Crowdsourcing the Mexico City Constitution
With the drafting of its first Constitution, Mexico City had a great opportunity: to explore innovative ways of crowd-sourcing this historic document, setting an example to other cities in the world on how to design important democratic experimentation at the scale of a megalopolis. The result of the entire Constitutional process is a forward-thinking document with progressive social policy and human rights at its heart. It became a legal reality in September 2018.
Mexican citizens’ trust in government was at a historic low. Nationally, only 6% of Mexicans were satisfied with their democratic system and just 2% of the population trusted their government. Though the federal government granted Mexico City the ability to create a city constitution, the process allowed for very little input from the people. Only 60% of the city’s constitutional assembly was democratically elected and it was presumed that the draft would be made exclusively by the mayor. The fact that citizens were not initially given a seat at the table to draft their city’s constitution further deteriorated their trust in government.
In order to build trust and include other voices, the Mayor Mexico City asked Laboratorio para la Ciudad - the experimental arm of the Mexico City government - to created a multi-tiered and citywide campaign to collect citizen opinions and proposals for the city’s constitution. One part of the campaign included a survey was called Imagina Tu Ciudad (Imagine Your City) that asked citizens about their hopes, fears, and ideas for the future of the city, and garnered 31,000 submissions. The mayor also created a working group to draft the constitution, consisting of academics, activists, former mayors, and other citizens representing a diverse cross-section of the population. The city also used Change.org to capture citizen petitions for the constitution. Petitions that received 10,000 signatures were presented to three representatives of the working group. Petitions that exceeded 50,000 signatures were presented directly to the mayor, who committed to including them in a draft of the constitution for approval by the constitutional assembly. Also, citizens were allowed to form their own meetings to discuss topics, uploading the date of the reunion as well as the results on the official web page of the Constitution; more than 100 groups formed to discuss topics such as mobility and indigenous rights. All of these inputs were handed over to the drafting group.
The draft was submitted to a national constitutional assembly for final approval.
On the Change.org platform, Citizens submitted 341 proposals, receiving over 400,000 votes. Four petitions surpassed the 50,000- signature threshold and 11 received 10,000 signatures. The new constitution, which went into effect in September 2018, includes 14 articles based on citizen petitions through this mechanism, including proposals from 17 year-olds who do not yet have the right to vote. The result is an historic document that includes an increased autonomy for Mexico City and a new series of human rights and social policies. The rights outlined in the constitution now bolster a number of other efforts aimed at engaging citizens and transforming communities. The democratization of the process led to a constitution that has been recognized by the United Nations as a “historical document that addresses the central challenges of development and peace” and as “a guide to fulfill the universal, indivisible and progressive nature of human rights.” It has also increased trust and strengthened ties between citizens and local government and became a historic moment for cities world-wide, provoking much reflection on urban futures and the place of cities in global conversations. This historic process and document will have an impact in generation after generation of inhabitants of the fourth largest city in the world.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Constitution of Mexico City is paradigmatic in several ways:
- The highly participatory mechanism designed for its drafting, using both technological and analogue methods
- The creation of multi-tiered participatory practices so as to include different sets of people in different ways; a balance between simple mechanisms for engagement coupled with making the input substantial and layered
- The final document sets a global precedent for new urban autonomies and human rights
What is the current status of your innovation?
The first Constitution of Mexico City was legally born in September 2018. It will now be up to the new Mayor of Mexico City, the new local congress and the citizens of Mexico City to have this document become a blueprint for better urban and social realities. it has also sparked a wave of conversations in Latin America of the role of cities in advancing human rights and quality of life, plus rethinking our socio-economic models as well as what is the future of urban autonomy and agency.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The Constitution was an historic effort between government, civil society and citizens in general.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The method used for drafting and crowd-sourcing the Mexico City Constitution gave all stakeholders a sense of the importance of public participation, as well as the experience of having said participation become a true source of ideas and intellectual resources, instead of participation for participation's sake. It also gave the government insight on how to create complex and multi-layered participatory scaffolding by designing mechanisms ad hoc to different audiences and participatory intensities
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Mexico City had an opportunity to draft its first-ever constitution which is legally binding since September 2018; a chance to define and reshape social, political and economic structures for the Western hemisphere’s largest metro area and will impact the lives of the 16 million people that live and work there.
