Home

Other projects

E-democracy projects

Forum History

 

The Forum was established by the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe  (Warsaw, May 2005), to strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens' participation.

(...)

Forum previous sessions

Forum_Democracy2011

(Limassol, Cyprus, October)

Interdependence of democracy and social cohesion.

New: Proceedings

"Radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable” but  “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”  declared Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland while opening the Cyprus Forum.

2010

(Yerevan, October)

Perspectives 2020 Democracy in Europe - Principles and Challenges

Proceedings

 

''The Council of Europe has a unique strategic role to play in strengthening good democratic governance at all levels in the European space''. Democracy, or rather good democratic governance, is now not only intrinsically linked to the respect of human rights but is also recognised as the most effective form of governance to ensure stability, sustainability and well-being.

 That was the main message of the 2010 Forum.

(...)

 

2009

(Kyiv, October)

Electoral systems: strengthening democracy in the 21st century

(Proceedings)

 "In a genuine democracy, the citizen is sovereign and the voter decides" - that was the main message of the 2009 Forum, which highlighted the need for greater public involvement, with a view to increasing voter turnout and ensuring that all stages of public life are democratic..

(...)

 

2008

(Madrid, October)

"E-democracy: who dares?"

 

The discussions addressed the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on democracy.

(...)

 

2007

(Stockholm, June)

"Power and empowerment - The interdependence of democracy and human rights"

 

This event addressed issues such as the role and responsibilities of the opposition, representative democracy at the local and regional level, empowerment of the individual and non-discrimination, respect for freedom of expression and association for civil society, and fostering democracy, human rights and social networks.

 (...)

 

2006

(Moscow, October)

"The role of political parties in the building of democracy"

 

The Forum reflected on  the role and responsibilities of political parties in finding democratic solutions to contemporary challenges, the interaction between political parties and with other actors in the democratic process, and the building and strengthening of democratic institutions.

(...)

 

Launch meeting (Warsaw, November 2005)

"Citizens' participation"

 

 

The discussions addressed the state of contemporary democracy in Europe.

(...)

Previous projects

("Making

Democratic institutions work")

 

Report on Workshop 2: e-participation at local level
David Rios Insua
Royal Academy of Sciences, Spain

Introduction
Workshop No. 2 focused on e-Participation at local level. It was organised by the City of Madrid and aimed at emphasising the role of ICT in promoting citizen participation through ICT in local politics. The morning session was entitled e-Tools for citizen participation at local level and reviewed several illuminating examples on the power of ICT to promote citizen involvement in local politics, together with several conceptual discussions on transversal issues. The afternoon session focused on e-Participatory budgets. Participatory budgets (PB) are emerging as a paradigm of citizen participation; although there was a clear slant towards the role of ICTs in facilitating participatory budget elaboration, conceptual discussions of fundamental issues regarding PBs emerged. The lively discussions around the talks pinpointed many of the challenges in this important field, but showed that ICTs may definitely promote the role of citizen at local level politics facilitating his involvement in public policy decision making. To that end, we shall provide a concise summary of each of the talks identifying then common points.

e-Tools for citizen participation at local level

Mr Alejandro Arranz (General Director for Innovation and Technology, City of Madrid) chaired the morning session. He began by noting the relevance of ICT tools in improving administration and citizen participation with a brief reference to the City of Madrid achievements in this field.

Mr Jose Nuño (General Directorate of Quality Management and Citizen Relations, City of Madrid) described aspects of local government through the city of Madrid website. He placed the emphasis on the City Observatory as a multichannel system to collect suggestions and claims from the citizens and as a way to track and inform about the evolution of the citizens’ perception about the city.

Mr Fernando Rocafull (General Director of the Latin American Capital Cities Union) based his discussion on the study on Digital Government in cities around the World and the works around the Iberoamerican Network of Local Governments and Connectivity. He stressed that most projects have addressed information and administration issues and provided many data supporting the relevance of the concept of digital divide, both because of lack of access and digital illiteracy.

Mr Helmut Himmelsbach (Mayor of the City of Heilbronn, Germany) provided advice on issues, opportunities and challenges in relation with strengthening democracy through the use of ICT based on his experience as rapporteur of the Council of Europe Congress on electronic democracy and deliberative consultation on urban projects. He mentioned, among many other things, that emphasis had been placed on informing citizens, that there was an initial move towards dialogue with citizens and some attempts on involving citizens in decision making. He described, as well, how different approaches should be undertaken, depending on whether we referred to national or local politics, which he described as the natural level to start with e-democracy projects.

Mr Rick Klooster (City of Apeldoorn) showed life demonstrations of VirtuoCity in several Dutch cities. They essentially consist of explorable 3D descriptions of urban plans with discussion forum and e-voting capabilities. Some of the experiences have been very successful involving more than 30000 participants in binding e-vote sessions.

