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<title>How Barcelona is giving control over technology back to the citizens- an
interview with Francesca Bria.</title>
<h1>How Barcelona is giving control over technology back to the citizens- an
interview with Francesca Bria.</h1>

<p newsteaser="yes">Barcelona is
actively working on the Smart City agenda, trying to reshape modern
city's infrastucture by implementing many initiatives on
technological, political and organisational level. Barcelona is leading the
way with innovations in open democracy and data protection, promoting technology as a social good
with the goal to serve citizens better.</p>
<p>As our second interview of a series
related to <a href="">Public Money? Public
Code! campaign</a>, we got the chance to talk with <a
href="" target="_blanc">
Francesca Bria</a>, Chief
Technology and Digital Innovation Officer at the Barcelona City
Council. In this role, she leads the
technology transformation in the city with the
objective to give citizens more control over technology, increase transparency,
encourage collaboration between public administrations by using Free Software
and Open Standards.</p>
<div class="aboutperson"> <img
alt="Picture of Francesca Bria" /> <p>Francesca Bria, is a senior expert and advisor on digital
strategy, technology and information policy. She has a background
in social science and innovation economics, a PhD from Imperial
College, and an MSc in E-business and Innovation from the
University College of London, Birkbeck. Francesca is a member of
the Internet of Things Council and an advisor for the European
Commission on Future Internet and Smart Cities policy. She is also active in various
innovation movements advocating for open access, open technologies
and digital rights.</p></div>

<p class="question">In the last months you participated in many
panels and conferences to talk about digital sovereignty and
ethical digital standards. Could you briefly explain what is
digital sovereignty and what is the role of Free Software in
<p>I have been appointed as CTIO of Barcelona by the Mayor Ada Colau to
rethink the digital and technology agenda of the city, in particular
the so-called “Smart City agenda”. And this is where I start: Nowadays,
the smart city agenda is still mainly technology-led. Many cities fall
into the hands of tech vendors that are pushing their own technology
solutions, instead of starting from the real needs of the citizens and
concrete urban problems. In this way cities end up solving technology
problems since they are locked-in by proprietary, non-interoperable
solutions and unsustainable business models. My mission instead, is to
democratise data and technology, and rethink their governance in a way
that they can serve the people. We are aligning technology with the
real policy goals of the city: such as the right to housing, energy
transition, the creation of public spaces , the fight against climate
change, and participatory democracy.</p>

<blockquote class="highlight"><p>We want to change the way government works and make it more
open, transparent, collaborative and participative.</p></blockquote>

