Comparison of Decidim and Consul

Translation note: this document is a translation to English of a blog post by Xabier E. Barandiaran (with permission). Since this document might evolve independently, we have substituted first person singular forms by first person plural.

Many people have asked what are the differences between Decidim and Consul, the two democratic participation platforms developed in Barcelona and Madrid, respectively. The projects are fairly similar and people often wonder how they differ and which adapts best to their needs.

In this document, we include a comparison table of the differences and functions of Consul and Decidim. We also explain the main differences between the two projects, in terms of their concept, community and philosophy. This document is inevitably biased and incomplete because the author acknowledges that he doesn’t know Consul as well as he knows Decidim (of which he was the founder and coordinator for three years). An effort, however, was made to be fair in the comparison.

Roxu, Pablo, Andrés and Alberto contributed with feedback and a special mention is due to aLabs for allowing access to a fresh installation of Consul from where we could carry out a functionality tests.

Comparison Tables of Functions and Features

We shall begin with the comparison table. It’s not easy to create because the two platforms have relatively different concepts with regard to the organisation of their functions. We will try to be as abstract and neutral as possible. The features are those that are available today (14 January 2019), downloading, installing and displaying the code of the latest version of each platform that can be found in the repository of each project. This is the result:

Type of Function Feature Decidim Consul
Participatory Spaces or Modes Configurable participatory processes yes no
Direct initiatives or proposals yes yes
Collaborative legislation yes, as a process yes
Participatory budgets yes, as a process yes
Participatory organisations yes no
Digital consultations yes yes
Off-line voting no yes
Conferences yes no
Participatory Components or Mechanisms Proposals yes yes
Discussions and debates yes yes
Meetings yes no
Results monitoring yes yes, only for budgets
Comments yes yes
Blogs yes no
Surveys yes yes
Sortitions yes no
Comments on texts yes yes
Newsletter yes yes
Search engine yes yes

Table 1: Comparison between Decidim and Consul of the functions for participatory spaces and components or mechanisms

For spaces and components, Decidim is the winner, as it has a more modular and configurable approach, which has forced abstractions to be made and has allowed elements to be recombinable. Some of these elements or components are not available on Consul. Perhaps the most important one is that of meetings or in-person events.

Type of Function Feature Decidim Consul
Features related to Proposals Rich text no, to prevent spam yes
Geolocation yes yes
Attach video yes, for initiatives yes
Attach image yes yes
Attach other documents yes yes
Follow proposal and receive notifications yes yes
Identification of related proposals yes, during creation wizard yes, public ones
Automatic notifications yes yes
Manual notifications no yes
Official response to proposals yes yes
Amendments to proposals yes no
Proposal filter by category yes yes
Category trends no yes
Verification of the integrity of proposals yes no
Different forms of viewing/browsing no yes
Collaborative drafts for proposals yes no
Proposal community no yes

Table 2: Comparison between Decidim and Consul of the functions for proposals

Proposals, together with meetings and in-person events, are an essential part of democratic participation. Both Consul and Decidim have a sophisticated creation, discussion and development system for proposals. Table 2 summarises some of the functions associated with proposals. It is important to note that for Decidim we have distinct between two types of features categorised here: those belonging to the "proposal" component, which can be activated at different stages of processes or in participatory organs or assemblies and that of the “initiatives” space (which is equivalent to Consul’s proposals). On Decidim, participatory Initiatives (made by citizens, partners, or any member of the organization) is a space rich in features, beyond the proposal included. Participants can activate in-person meetings or add static pages and documents. However, all this potential is not active when a simple proposal is made as part of a participation process.

Type of Function Feature Decidim Consul
Features related to Meetings Meeting page yes no
Registration and access code generation yes no
Meeting minutes page yes no
Announcement of special services for the meeting yes no
Meetings map yes no
Features related to Participants Internal direct messages between users yes yes
Officialized users (with badge) yes yes
User verification with citizen census yes yes
User verification with SMS yes yes
Gamification yes no
Activity stream for participants yes yes
Mentions for participants yes yes
Meets privacy standards and GDPR yes yes
Other Features Differentiated administration roles yes yes
Integration with Citizens Advice Bureau (OAC) poor yes
Version control for proposals and results yes no
Electronic voting gateway yes yes
Browsing of proposals by (hash)tags yes yes
Notifications for proposal followers yes yes
Blogging or microblogging by users no no
Follow contents and people and receive notifications yes only for proposals
Admin documents yes yes
Integration with social networks yes yes

Table 3: Comparison between Decidim and Consul of functions related to participants and other generic functions of the platform

Both platforms treat their participants well, guaranteeing their verification and offering enhanced personal spaces and profiles. The only main difference in this respect is that Decidim includes a gamification system to encourage participation and democratic quality. Decidim also has additional measures to guarantee the privacy of its users (such as personal information hashing) and to monitor and audit the activity of administrators. In terms of other generic features, Consul has a much more mature and developed system of institutional roles, adapted to local administration and government, as well as a much higher score in the compliance with website accessibility standards.

