Last week the Decidim team did a work residency in Arantzazulab and during their stay they kicked-off the ZEHAR research project in collaboration with UPV/EHU

  • Arantzazulab and Decidim: enabling conversations across Gipuzkoa 

Written by: Antonio Casado da Rocha (UPV/EHU), ZEHAR action-research project


From July 4 to 8 Arantzazulab hosted research staff and members of the Decidim free software association in an innovative residence to kick-off their collaboration within the ZEHAR action-research project. Funded and sponsored by the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council, in this project by UPV/EHU and Euskampus Fundazioa research groups, citizens and social agents experiment with forms of collaborative governance across Gipuzkoa. 

The decade 2021-2030 is a time of deep transformation in areas such as the economy, social cohabitation, territorial management in the midst of climate change, health care, or science-and-technology in multilingual societies. The challenge is to find forms of governance that can be shared by many social actors, and thus integrate and sustain already existing public policies.

To meet this challenge, ZEHAR models forms of co-governance through experiences where many voices imagine and share visions of the short-medium term future. The horizon is 2030 but thinking about what will happen before and after, seeking to include in the conversation agents that until now have not participated in collaborative governance dynamics. These people may not even have heard of governance, but they surely have an interest in what their lives will be like in the near future. So instead of asking them directly about their governance model, what we encourage are conversations in which people visualize their day-to-day lives in 2030. To the extent that these descriptions include the relationships between citizens and institutions, the ZEHAR research layer will work out from them the conceptions or models of governance at play.

These visions and conversations inhabit a territory that is digital but also very real; and they are cultivated and nurtured through meetings, workshops and residencies throughout Gipuzkoa. The digital territory is an instance of Decidim, a platform designed for citizens, organizations and public institutions to democratically self-organize. This Decidim installation will be the first in Gipuzkoa and is one of the distinctive features of the project, gathering and articulating face-to-face experiences to help the community understand itself better, place itself on the map and generate a shared vision along with other communities. The residencies are the other essential feature: stays of research staff in places of high potential to interact with local communities in the 7 counties of Gipuzkoa. There will also be one- or two-day workshops and other meetings with expert facilitation, exercising technopolitical skills and collective imagination in safe spaces.

The basic concept of ZEHAR is to add voices through mutual listening, that is, to make choral conversations. And the proof of concept has been this first week with the Decidim motor group in Arantzazulab. 5 years after its beginnings in Barcelona, and with more than 450 organizations and institutions using Decidim around the world, in the mornings the group has been able to complete its White Paper and deepen its strategic vision. In the afternoons, the group has contributed to ZEHAR through diverse methodologies (such as walkshops) to take advantage of the natural and cultural richness of the Arantzazu heritage to sustain and catalyze transformative conversations.