Report on Workshop 1: e-participation
Professor Ann Macintosh (Director of the Centre for Digital Citizenship3, University of Leeds, UK) presented an overview of the current state of eDemocracy in Europe, questioning its rhetorical claims and impact and identifying challenges, barriers and research priorities.
Mr Göran Lindblad (Chairman of the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe4) drew on his experiences as a member of the Swedish Parliament to talk about opportunities and limits of e-democracy, in the relationships between citizens, their representatives, parties and government.
Mr Csaba Madarasz (Council of Europe INGO Conference5) focused on the experience of citizens. He spoke about people’s involvement in governance in everyday life, through “micro-democratic” environments, like NGOs or school boards and councils.
Professor Herbert Kubicek (Institute for Information Management, Bremen, Germany6) presented the results of a study of eParticipation in Germany: current initiatives, citizen’s perceptions, SWOT analysis and recommendations7.
Mr. Gotzone Mora Temprano (Regional Vice-minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Valencia8) was not able to attend in person, but distributed a presentation on CD which described the goals of the region of Valencia in the promotion of citizen participation and the e-democracy initiative, Citizen Mailbox.
The morning session concluded with a discussion of CAHDE’s Draft Recommendation on eDemocracy9. Various expert groups have been involved over two years in producing these recommendations. It is hoped that they will be finished by the end of this year and endorsed by the Committee of Ministers10. The Council of Europe is the first international body to draw up comprehensive guidelines on e-democracy and the extent of participation in the drafting processes is innovative.
Mr Andreas Gross (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) spoke of e-democracy as an enabler for democratic methods which could modernise the roles of representatives and citizens and support trans-national democracy.
Mr Alessandro Villani (e-Government and Innovation, City of Florence, Italy13, and Council of Europe Congress of Regional and Local Authorities14) spoke about the Municipality of Florence’s experience in using ICTs for both administration and engagement over the last 12 years.
Mr Bruno Kaufmann (Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe15) spoke about the best use of elements of “Modern Direct Democracy”, such as referenda, to improve the quality of representative democracy and address trans-national governance and increasingly globalised societies.
Mr Dick Toornstra (DG EXPO, European Parliament16) gave a practical view of e-Parliament from the perceptions of a cross-border parliament. He outlined the aims and assumptions on which e-Parliament policies are based and described specific projects both for the European Parliament and parliaments internationally.
Ms Joanne Caddy (Policy Analyst, OECD, Public Engagement17) presented the results of an investigation into citizen engagement in policy-making18, outlining barriers to citizen participation, but also the advantages for everyone.
E-Participation can increase the involvement of citizens in policy-making. This has advantages in terms of improving policies: better outcomes at less cost, innovative solutions and policies responsive to greater diversity. Citizens are resources of expert knowledge. Participation increases people’s investment in, and likely compliance with, government, advancing social cohesion.
Changes in our societies and developments in democracy, governance and globalisation have led to concern over the health of our democracies. The quality of democracy seems to be at a historic low at the same time as its acceptance (nominal use by states) is at a high. Whether this is a “crisis in democracy” or not, representative democracy is in need of improvement. Citizens’ relations with their representative and governmental bodies need to be improved. Understanding of parliamentary democracy needs to be improved.
Globalisation and trans-national governance are having a big impact on the way power is shared and leaders interact. Global citizens have specific needs and need accessible types of representation.
ICTs have the potential to support a great variety of activities that could help to:
· build stronger relationships between citizens, representatives and governments;
E-democracy is here already, with a wealth of initiatives in many countries and varieties of good practice and success. Society is increasingly using e-tools. Governments and politicians are behind the curve and need to join in and promote quality e-participation.
People and communities are experts, with specialist knowledge. In our educated and complex societies, the gap between representatives’ and their constituents’ knowledge and expertise has narrowed considerably. Our democratic processes need to reflect this change.
Participation needs to extend to agenda-setting. People need to be persuaded that their input is valued and will be adequately considered. However, it will take more than technology to improve trust between people and representatives.
Guidelines on e-democracy need to recognise citizens’ role in initiating e-democracy, not take an exclusively top-down perspective.
Many people’s day to day experience of governance takes place in “micro-democratic” environments –school, student and work councils and associations and various non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs benefit from increased use of e-tools to support governance. Further, e-democracy tools developed by governments could be used by NGOs and community groups who govern themselves. These experiences of e-governance contribute to society’s democratic skills. Citizens become increasingly media-literate and empowered.
We live in multi-cultural societies and need to understand how to develop e-tools and initiatives that can support the participation of all groups, equally if possible. There are extra benefits in including specific groups –for example, bringing migrants and young people into society to share its governance.
It is extremely important that e-participation does not create a 2-tier society of people participating or not participating through ICTs.
The institutions of the European Union, particularly the European Parliament, need to increase citizen understanding of their work and participation in their processes. The Citizens’ Initiative, described in the Treaty of Lisbon19, gives specific power to one million citizens, from a number of Member States, to call on the Commission to bring forward new policy proposals. This is an opportunity requiring ICTs. It also marks a new phase in large-scale and trans-national democracy, giving citizens power to set the agenda, as well as for decision-making.
Use of video can help to increase understanding of parliaments’ work and make them more accessible. For example, VoxBox20 is a studio, provided between the European Parliament plenary hall and offices. Members of the European Parliament can use the free facilities to record interviews, take part in panels and transfer footage to their websites. This improves members’ control over their communications with media and constituents. It was also suggested that public organisations who filmed parliament could increase accessibility by making footage available to 3rd parties, e.g. for documentaries.
· Make objectives explicit and clearly communicate the purpose of participation.
The Council of Europe has been working with various bodies to draft guidelines and recommendations on e-democracy. These were appreciated as comprehensive and useful, and various improvements were suggested. Additionally it was suggested that COE should increase use of e-democracy in their processes; specifically provide more comprehensive information about events like this Forum online.
E-democracy needs to use wide variety of media, including mobile technologies and TV. TV is the primary information medium for most people. Ignoring this will increase the information divide. We should also be aware of ways in which TV promotes imitations of democracy.
To sum up, a scenario collected by the OECD seemed to catch many people’s imagination. This was Finland’s Vision for 2012:
“In 2012 the interplay between citizens and political and administrative actors consists of a continuous, natural and valued interaction to discuss societal issues and make decisions.”
1 More information about the workshop, including some of the presentations is available here:
7 IFIB 2008 “eParticipation –Electronic Participation of Citizens and the Business Community in eGovernment Study on Behalf of the Federal Ministry of the Interior” http://www.ifib.de/publikationsdateien/study_e-participation_engl.pdf
11 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs http://www.un.org/esa/desa/
12 http://www.ictparliament.org/ and http://www.ictparliament.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=245
16 Directorate-General for External Policies http://www.europarl.europa.eu/
18 Mind the Gap: Fostering open and inclusive policy making. An issues paper
21 See Project “Good Governance in the Information Society” http://www.coe.int/T/E/Integrated_Projects/Democracy/