Barcelona Digital City Plan

City, Country

Barcelona, Spain

Initiative/ policy

Barcelona Digital City Plan is an ambitious strategy promoted by the Municipality with the aim of unlocking a New Deal on Data able to ensure high quality and affordable services, while guaranteeing citizens’ data sovereignty, ethics and respect of privacy.

Initiative's relationship to REFLOW

  • Co-creation design & framework

  • Technical infrastructure & software

  • Collaborative governance & urban strategies

  • Capacity building

  • Communication


City level

Period of implementation

2015 - 2019

Core vision

Barcelona Digital City Plan is the result of a creative and collaborative process of collective policy-making which has actively engaged local communities and the city innovation ecosystem in rethinking together the concept of smart city. The plan sets a number of directives that aim at re-establishing shared control over data and information generated by digital technologies, as well as on promoting public digital infrastructures based on free and open source software, open standards and privacy-enhancing and rights-preserving technologies. The plan has defined a digital and technological strategy as a key factor for developing public policies that are geared towards better addressing people’s needs, as well as reinforcing citizens' skills and the capacities of the business sector to reinvent a smart city at the service of citizens. This has brought Barcelona beyond the concept of smart city, making it a more open, fairer and democratic city, which is an international benchmark for technological policies.

Implementation and Governance

With the ultimate goal of unleashing a digital revolution which ‘serves the many and not just the few’, the plan builds upon three main pillars:

  • Digital transformation of the city and the City Council itself, leading to an open, collaborative and transparent government, with projects that include the creation of ethical digital standards, the new Municipal Data Office (2019) and the DECODE (2019) initiative.

  • Digital innovation and revitalisation of the local innovation ecosystem, strengthening its capacity to contribute to multiple benefits and impacts through ‘a city as a lab’ approach, with projects such as 5G Barcelona, Make in BCN and the i.lab in Ca l’Alier.

  • Digital empowerment of citizens, in order to foster collective intelligence, participatory democracy, digital inclusion and digital skills and competencies, with projects that include Decidim Barcelona, the City Coalition for Digital Rights, the empowerment of women in technology and STEAM BCN (2019).

The strategy is based on three axes involving a broad range of actors: Government and City, where digital innovation is directed towards the transformation of the public administration towards more openness and efficiency; Enterprises and Social organisations, where digital innovation shall operate as a ground for viable innovations taking together both economic and social objectives; Citizens, making sure that they are actively involved and consulted in the definition of priorities and needs. Accordingly, the Plan envisages a number of actions and measures spanning e-government, digital democracy, development and empowerment of public digital assets and infrastructures, support for enterprises and social economy organisations, capacity-building for citizens at large, among many others.

The Plan sets in place a large scale experiment of multi-stakeholder and collaborative governance where the local government activates and provides stewardship to multiple actors, with the overall goal of channeling co-creation and collective intelligence towards smarter, inclusive and participatory urban environments. The Plan also positions the Municipality as a key player in enabling market opportunities, also via an innovative approach to public-private partnerships and public procurement that involves private actors in the early definition of the procurement itself. Moreover, the Municipality provides physical space to host workshops and develop solutions, as well as spaces for ideas acceleration and projects incubation (see for example Barcelona Activa, the Economic Development Agency of Barcelona City Council) that offer a comprehensive set of capacity building and training activities.

When it comes to citizens, Barcelona fosters the use of technology to facilitate participatory democracy and a digital society built with, for and by citizens. The Decidim Barcelona platform, with more than 40,000 participants, helps Barcelona experiment with new ways and methods for a genuinely participatory democracy, including via collaborative strategic planning, regulatory design and participatory budgeting. In this way, Decidim promotes a new way of distributing common resources and allows citizens to track the executions of approved projects.

The Digital Transformation Plan of the Barcelona City Council currently has a budget of € 72 MLN, part of which (around € 30 MLN) allocated to flagship projects developed within the Program for Open Digitization: Free Software and Agile Development of Services. These projects are being developed with agile methodologies, and incorporate new practices in the use of data based on free and open source software.

Results, impacts and learnings

Nowadays, Barcelona stands as a benchmark for smart policies that are deeply entrenched with digital social innovation. The Plan has indeed contributed to create an enabling environment for digital-driven and digital social innovation (DSI), while igniting a period of vitality and collective creativity for the common good. Nevertheless, a number of challenges can be highlighted:

  • Financing: Both public and private sources of funding are necessary for the development of DSI initiatives. This challenge might be critical given the often low economic and financial viability of many initiatives, as well as the time it can take to reap the benefits of network effects. For this reason, a strong commitment by public authorities to support DSI with specific subsidy lines is required. Moreover, a change in the way national and supranational public bodies perceive DSI initiatives would also be beneficial for the replication and scaling up of locally based initiatives.

  • Skills and organisational capacity: Training and capacity-building activities are crucial to establish a level playing field for all actors in the city. Barcelona’s City Council supports a publicly-owned and operated digital fabrication lab called Ateneus de Fabricació. Public facilities are essential as they can better reach and engage citizens at risk of exclusion and from lower socio-economic groups.

  • Media and communication: Adequate communication is considered as a key enabler for the promotion of DSI initiatives. Media, communication channels and press coverage are fundamental, particularly when it comes to general public outreach, beyond specialist audiences.

  • Public procurement: Public procurement should be used as a strategic tool to transform the delivery of services, placing residents’ needs and demands at the centre. Introducing innovation in public procurement starts by defining the problems, rather than specifying the solutions. This is an invitation for creativity, making public contracts more accessible to smaller providers, such as start-ups and SMEs


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