<p>Digital transformation is not only about technological change, but about structural
organizational and cultural changes. We need to couple the digital
revolution with a democratic revolution. For us it is about rethinking
the relationship between governments and citizens, to make sure
citizens can take back democratic control, and can fully participate in
the definition of the public policies. That's why Barcelona is running
a strong participatory democracy experiment, that is a hybrid mix of
large scale online and offline democratic participation. We are
involving thousands of citizens and give them the power to propose
policy actions and ideas through a free software platform, that is
called <a href="" target="_blanc"> “Decidim” </a>.
Today our Government Agenda includes 70% of proposals that come directly from
citizens. We want to change the way government works and make it more
open, transparent, collaborative and participative. </p>
<p class="question">Does it make a
difference if such a platform, “Decidim”, is Free Software or
<p>Of course, Free Software makes all the difference. First of all,
government is investing public money and that's why citizens should
control the software and the platform should remain in the public
domain. “Decidim” is built together with an open community called
“Metadecidim”. It is a community that includes software developers,
designers, social organizations, activists, data scientists,
researchers, and community managers. All these people participate in
the co-creation of the platform, and they manage it as a common good.
<p> We are learning a lot from “Decidim Barcelona” as one of
Barcelona's biggest Free Software projects. We had to change
procurement standards, to introduce Free Software and to make sure
that government legislation allows a platform which is managed and
governed by a community. And of course, another advantage is that all
code is accessible, reusable, and auditable because it is Free
<p>Now we are adding a module on “Decidim Barcelona” thanks to another
project, called <a href=""> “Decode”</a>,
that wants to give back control of the data to the citizens. The
module is a distributed ledger with a cryptographic layer that helps
people control their data. We ensure that the data is secure and
anonymous and people can decide what data they want to keep private
and what data they want to donate to the city and on what terms. For
us, privacy awareness, data sovereignty, distributed technology and
Free Software are key components of city's digital infrastructures. In
particular, whenever technology mediates democratic decisions and
shapes people's collective thinking, we should avoid the kind of
political manipulation and surveillance we have experienced with the
latest scandals regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. </p>
<p class="question">What is the key advantage of Free Software in this respect?</p>
<p>The benefit of working in a collaborative way with community, the
possibility to study, audit the code and inspect it. You can learn
from it and share it – also you can reuse it. Which is very important,
because you minimize the costs, maximize the public value and shift
public spending from expensive proprietary licensing to the creation
of new knowledge and human capabilities.</p>
<p>Another key reason for us is
technological sovereignty. The idea is to get away from vendor lock-in
and dependency on big corporate players (most of the time foreign
corporations), and being able to change providers, work with local
entrepreneurs and companies that respect users' rights and freedoms,
and retain the control of our data. One problem is that proprietary
platforms offer no interoperability and they won’t let you move your
data from one service provider to the other, which is also the reason
why over time we have lost critical knowledge and capabilities needed
to run our services and systems. Over the last years public
administrations have outsourced most critical IT and tech systems to
external providers and IT consultancies. However, it is important to
stop funding the same big tech firms, diversify the ecosystem of
providers, retain know-how, and control critical infrastructures.</p>
<blockquote class="highlight"><p>By publishing the code
and the data in the public domain, we can create public value and
maximize the use of taxpayers' money</p></blockquote>

<p>Free Software allows us to work with communities, use the talent of
Free Software developers and the local industry, and collaborate with
other cities and public administration on common Free Software
projects. So, in the long run, you can be more autonomous and
independent, you can be more transparent and by publishing the code
and the data in the public domain, we can create public value and
maximize the use of taxpayers' money. The ecosystem of small and
medium-sized businesses is another important issue for us. The
majority of local software entrepreneurs use Free or Open Source
Software and we want to make sure that Barcelona's procurement policy
allows them to work with the city administration and develop future
applications and services that can improve our city.</p>

<p>Last but not least, it is an ethical and political decision. Barcelona
has a specific data sovereignty guide and digital ethical standards –
a regulation, which states that the digital information and
infrastructure that we use should be a public good, owned and
controlled by the citizens. We also mandate privacy and security by
design and the use of encryption as a human right.</p>
<p class="question">A right to privacy enforced by the public sector?</p>

<p>Exactly, technology built with fundamental rights at its core.

And talking about Free Software, <a
href="" target="_blanc">
Barcelona's Digital Transformation Plan</a> has committed to invest 70% of its
budget devoted to new services into Free and Open Source Software
development. Also we are running a migration plan gradually and we have
a pilot on migrating workstations into a completely free operating
system. Right now they run on Ubuntu and all applications they have are
Free Software.</p>
<p class="question">These workstations are already a part of the infrastructure?</p>
<p>Yes, they are already completely integrated to the infrastructure
of the city – we are delivering a pilot project of 1.000 workstations.
For the rest, we do not change the operating system but we replace all
possible applications and programmes with Free Software on top of the
windows machines. Also we are shifting our email service to <a
href="" target="_blanc">Open-Xchange</a>.
Basically, all the things that we can replace, we do replace with Free
Software, but we do it gradually, so we can involve our public workers
and create confidence.</p>
<p class="question">In five years, how do you think the situation will look like?</p>
<p>Barcelona is constantly developing software applications and tools.
When we start from scratch, we give preference to the use of Free and
Open Source Software. For instance, our <a
href="" target="_blanc">e-ID system</a> is
now going to be open source. Then, we are opening up critical service
applications, like a map of events in the city, our city dashboard,
our citizens' portal and our sensor network for example.
This is "not just" about workstations. It is the whole informational
infrastructure that we are moving towards open standards, open stack
and interoperability. Like we also run Linux servers in our data
centre, for example. But of course, Barcelona has a vendor lock-in to
the usual big companies like every other city has. So even changing
everything gradually is not easy, however completely sensible. </p>