For its creation, in the face of deep public mistrust, the city administration appointed a diverse, non-partisan drafting panel and then opened up channels for public input. First was a collaborative drafting tool to go along with citizen-led meetings (more than 100 took place), then a visioning survey (31,000 people surveyed), and a Change.org petition campaign which generated more than 350 proposals signed by more than 277,000 users. Twelve proposals exceeded 10,000 signatures (with four of those exceeding 50,000) and saw relevant language included in the draft constitution. Many of the young people involved have since become activists.
Challenges and Failures
The first order of business was to draft a brand new local constitution. But the political legitimacy for this exercise was already in question, because the amendment granting local rule had been negotiated between political party elites with almost no civic participation. Acknowledging this challenge, Mayor Mancera appointed a commission with 28 local representatives. They were chosen in an attempt to provide a cross-section of the city’s intellectual life, with historians, artists, politicians, human rights organizations, sports figures, activists and scholars represented, and with gender balance. They were tasked with formulating a constitutional drafting process and developing a first draft. To this, the crowd-sourcing aspect was added: the possibility of organising local meetings and publishing results on platforms; a city-wide survey was added so as to capture different voices from an array of backgrounds; plus a record-breaking collaboration with Change.org.
Conditions for Success
- Political will from the very top
- Willingness to experiment in public with very high-profile projects
- Not over-simplify mechanisms and notions of public participation; design multiple and complementary mechanisms
- Ability to work on the ground and not only with tech mechanisms if there is an important digital gap
- Leadership and guidance
- Good communication and community outreach
- True willingness to take citizen ideas seriously
The individual components that made up the participatory aspect of the Constitution can be replicated for other purposes:
- City-wide surveys to better understand "urban imaginaries" and take into account how people perceive different aspects of the city, which can be just as important as objective reality
- Crowdlaw practices (we have used this mechanism several times, including to create Mexico City´s first road safety plan)
- Petition platforms articulated to government procedures
- Hybrid participatory practices that combine face-to-face meetings with processes for publishing results on digital platform to reach wider audiences
- Use of PubPub platform, which we worked and programmed with MIT to make into a powerful collaborative policy tool for open documents
And last but not least, taking into account the increased importance of cities and Mayors on an international scale, plus their increased autonomy, mega cities should explore creating their own constitutions
The decision to anchor the consultation process in a commission that was broadly representative of residents, rather than of political parties, was surprising and confidence-building, receiving praise even from the administration’s critics. The pressure brought to bear by social groups was also fundamental to the process, according to the general counsel’s office. “If we had broken along the ideological axis of the city, we wouldn’t have been successful,” Granados said.
Multilayered mechanisms for public participation
Mexico City created a citywide campaign to elicit citizen opinions and proposals for the city’s new
constitution using a citizen working group and online petitions, many of which were incorporated into
the final constitution. This story is emblematic of one of those incorporations:
When Francisco Fontana heard about the process for the new constitution, he thought it was silly.
“Nothing will happen,” he thought, but went ahead and submitted a proposal anyway, thinking it
wouldn’t amount to much. Using the Change.org platform, Francisco submitted a petition calling for a
minimum area of greenspace per person in the city, an issue he was passionate about.
He thought his petition might receive a few thousand signatures, but came home one day to
find 14,000 people had signed on to support it. Eventually, his petition exceeded 50,000 signatures.
The next step was to meet with then-General Counsel, Manuel Granados Covarriubias, to discuss the
proposal. “I started studying to give a proper presentation about my topic,” he said. “I was so nervous.”
Little did he know that Mr. Granados was also nervous, unsure about what to expect.
The meeting went very well. Francisco came away feeling that he was taken seriously, and Mr. Granados
couldn’t wait for the next meeting. “I thought we had a government that didn’t pay attention,”
Francisco said. “They listened to me.” A version of Francisco’s proposal is now part of Mexico City’s