Article by Elisa Lironi: “…Information and communication technology (ICT) can be used to implement more participatory mechanisms and foster democratic processes. Often referred to as e-democracy, there is a large range of very different possibilities for online engagement, including e-initiatives, e-consultations, crowdsourcing, participatory budgeting, and e-voting. Many European countries have started exploring ICT’s potential to reach more citizens at a lower cost and to tap into the so-called wisdom of the crowd, as governments attempt to earn citizens’ trust and revitalize European democracy by developing more responsive, transparent, and participatory decisionmaking processes.
For instance, when Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor of Paris in May 2014, one of her priorities was to make the city more collaborative by allowing Parisians to propose policy and develop projects together. In order to build a stronger relationship with the citizens, she immediately started to implement a citywide participatory budgeting project for the whole of Paris, including all types of policy issues. It started as a small pilot, with the city of Paris putting forward fifteen projects that could be funded with up to about 20 million euros and letting citizens vote on which projects to invest in, via ballot box or online. Parisians and local authorities deemed this experiment successful, so Hidalgo decided it was worth taking further, with more ideas and a bigger pot of money. Within two years, the level of participation grew significantly—from 40,000 voters in 2014 to 92,809 in 2016, representing 5 percent of the total urban population. Today, Paris Budget Participatif is an official platform that lets Parisians decide how to spend 5 percent of the investment budget from 2014 to 2020, amounting to around 500 million euros. In addition, the mayor also introduced two e-democracy platforms—Paris Petitions, for e-petitions, and Idée Paris, for e-consultations. Citizens in the French capital now have multiple channels to express their opinions and contribute to the development of their city.
In Latvia, civil society has played a significant role in changing how legislative procedures are organized. ManaBalss (My Voice) is a grassroots NGO that creates tools for better civic participation in decisionmaking processes. Its online platform, ManaBalss.lv, is a public e-participation website that lets Latvian citizens propose, submit, and sign legislative initiatives to improve policies at both the national and municipal level. …
In Finland, the government itself introduced an element of direct democracy into the Finnish political system, through the 2012 Citizens’ Initiative Act (CI-Act) that allows citizens to submit initiatives to the parliament. …
Other civic tech NGOs across Europe have been developing and experimenting with a variety of digital tools to reinvigorate democracy. These include initiatives like Science For You (SCiFY) in Greece, Netwerk Democratie in the Netherlands, and the Citizens Foundation in Iceland, which got its start when citizens were asked to crowdsource their constitution in 2010.
Outside of civil society, several private tech companies are developing digital platforms for democratic participation, mainly at the local government level. One example is the Belgian start-up CitizenLab, an online participation platform that has been used by more than seventy-five municipalities around the world. The young founders of CitizenLab have used technology to innovate the democratic process by listening to what politicians need and including a variety of functions, such as crowdsourcing mechanisms, consultation processes, and participatory budgeting. Numerous other European civic tech companies have been working on similar concepts—Cap Collectif in France, Delib in the UK, and Discuto in Austria, to name just a few. Many of these digital tools have proven useful to elected local or national representatives….
While these initiatives are making a real impact on the quality of European democracy, most of the EU’s formal policy focus is on constraining the power of the tech giants rather than positively aiding digital participation….(More)”