<blockquote class="highlight"><p>There are many
cities, that are interested in what we are doing and ask to
collaborate on Free Software projects.</p></blockquote>
<p>And we are not alone: There is the example of the UK government digital
service that put in place a national plan for shifting towards Free
and Open Source Software. Then the Italian government's digital team is
using a lot of open source tools. Sweden is making adjustments to
procurement policy in favour of Free and Open-Source Software, just
like Estonia is using a lot of Free Software. There are many other
cities that are interested in what we are doing and that ask to
collaborate on Free Software projects, and the use of ethical digital

<p>It is really important to migrate to Free Software and I think it will
go on even when we are no longer in the government. I am working with
that in mind, because such decisions should not depend on one person,
or on the political orientation of one government. This is also the
reason why we focus on proper documentation of what we do, and of
course we have to win the hearts and minds of the workers in our public
administrations, otherwise this switch will not be relevant in the
future. They have to lead this transformation and own the process.</p>
<p class="question">That is an important point because, for
example, in Germany we had the case of Munich. Shortly after
finishing their migration plan to GNU/Linux, there was a change in
the local government and the new government then decided to switch
back to proprietary Microsoft. What are you doing to avoid this
happening in Barcelona?</p>
<p>Well, first of all, the case of Munich was a political choice, it
was not a technical failure. Second, they started a long time ago and
it was a completely different tech industry, which has evolved a lot
since then. We know how much money tech companies invest in lobby, and
they have a lot of influence, thus this kind of changes are never

<p>I believe for Munich it will still be hard to migrate back to
Microsoft, it costs a lot of money and in the end it might still not
work as desired. But generally, I think a right way to do such a major
transition, is to create empowerment for the workers, invest in
training and build knowledge-sharing processes inside the
organizations. This is what I have been doing with the workers in the
City Hall, so in the end they are leading the process and they are
driving the transformation.</p>

<p class="question">Like a bottom-up organization design?</p>
<p>Yes, from the workers’ side. For your changes to last, you need to
achieve this kind of organisational change as well. For us, it is very
clear that we want a digital revolution which will benefit the many,
not the few, and of course we want the entire society to benefit from
it in many ways.</p>

