Sara Ramírez Abal graduated in Psychology with a Master’s negree in Decentralized International Cooperation from the University of the Basque Country. Her career has been developed between international cooperation and her participation in political and social spaces in her home region, Galicia. As for International Cooperation, she worked as international advisor, supporting organizations such as Unicef in tasks related with data analysis and the role of data for public policies. She also made various evaluations of projects in Central America, based on participative techniques and their combination with data retrieved from surveys. In Galicia, she was vice-coordinator of organization and finances in Espazo Ecosocialista Galego, one of the political parties that formed Alternativa Galega de Esquerdas (AGE), political confluence with nine members in the Galician Parliament (since the regional elections of 2012) and one Eurodeputy in the European Parliament (since the European elections of 2014).
Currently, even though detached from political activity, she keeps her activities of political incidence and social participation from social organizations.
It is evident that the technological revolution is strongly attached to urban settlements. However, generating participative processes has always been much easier in the countryside. Could these two conditions, apparently independent and derived from opposite phenomena, be connected in any way?
If so, what opportunities do they bring for the creation of evidence-based public policies?
Another matter would be whether there is any opportunity not to miss the open data train in the countryside, despite its technological gap with cities.
Data are not the remedy for every democratic deficit in the definition and elaboration of policies, because as much as technology offers several opportunities, it still does not have the answer for everything.
The sometimes idealized community participation is not a remedy either. In fact, territorial empowerment when managing the common is sometimes seen as separate from institutional public management. While the future of communal mountains, paths or access to drinking water is being decided on in a more or less efficient and consensual way, the community easily detaches itself when it comes to municipal management, as if it had nothing to provide or contribute to the development of infrastructure, or as if it were not a general issue, given that it is “the mayor’s concern.”
We are certain that open data policies can improve transparency, accountability and even the design of evidence-based public policies; all aspects strongly linked to the need for more or less involvement in politics.
On the other hand, physical closeness with institutions facilitates direct participation, but there are certain actions or policies that require data to become truly participative. This means, defining whether it is a priority to create a primary education school or a day center for the elderly is something that people themselves have to decide caring about considering their needs, without appealing to data analytics. It is simply something that they should care about and whose effects are tangible in their everyday life at short term. But what happens with those policies or actions whose results are not that clear or there where it is not that easy to visualize at what extent they can affect us?
The probability model of the elaboration of Petty and Cacioppo maintains that messages of little relevancy are not cause for a great cognitive (rational) analysis by the recipients of the message (Petty and Cacioppo 1986). People give their opinion about that which is not considered especially relevant for their lives in a rather emotional manner, and consequently easily influenced; arguments not based mainly on evidence have been widely efficient due to their capacity to spark fears or hopes.
People need participation tools so that they can decide on things that directly affect their lives, but also need to have contrastable information so that they can make a decision or even consider to what extent that decision can be relevant for their lives.
Thinking about opportunities from Galicia, Spain
It is feasible for people to get closer to the world of data, but also they can strengthen each other by combining their community experience, participation and data.
Galicia is one of those places in the world where socio-demographic characteristics are characterized by, other than some exceptions in its coastline, small population centers, high population aging and urban-rural inequality. However, the establishment of agreements, added to a certain socio-political pragmatism, is also part of the socio-cultural and political Galician context.
Corcoesto is a county within a Galician council called Cabana de Bergantiños, with around four thousand inhabitants. This small locality became famous in 2013 when a mining project approved by the Galician government was eventually terminated due to the social backlash it caused.
However, this positioning against the project was not as large initially. During a visit to the area a few months before the agreement, some people admitted feeling quite ambivalent regarding the matter: opposing the mine, against the promise of job positions in an economically depressed area, generated emotional conflicts. It was then that between the opposing organizations in the mine conflict, there was the Sociedade Galega de Historia Natural (Galician Society for Natural History), an environmentalist organization formed by professionals in the area of research in natural sciences. This organization warned about the negative effects of the mine over the community, focusing on arguments based on data and scientific studies.
People started to gather and attend meetings that both fronts convened to discuss the matter, accessing both arguments and data, apparently contrary, that they were founded on. The result was such a strong mobilization that ended up paralyzing the project, extending to the whole of the Galician territory.
It is true that there were more factors, but it gives an idea of the potential there is in this combination of data and community tradition; this example also illustrates the idea that we must start considering differentiated strategies for certain territories when considering how to implement open data policies. If we achieve drawing from an analysis about the particularities of each reality, in terms of socio-cultural, economic, demographic and gender conditions, maybe the roadmaps towards open data policies turn out to be pretty different, but we may also find surprising results.
 This “pragmatism” is seen in the construction processes of political confluences, which had a trajectory prior to the municipal elections of 2015.
Petty, R.E., and J. T. Ccacioppo. Communication and persuasion: central and peripheral routes to attiude change. Nueva York: Sprienger-Verlag, 1986.
Cover photo by Jeremy Cai.