What is an OCM
Your town council and the money it administers belong to all the neighbours in your municipality, but… Do you know how much money they manage, or how is each budget is put to use? Do you know anything about they contracts make? If the answer is no, do you think it would be easy to obtain this information?
The public administrations are opaque, characterized by complicating the access to information, that impede an authentic citizen participation in the decision making of the town council. Their opacity is due to the extreme bureaucratization, and usually as well to a deliberate will for keeping the citizens out of the municipal matters.
The Municipal Citizens’ Observatories are groups of people from the same municipality that get organized to put and end to this situation and build, with their gained experience, a new culture of transparency and participation with the closest of all public institutions: the town councils. They are open and self-managed associations dedicated to making municipal citizens’ audits that strengthen grassroot control of budgetary matters and everything that affects public debt.
Basic principles: Transparency and participation
An informed citizenship is an active citizenship. Disinformation, complexity and opacity of data, on one side, and corruption and irresponsibility on the other, have lead to political defection on the citizenship. Through the releasing of data, through dissemination and education, the OCMs expect to break the barrier of disinformation to regain the people’s place in political debate. The OCMs seek to build a new culture of transparency.
The citizenship has the right to manage and directly and autonomously control what belongs to the general interest. The OCMs are communities dedicated to promoting the culture of participation, where the citizenship overcomes the public-private relationship and becomes a direct agent of politics. They are laboratories made to experiment truly independent structures designed to assume control of the public administrations from below, avoiding figures like the Ombudsman or the Court of Auditors, whose independence has been non-existent in many cases.
What does an OCM do exactly?
There are many mechanisms where we can better our transparency and participation in a municipal level, but OCMs are centered in two of the foundations of municipal management: budgets and citizen assistance.
So, in first place, an OCM offers in an open format the budgets approved by the town council, as well as the modifications and executions, it explains in an easy and simple way their purposes, how is our money being managed and the rights we can demand as citizens.
In second place, an OCM facilitates and optimizes the use of public enquiries made to the town council. Collective management and organization of enquiries avoid confronting the bureaucracy individually, and optimizes the effort by submitting enquiries to the administration in batches. Public pressure increases the chances of obtaining a reply to the enquiry and contributes to a cooperative and self-managed pooling of information.
The team that runs an OCM in their municipality has the responsibility to keep the website working (the platform for the publication of budgets), take charge of the procedure of enquiries for the town council or the Account Syndicate and, finally, to set up the mechanisms and tools that are deemed necessary to increase participation in municipal life.
What resources does it take to do it?
What’s the use of an OCM if we already have our budgets published in the website of our town council?
Every town council is a world apart and has their own degree of transparency. We consider that transparency and participation can always be improved. From the OCMs we offer the budgets through a tool that helps their understanding coupled with open and direct questions to the administration about any budgetary item.
What do we get by publishing the information that should be public or that is already published in several sources?
We get a lot! We centralized the information that is, depending on town council, dispersed on several websites, autonomous organisms, account syndicates, etc. We transform it, make it uniform, attainable and understandable to the citizenship. We pressure the local administration to make the public information better through their means (bulletins, journals, websites). We publish the information agreed on by the citizens instead of the information unilaterally decided on by the town council. We take back what it’s ours!
Why start with the town council and not a higher administrative body?
We don’t dismiss the possibility of someone using this same software to make regional or national observatories, but we believe that the citizenship, before trying to control those institutions, should start by taking control of their municipalities. How can we pretend to participate in regional or national politics if we are unable to influence the politics of our local municipality?
How is this useful if I am already working with local collectives, associations, entities…?
The OCMs empower everyone. The enquiries and complaints we make to a town council usually end up in a drawer or a mailbox, lost and forgotten with time. OCMs help keep all this knowledge and information in one place, making it easier to organize, maintain and share on the net.
Isn’t all this the council’s job?
No, this is an independent observatory. It is a space managed by the citizenship for the citizenship. We believe it’s necessary to build entities to control public administrations from the outside. Experience shows how entities built to control the management of public administrations aren’t independent, and whether accepting it or not they end up being viced by the system.
Can an OCM be used by collectives already existing in a municipality?
Of course, there’s nothing better. They can take part in the creation of the OCM, assuming it doesn’t already exist, or by making enquiries and complaints to the administration through the website by this way guaranteeing that their request will be public and easier to share.
Is it complicated to start your own OCM?
No, the PACD (Debt Citizen Audit Platform, from Spain) will help you, offering you a website where you can find manuals, learning material, and more. One of the objectives of PACD is to build tools for participation that empower the citizenship, this is our reason of being.
Can I do it alone?
You could do it, but it’s a bad start. A lone person can prepare the website, manage the enquiries and share the project on Internet, but in many cases it won’t be enough. And even more important: it won’t be a true citizens’ project if it’s done by just one person. Make a team.
How many people would be needed to build an OCM?
It depends on the size of the town and the time you can dedicate. The bigger the town, more people are needed to make the website known to the citizens and to manage it.
Should we create an association? What does it imply?
If you opt to create an association to manage your observatory then the more people of a municipality who are members, the more legitimacy they’ll have to make citizens’ enquiries, since every request sent to the town council will be backed by all members. Enquiries made in the name the OCM there will have more signatures.
Keep in mind that you will need a signature in order to submit the enquiries to the council.
Does it suppose an economical cost?
Several people have dedicated many hours already and are sharing their work. There are expenses we have been covering.
We are open to contributions to collectively cover some of our costs: travelling for workshops or presentations, paying technical staff for one-time improvements of the website for the observatories or for creation of material for media campaigns…
But you only have to assume, as a minimum, the expenses of the domain and hosting of your website. If you need so, we can facilitate contacts to help you do it.
Will I know how to do it? How can I collaborate?
There are many ways of participating in the project. The first and most important is using the citizen tool in your municipality and understanding the importance of transparency in the management of the public resources. From there on, the options are diverse.
Is an OCM a website?
An OCM is not only a website. An OCM is the sum of a group of people managing enquiries; a computer tool to assist the procedures and bring the municipal budgets closer to the citizenship; and a joint municipal network that facilitates collective audit processes. The OCM website isn’t any ordinary website. It’s a budget uploading tool with analytical and informative purposes.
Who makes the website work?
The very members of the team in each municipality have to manage it. Don’t worry, it’s not complicated or time consuming. We facilitate the software, manuals and online or face-to-face formation if you need it.
The website is Free software. What does that mean?
It means that any person with a knowledge in programming can see how it has been made, copy it, share it and improve it. We have licensed the tool with the AGPLv3 license, this implies that any modification/evolution of the tool must always be made available all citizens in the same manner. Summarizing, we have made a tool for the citizens and we want to ensure that it will always be for the citizens.
THE MANAGEMENT OF ENQUIRIES
Can I use the website anonymously?
Yes, you can make an enquiry annonymously as a citizen, or you can use your personal data to identify yourself. We encourage you not to be afraid of using your real name. We have to be proud of making requests to the Town Council and share them.
How are requests submitted to the administration by the OCM?
Any request being submitted to an administration must be signed at least by one person, be it a physical person or a legal entity. Every observatory created can choose how to solve this matter. We have two options: either a someone, in person, chooses to do it by his or herself, or an existing entity chooses to sign.
What happens if the town council doesn’t answer or the answer is not satisfactory?
Here is where the will to go further, to get organized to fight for the right of information comes into play. The website is designed to help make all the subsequent administrative procedures (complaints to the Ombudsman, complaints to the Account Syndicate or contentious-administrative with the Town Council).