Type of Function Feature Decidim Consul
Architecture Programming language Ruby Ruby
Free and open source software yes yes
Modular (with RoR engines) yes no
Multitenant yes no
Mobile app no no
Defined public roadmap yes yes
Community Community space yes yes
Community space with own software yes no
Regular community meetings yes, annual and monthly yes, annual
Physical reference space yes yes
Democratic governance of the project yes no
Social contract yes no
Democratic Innovation Laboratory yes yes
Scope Number of active installations 46 55
Number of languages available 18 28

Table 4: Comparison between Decidim and Consul regarding architecture, community and scope

Lastly, we can compare other aspects of both projects. The subjects of community and architecture are discussed below. Regarding the extension and user-base of both platforms scope, we have made the calculations by taking information from the two official websites. However, for both, we have only included those organisations that currently *use *and have an active instance of Consul or Decidim. In the case of languages, we have only included root languages, meaning that we have excluded translations that are variants of the same language (such as simplified Finnish or Spanish spoken in Paraguay).

The complete table in spreadsheet format can be viewed and downloaded here in Google Drive.

Assessment of Qualitative Aspects

In terms of more qualitative aspects, we believe that the main difference between the two projects can be divided into three layers: political, technopolitical and technological.

With regard to the political layer, Consul is a project with a greater institutional and international projection. This is not only due to the geographical distribution and international scope of the organisations and administrations that use Consul but also to the recognition and promotion it has obtained (from the national press to the UN). In addition, Madrid City Council has gotten the most out of this tool, making it a worldwide reference for participatory democracy. Decidim and Barcelona City Council haven’t done so bad but the repercussion and scope is clearly smaller, despite having a substantial reach in France and having the Helsinki City Council among one of its prominent international users.

For the technopolitical layer, we will focus on two aspects: the politics of the technology, which we will call community-technopolitics (how the code and communities are managed) and the technology of the politics or functional-technopolitics (software features and how they affect the politics, the democracy, of the organisations that use it). In both cases, there are significant differences.

Functional-Technopolitics: Consul is a tool that mainly focuses on local councils and municipal authorities (although there are universities, regional authorities, etc. that use Consul) and promotes 4 very specific models for participatory democracy: 1. proposals of citizen petitions and initiatives, 2. participatory budgets, 3. Consultations, endorsements and voting, and 4. collaborative legislation (commented texts). If your government or organisation wishes to roll out one of these functions, Consul suits the task perfectly. However, if you need to design your own participatory process or alter the format that Consul has designed for its democratic model, you won’t be able to adapt the platform (without hiring programmers and paying a high technical debt for updates, which is what happened to us in Barcelona). Decidim has a different philosophy. It has been created as a system for designing participatory democracy spaces of any kind: participatory budgets, conferences, participatory organisations by sortitions, candidate election processes, participatory document creations, etc. The logic behind Decidim is that you can create a participatory space and combine different components to design a customized democracy. Take a look at this document to understand the democratic architecture of Decidim.

Community-Technopolitics: For many, the most fundamental difference between the two projects is found at the level of the community and its governance. Consul is a project led and governed by Madrid City Council. Decidim, in contrast, is open to a participatory and democratic design and has just begun a participatory process to define its model of community governance at In a way, Decidim is a more democratic and participatory project than Consul, for better or worse. A significant point in this respect is that whilst Consul’s community website uses Discourse (a forum designed for questions and answers), Decidim’s community website uses Decidim itself, thus the name MetaDecidim. Some are of the opinion that this makes Decidim a project that is more coherent with its own principles, as well as one that also helps improve the software and democratic quality it defends, governing itself in a democratic and participatory way. Accordingly, it is worth mentioning the social contract that binds the members of the Decidim community, institutions, universities, companies and other organisations that work with Decidim.

For the technology layer, at first glance, the two projects look almost identical, with some aesthetic differences: both are free and open source software projects, developed in Ruby on Rails, openly developed on GitHub, translated into various languages and with integrated services like maps, e-mail and user verification systems. The main difference lies in the architecture: Decidim is modular and multitenant, while Consul has a monolithic (non-modular) architecture and does not allow various tenants to be run on the same installation (you cannot install Consult once and run 10 different participatory portals). The modularity of the code and the development bottlenecks that Madrid's architecture creates are explained well in this report (in Spanish), prepared by Asociación aLabs.

Which of the Two Platforms, Decidim or Consul, Is Better?

This is a difficult question to answer because there are so many factors to consider, including your requirements or what you consider to be the best. Consul is better-adapted to a very specific participation model (that of Madrid) and particularly to participatory budgets. Decidim is much more configurable and allows more things to be done than what Consul makes possible. Consul, on the other hand, has more publicity, has been promoted further and is more widespread. From functional, architectural and community viewpoints, we strongly believe that Decidim has many advantages. The origin of the Decidim project lies precisely in the limitations of Consul in regard to these aspects. Decidim is more modular, collaborative, versatile and more democratic and participatory. For this reason, more people prefer Decidim. However, if you are already a Consul user or use it in your organisation and it meets your needs, you are using the right tool. If you're still in doubt, try Decidim, you can also see how it works at a community level or at a city level. Consul doesn’t have a sandbox or a demo but you can see what this software is capable of by visiting Madrid’s participatory portal.