Democracy is a living organism; it is made by and for the people. And encouraging more people to participate surely strengthens democracy.
To enable citizen participation, Portugal’s government has carried out a variety of initiatives, which we intend to expand upon in the coming years.
Portugal is a country with 118 participatory budgets at the local level, and one of the best values at the European level, with a total investment of €91 million in the past 10 years, and €20 million invested last year alone.
Portugal’s Participatory Budget, or OPP, is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making in which citizens can decide how a part of a public budget should be allocated. Recently, we felt that we needed to take a broader approach and do something that has never been done before: create a national level participatory budget. This year, in the pilot phase, our OPP will allow citizens in the Portuguese mainland to decide how to invest €3 million in projects related to culture, science, adult education and training, and agriculture. In Azores and Madeira–Portugal’s Autonomous Regions–areas of proposed investment are justice and internal affairs.
But we did not just challenge citizens to participate; we reached out to them to promote encounters for sharing ideas.
On the road since 9 January, we have travelled more than 9,500 km to over 50 cities and got over 2,500 people to participate. We spoke with Portuguese citizens, lent them a stage, gave them pens and paper, and the proposals flowed: decorating streets with poetry, creating an itinerant science laboratory, mapping smuggling routes and places, to name just a few. We have already received more than 900 proposals, with an emphasis on cultural projects.
In May we plan to analyse the proposals, transform them into projects and, between July and September, invite our citizens to vote via the web or SMS for one national and one regional project. At the end of September, winning projects will be announced and implemented, after which we can evaluate and correct what needs to be corrected, and draw lessons for the future of the programme.
Other initiatives worth mentioning stem from our SIMPLEX programme series, which is our flagship initiative for legislative and administrative simplification. In one instance, called Startup Simplex, we sent out invitations to all entrepreneurs wanting to develop projects to serve public administration in its relationship with citizens and companies. The aim was to enhance innovation and participation in the operation of public administration. Another instance, called SIMPLEX JAM, captures the valuable contributions of our public servants. Through this venue, we created and promoted meetings in 5 different cities with 13 public entities and 133 participants, who shared 222 new ideas, all fundamental for allowing us to adopt innovative methodologies. Finally, in order to increase citizen participation, we promoted a SIMPLEX Tour that travelled around the country listening to over 2,000 citizens and business people, where they live, work and develop their economic activity. We gathered a total of 1,427 proposals and suggestions for the programme.
And since participation, and therefore democracy, is also about being able to make our public administration more “user friendly”, up to speed and useful for our citizens, we are also implementing measures to improve the life of our citizens and their relation with public administration via other means.
We are experimenting new solutions in our LabX–an experimentation lab to innovate the public sector. This way, the government becomes closer to and simpler for all our citizens.
Last, but certainly not least, is the issue of digital inclusion, because if the world is going digital so must our citizens. Our National Digital Competency Initiative (also known as INCoDe.2030), will respond to the challenges of digital literacy and inclusion, employment upskilling and the creation of a value-added economy, and address some of the main economic challenges facing the country.
Even with these processes of digitalisation, we cannot exclude those who are not digitally proficient, so we are extending our network of “Lojas do Cidadão”, physical places where citizens have access to several public services, and “Espaços do Cidadão”, digitally assisted points.
Democracy is indeed a living organism, and we must look after it. This means we must innovate and rise up to face society’s new challenges. Our initiatives will no doubt face tests ahead, but are a valuable step in securing our democracy’s future.
Maria Manuel Leitão Marques
© OECD Yearbook