Tools for Civic Participation
Foundations, Methods, and Techniques

Essays on Civic Participation
Paper # 6

Tools for Civic Participation
Foundations, Methods, and Techniques

by Fernando Pindado (coordinator), Óscar Rebollo Izquierdo, Joel Martí Olivé

Translation by Alana Henry

Regional Government of Barcelona County
Network of Municipalities
“Flor de Maig” Center for Civic Participation
[] tel. + 34 934 020 714

© Dipuctació de Barcelona, October 2002, DL: B-42606-2002

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“The task of building new social processes that make life in society sustainable is therefore urgent and, if truth be told, this is absolutely not possible without the participation of the people; whether in finding a better distribution of resources, or guaranteeing that those non-renewable resources do not run out. Although, it is clear that we do not refer to any kind of civic participation. We refer to participatory processes that have a political and methodological basis that is committed to meeting this goal.”

With this paragraph the authors finish the introduction to this new dossier from the collection “Essays on Civic Participation” that presents the principle ruling factors of participatory processes in an organised way, and describes a series of techniques that we can use to carry out these practices.

Clearly avoiding presenting a recipe of uniform participatory methodologies and techniques, and thinking of the necessary adaptation of participatory processes of every kind from the territorial reality, from participating actors and from their interests, the authors agree completely with the principal objectives of the present collection: to facilitate practical resources to those in charge of local management and to promote knowledge and the dispersal of a new form of governance and maintaining relations between citizens and governors.

I would like to thank the professors Joel Martí and Óscar Rebollo for the work that they did and their contribution to the spreading of these participatory practices that enable the previous planning and methodological design adapted to each reality, which are, absolutely the key to its prior validity.

Pere Alcober i Solanas
President of the Autonomous Organization Flor de Maig
Deputy delegate on Civic Participation

Introduction to the Contents

All societies that we know maintain inequalities between their members. Throughout history, these inequalities are and have been of different types. They are obviously reflected in the economic field; for example, we always encounter people and groups who dispose of much greater economic resources than others. The same happens in the cultural field, with people and groups that have had, in comparison with others, greater guaranteed access to information, education, and dominant cultural contents: whatever they may be.

All these inequalities have had, then, as could not possibly be otherwise, a change in the political territory. This has been seen in the management of public affairs, in the taking of decisions about the aspects that affect the whole of the community or that have to do with general interests. In these cases, while some individuals or groups have and historically have had an enormous capacity to intervene, others in contrast have remained at the margins of these decisions.

Inequality, whether it is economic, cultural, or political, is and always has been present in human societies. Although it is also certain that the characteristics and conditions of this inequality have not always been the same. For some, however only for some, the capitalist societies of our age have opened new possibilities of equality throughout the 20th century.

If we focus on political inequalities, those relative to the opportunities that diverse social groups have to intervene in the management of public affairs, the 20th century can be seen as a really exceptional period in which, for the first time in history, political rights are quite generalised to all citizens. There are exceptions, like those that have to do with age, that make it so that only those that are older than a certain age can participate completely in political life, or those that have to do with gender, e.g. the recognition of the political rights between men and women hasn’t been equal until very recently. But at the end of the 20th century, we can say that it has been an exceptional period from the point of view of overcoming certain levels of inequality, as much on the formal and legal level. This political equality is recognised, although the economic inequalities continue to exist and continue to condition the social map where the rest of the inequalities are drawn. In other words, in the legal and formal policy, two very different people from an economic point of view have the same political territory and the same rights and duties. Some authors, for example, have referred to the 20th century as the century of political inclusion, of political participation of the working class. On the other hand, we are dealing historically with a collective that has had to sum up the economic and cultural inequalities that come together with political inequality that meant that it was not possible to intervene in the management of public affairs, for example, by not having a right to vote, nor the right to present themselves as political candidates, nor the right to meet and associate, etc.

It is certainly true that the 20th century has been the century of politics for many citizens, in various countries. Broadly speaking, without making nuances between countries and historical circumstances, the main civic rights, and more concretely political rights like freedom of expression, etc. have been consolidated in this century. Certainly we are talking about formal rights, and afterwards we can ask whether they are more or less effective or whether they bring other kinds of inequalities, but we cannot deny to history the evidence that workers in these countries have led a process of transformations and have established a workers’ movement together with their trade unions and political organisations.

Though the 20th century can be considered as the political century, during the last quarter century from the 70s onwards, many authors have begun to notice a break, even a retreat, in the equalising tendencies in comparison with previous decades, and this is also evident in the political territory.

The century that has seen political parties be born and grow, especially on the left of the political spectrum, which have helped bring about the near generalisation of suffrage or the rights to meet and associate, now sees how in the last years, certain tendencies start to change pattern and become disrupted. In this way, since the 70s, it is possible to talk about a political crisis, or the crisis of old politics with relation to the way that these political parties have been institutionalized during the last century, although this cannot be generalised in all countries. Spain, for example, got on this bandwagon very late, and therefore, when some speak of a crisis of old democratic politics, here we are still fighting to get a political system which can be guaranteed.

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