licenses for tourist apartments. In order to evaluate the deliberative capacity of this conversation, we have followed the classical literature on deliberation in general and online deliberation in particular to empirically test a system of indicators that could be applied to other online media systems. We have carried out a detailed content analysis of the 336 comments from the conversation. In addition, we have examined how the different criteria of deliberative quality evolve as participants interact, by introducing the dimension of depth, inspired on the social computing research on conversation structures. The findings show that the relation between the deliberative quality and the depth of the conversation is in most cases curvilinear. The level of justification decreases as conversations go deeper, whereas the levels of reciprocity and negative empathy (disrespect) become more important over time before decreasing at a later stage. Overall, these findings show that online citizen  deliberation may freely emerge , but they also reveal the difficulties of ensuring the quality of deliberation over time. Although the platform is well-designed to foster participation, citizen initiatives and open conversations, it needs a better structure to stimulate and preserve deliberation among citizens.


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