Mr Francesco Molinari (ALTEC) provided an overview of (good and bad) lessons learnt from his experience in applying ICTs for urban planning in the Italian city of Massa. He stressed the beneficial use of collective intelligence to produce better and more consensual decisions and the need for true and long term commitment from policy makers to sustain the momentum of e-participation projects.

Dr. Rui Lourenco (University of Coimbra) emphasised the electronic support of citizen debates at community level. He suggested a model based on blogs to support the divergent phases of debates and wikis to support the convergent phase leading to a set of documents summarising the main views within a problem. With such a model we avoid time and space constraints typical of political debates and may possibly better influence professional politicians.

Ms Gun Eriksson (City of Sigtuna) described the e-participation experiences at Sigtuna (Sweden), the town which held the previous FFD meeting. She described how the town was worried about the declining participation rate in elections and decided to promote participation and e-participation projects to revive involvement among citizens. This included using the web to inform about projects, to collect opinions and discuss about them and to allow for voting about them. Incidentally, these e-participation projects have had a clear positive impact in participation rates.

e-Participatory Budgets

Mr José Manuel Rodríguez Alvarez (Deputy Director of European Affairs, City of Madrid) moderated the session, starting by describing participatory budgets as a paradigm for citizen participation.

Prof. Manuel Arenilla (Rey Juan Carlos University) provided a somewhat skeptical view of participation and participatory budgets, discussing whether their role was to reinforce democracy and/or to improve management. He noted that many participatory initiatives had focused on the local level. At the same time, however, the local level is financially regulated by upper level politics which, in turn, affects the competencies at the local level and the impact of participatory initiatives. He criticised the lack of a general methodology for participatory budgets, the effect that they are having of benefiting the more institutionalised groups of citizens, and the potential lack of transparency.

Dr. Daniel Chavez (Transnational Institute) assessed critically participatory budgets all over the world, emphasising the differences that this phenomenon faces in Latin America and Europe, and how PBs are presented in various political fashions. He also described how this phenomenon is growing across Europe.

Mr Victor García Segador (General Director for Citizen Participation, City of Madrid) described the experiences of the City of Madrid in relation with participatory budgets and the role that ICTs have had on them. They are called special investment plans. ICTs have been used for information purposes and, more moderately, for consultation and decision support, mainly through experimental multichannel voting sessions.

Mr Julio Andrade (Citizen Participation Councillor, City of Malaga) described the relevance of citizen participation within Malaga, mainly as a way to increase co-responsibility in management, and why and how Malaga got involved in participatory budgeting. He described the pros and cons of their approach and presented the new web based tool that will be used to support participatory budget elaboration.

Mr Simon James (Council of Europe Congress) described the experiences of Kingston Council (United Kingdom) in both e-government and e-participation, including budgets.

Mr Claudio Forgheri (Modena City Council) described technological and sociological aspects in regards to the e-participatory budget experiences in Modena (Italy). He stressed the need to place technology as a service to the citizen, not vice versa.

Ms. Sandra de Lorite (Councillor for Citizen Participation, City of Madrid) closed the session reviewing its key aspects.

Themes and ideas
The lively debates around the previously described talks may be globally summarised in several ideas:

    · There is a perception that citizens are becoming less interested in politics and democracy, because of a growing distance between politicians and citizens. This is reflected, e.g, in decreasing voting rates in elections. This is happening in both national and local politics.
    · As a way to mitigate this, and to reinforce democracy, several participatory instruments have been devised, without reference to ICTs, including citizen juries, stakeholder workshops, participatory budgets or referendums. Many of them have been initially introduced at local level. Note that participatory democracy does not entail a return to a direct democracy system.
    · Some versions of some of these instruments have been implemented already with the aid of ICTs. So far, however, only relatively simple tools have been implemented, mainly focusing on e-debating and e-voting. Such tools have been successful in the experiences so far held, and the experiences presented in the session constitute good practice examples.
    · There are many non-technical issues that need to be considered. One of them, of socioeconomic note, refers to the digital divide, both due to the lack of generalised access to Internet and digital illiteracy. Time and appropriate policies may help to mitigate this. Until solved, a mixture of online and offline instruments should be considered.
    · Another issue refers to how professional politicians will accept these changes. In particular, there were several references to the possible dilution of responsibility and the need for appropriate and sustained commitment by policy makers.
    · Participatory budgets provide a paradigm for participatory instruments, because of the importance of the decisions made and their growing importance in Europe. E-participatory budgets, therefore, emerge as a paradigm for e-participatory instruments. However, the lack of a generalised methodology suggests that the field is still in its infancy.
    · For reasons of scale and because of the existing experience with physical participatory instruments, the local level is probably the natural starting ground for e-participation. Their eventual success might entail their later application at national level politics.
    · Care should be taken to avoid that participatory processes get hi-jacked by pressure groups.