Category Archives: Petitions/Proposals

Rahvakogu: Estonian policy idea crowdsourcing site

A very ambitious e-participation project is currently being implemented in Estonia!

More than 10 Estonian NGO’s and think tanks have voluntarily come together to create a website rahvakogu.ee (its prototype: citizens.is that will be described in a separate blog post!) which is used to crowdsource policy proposals that would lead to:

a) improvements in Estonian electoral system,

b) increased competition between the political parties and strengthening of their internal democracy,

c) better model of financing political parties,

d) more extensive civic participation, and

e) stopping the politicization of public offices (the five underlined topics in the screenshots below).

If we compare it with other idea crowdsourcing platforms, I just love the focus – and not just becomes I am working on the same topics in Latvia!  🙂

The topics are VERY challenging for an average not-well-informed citizen, but at the same time such an activity in itself has educative value for broader citizenship, and – who knows! – there might be some very bright and unexpected ideas coming from Estonian citizens.

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As you can see in this picture, even though the discussion was launched in January 2013, there is already a huge number of proposals regarding each of the broad topics (for example, there are 282 initiatives that concern political party funding – which to me, as I have worked with these issues in Latvia for at least 6 years, – is just shocking, and I mean that in the most positive sense of the word!)

Rahvakogu2

If we look deeper in those proposals (sorry, had to use Google translate – but I think I got the main idea behind each proposal!)  – then it gets clear that some are good, most are not-so-good and some are not really even worth considering. But that’s always the case when you use crowdsourcing as a tool! What’s good about this platform: it also crowdsources arguments  for (in blue) and against (in red) the specific initiative (see the screenshot below)  – so you can discuss each proposal separately.

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The online idea crowdsourcing is just the first part of the project – the ideas will be subject to expert analysis prior to being presented to decision makers. According to e-mail by Lelo Liive,  Head of Program, “during the first phase the site was visited more than 60 thousand times, over 2000 persons loged on to the site and made proposals. The site had visitors from all over the world.This is an excellent, excellent result for such a tiny society (the population of Estonia is around 1.3 million)!

And this is what is coming in February and March 3013:

February 2013: Analysts will group the proposals and comments into bundles of different possible scenarios and provide them with impact analysis.

March 2013: “deliberation day” (one or more, if necessary) for selecting the most preferred scenarios at public meetings, which will then be presented to the parliament, Riigikogu, by the President of the Republic.

Such an exciting initiative, isn’t it? A really neat way to balance citizen and expert participation!

Good luck, Estonians! We will keep our fingers crossed and will check how everything eventually turns out! 🙂

[Iveta]

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European Citizens’ Initiative

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), has been described by many as ‘first-ever experiment in transnational participatory democracy’ and as such is, of course, particularly interesting to us and our project.

You can see the overview of first attempted and successful ECIs in this presentation by Dace Akule of Latvian Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS:

Up until now, two routes have been available to the citizens of the European Union (EU) to influence the legislative process on the EU level – petitioning the European Parliament or contacting the EU Ombudsman.  ECI would for the first time allow them to address the European Commission with their proposals.

ECI is meant to be a new participatory tool for Europeans to engage with the European Commission and propose legislation. Created in sync with the 11.4 of the Lisbon Treaty, it differs from petitioning significantly. Here is how this is explained, point to point in the official website of the ECI:

  • Petitions can be submitted by citizens of the Union as well by natural or legal persons residing or having their registered office in a member state, either individually or in association with other citizens or persons.

  • Petitions must concern matters which come within the Union’s fields of activity and which directly affect the petitioner(s) (e.g. a complaint).

  • Petitions are addressed to the European Parliament in its role as the direct representative of citizens at EU level.

  • With petitions, there are no formal requirements for a minimum number of signatures or spread of support in multiple EU countries.

  • The citizens’ initiative, on the other hand, enables citizens to call directly on the Commission to bring forward new proposals for legal acts – if they have sufficient support across the EU.

The initiative has to be backed by one million EU citizens minimum and those have to come from at least 7 of the member states ( important to note that we are not talking about the nationality of the citizens, just the country of residence).

The initiative, its usefulness and capabilities are still being discussed, different opinions are being raised and citizens of the EU are already submitting their initiatives to the platform (such as the obsolete initiative on Ecocide and the open initiative ‘One of us‘, for example). It remains, however, to be seen, how this platform will develop and function.

