Report on Workshop 2: e-participation at local level
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.
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
· 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.