<p class="question">Do you have any experience so far with reuse of the Free Software you are developing, like “Sentilo”, for example?</p>
<p><a href=""
target="_blanc">“Sentilo”</a> and “Decidim” are used by many cities.
“Sentilo” is run by a consortium with a good governance structure and
it has been reused in Italy, in Dubai, in the US and in the other
parts of Europe. “Decidim” is used by many cities nowadays and we have
ambitions to extend it. Then we have other software products like the
digital ID, that we share locally with smaller town halls in
Catalonia. We are also doing interviews and research, to identify
projects that other cities have developed and published as Free
Software. For instance, Helsinki has developed a very good app for
transport sharing and they also have another citizen apps like ours.
Then we are collaborating with Amsterdam, Torino, NYC and others.
There is a lot of collaboration going on, without Free Software this
would not be possible.</p>
<p>To further foster collaboration, the
city of Barcelona has now created a <a
target="_blanc">policy toolkit</a> for administrations, that includes
our ethical digital standards, and also a guide explaining how you
publish code on GitHub and maintain this code. It will be very useful
also for other cities, because it allows a transition to the next
level of collaboration via GitLab, where you can properly manage all
contributions. This is the next step that we should take: makes it
very easy for cities to run free software projects collaboratively and
develop decentralized and privacy-enhancing technology that serve the
people and respect their rights.</p>
<p class="question">Barcelona is
also the first city Council who signed the open letter for “Public
Money? Public Code!”. Why was this important for Barcelona?</p>
<p>Because we need alliances. We want to strengthen the legitimacy
around developing and publishing Free Software, we want other cities
to join and we want to build community. We need open source
entrepreneurs, we need companies and we need civil society to be a
part of this movement. Barcelona is working on licensing together with
lawyers, who are a part of the Free Software Foundation Europe and a
part of the Free Software movement. When we saw the campaign, we had
our cities transition plan already approved and the campaign's demand
was perfectly in line. So we were very happy to build that kind of
coalition. The more awareness, the better.</p>
<p class="question">We have been talking a little bit about the local
companies before and you mentioned you invest 70% of the new
development budget into free software development. What effect does
this have on the local economy?</p>
<p>It creates local free software
and open tech ecosystem that can strengthen the collaborative
innovation economy. Public procurement can create new markets and
leverage the local industry. We have also launched a specific fund to
promote the development of free software, open hardware, open data and
privacy-enhancing technology with social impact: we call this <a
href="" target="_blanc"> Digital Social
Innovation</a>. One of the biggest technological projects we are
developing now is called <a href=""
target="_blanc">CityOS</a>. We have been developing it through
contracts that require the use of Free and Open Source Software, and
agile methodology. But also we have other development projects
happening, where Free Software communities will be able to
participate and work together with the city. In order to make this
possible, we changed the clauses of the public contracts, so we are
making it possible to compete less on price but on requirements like
using and publishing the code as Free Software and in Open Standards,
and adding clauses related to data sovereignty and privacy and
security by design.</p>
<p>These contracts benefit from having no
lock-in or technical preconditions, so whoever has the capacity can
win these contracts. We really hope that smaller companies can bid for
government contracts this way.</p>
<p>We want to get to a point where free software becomes the norm. That's
why we demand our public officials to explain the reason behind not
choosing Free Software and Open Standards if this happens. It was the
other way around before and now they at least they have to justify why
they are making such decisions on software procurement.</p>

<p class="question">And this has helped the local economy? Is there a measurable impact?</p>
<p>We are working with one of our local universities to measure the
economic impact of these open source projects to have some statistics,
and show citizens that their money has been well spent. Now we have
3,000 companies that work with us through public procurement and over
60% are small and medium sized companies. We want to increase the
number of companies that use Free Software and agile development, to
show that we are diversifying the number of companies and the type of
companies we work with. And then, using GitLab, we also try to create
communities around the governance of the code and the projects. This is
a big change for a city administration. We want to empower the local
free and open source movement and provide a platform to sustain and

<p class="question">Final question, you already said there are other cities that see the
advantages of Free Software, but also some administrations have
concerns. How would you convince them? What would be the main argument
or the biggest benefit?</p>

<p>I think this is a good approach to rethink technology to benefit and
empower people. First, public money gets reinvested into the local
ecosystem of companies, to empower the local industry and local
entrepreneurs. Second, we can improve our ability to collaborate with
other cities on joint projects and help smaller cities to benefit from
these projects. Third, we can retain technological sovereignty and
democratic control of critical infrastructure, data, and services.
Finally, we can empower citizens by building technology applications
and services that address their real needs and create public value. It
is really important to build a more democratic, inclusive and
sustainable digital society. </p>

<p><em>Interviewer: Erik Albers</em></p>

<blockquote>With our <a href="">Public Money?
Public Code! campaign</a>, the FSFE demands that publicly financed
software developed for the public sector shall be made publicly
available under a Free and Open Source Software licence. In order to
help understand our call and its benefits, we run a series of
interviews that highlight good examples and use-cases as best
practices. Our interview partners will be policy makers and decision
takers, authorities and developers, that in one way or another are
already implementing public code. </blockquote>

<tag content="Public Code">publiccode</tag>
<tag content="PMPC">Public Money Public Code</tag>
<tag content="Francesca Bria">Francesca Bria</tag>
<tag content="Interview">Interview</tag>
<tag content="Spain">Spain</tag>
<tag content="Reuse">Reuse</tag>
<author id="albers" />

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