And even so,  it has to be noted that this a big step towards a more inclusive, participatory democracy on EU level and, sure, it won’t make the democratic deficit disappear in a heartbeat, but it will at least be a turn in the right direction.

The guide to the initiative can be downloaded here:

http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/guide

The Regulation on ECI can be found here:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:065:0001:0022:EN:PDF

Technical specifications of the ECI can be found here:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:301:0003:0009:EN:PDF

Maroš Šefčovič on ECI:

http://presseuropa.com/press-releases/maros-sefcovic-vice-president-of-the-european-commission-responsible-for-interinstitutional-relations-and-administration-ecis-and-petitions-giving-citizens-a-voice-meeting-in-the-european-parliament-committee-of-the-petitions-brussels-8-may-2

[Indra]

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Public Initiative Platform ‘Mana Balss’

http://manabalss.lv/

This free of charge social initiative platform “Mana Balss” ( ‘My voice’ – Latvian transl.) allows for people to submit their initiatives and thus attempt to improve the general situation in the country and ‘troubleshoot’ by addressing issues they find worrying.

The basic procedure is intended to run the following way:

1)      any citizen of the Republic of Latvia (16 years of age and above) submits an initiative (after authorizing through a state-registered online bank) to the online platform http://manabalss.lv/

2)      you submit an initiative, stating what it is that you want to change, how you propose to go about achieving it and why this initiative is essential for others to support;

3)      Within 24 hours your initiative will get feedback from a group of experts (if they are available, if not – go to step 4) who will let you know what’s still missing and how it should/could be improved;

4)      Your initiative will then be ‘transformed’ into a link and it is up to you then to gather 100 signatures (via sharing the link on Twitter, Facebook etc) in order to confirm that the initiative that you are proposing actually matters to others, too;

5)      After this has happened, the lawyers of the platform (note: these people are volunteers, so it might take time) will check your proposal in order to make sure that it is legally applicable, isn’t unconstitutional and would serve as an actual solution to the given problem;

6)      Then, once this is confirmed, 10 000 signatures have to be gathered for the initiative to be brought to the Parliament for discussion (we will describe the unusual petitioning procedure in place in Latvia in some later post!)  It is then, of course, down to their discretion to make a decision whether the initiative passes or not.

It is the straightforward manner in which the initiative allows the general public to make a real difference  (essentially, three relatively simple steps) that captivates attention the most. It is normally assumed that bringing an issue to the government for discussion is a complex endeavor and can be achieved only by jumping through bureaucratic hula hoops or alternatively making lots of noise in the public realm. This initiative provides a much more comprehensible way of participation and hence (or so the hope is) will eventually increase civic activism in the society.

Here is a snapshot of how the website looks like:

manabalss_screenshot

And for those of our followers who are Latvian-speakers, here is a promotional video of the platform (english subtitles are should be avilable on youtube):

However, echoing criticisms of the  European Citizens Initiative, where critics have raised concerns concerning initiative turning into mob rule, it could, in theory, be argued that no serious, well – researched proposals will come out this. In a way manabalss.lv both confirms and disproves this argument: even if new initiatives are submitted almost daily, not that many of them get to the 6th stage when they become public. And, when they are, they are usually quite well developed (though there have been some exceptions). But it has turned out to be challenge to find volunteers in order to crowdsource the “quality – control”.

You can see the short history and overview of the most popular initiatives on manabalss.lv in the presentation by Iveta here:

Now, we expect, more than hope, that the number of creative and purposeful initiatives proposed on the platform will increase substantially in the near future and that, with this channel being there, civic participation rates will go up as a result.

[Indra, with small additions from Iveta]

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‘Mūsu Valsts’ Discussion Platform

Musuvalsts.lv is a Latvian platform for crowdsourcing policy ideas.

Do you have an idea on what would motivate those people who have left Latvia to return? Post it on musuvalsts.lv! Maybe you know how to unite Latvian ethnic groups? Share it with other visa musuvalsts.lv! Other people will comment and vote on your idea.

That’s the basic idea of Manabalss.lv platform. As simple as that!

Here is a snapshot of what it looks like:

musuvalsts_screenshot

Musuvalsts.lv initiative was created on September, 2011  (prior to extraordinary parliamentary elections; we were probably the first nation on the planet to dismiss a parliament via referendum and call for extraordinary elections!) with a purpose to encourage the general public to get involved in a constructive discussion. The main objective was to ensure that the leading politicians take into account suggestions initiated and supported by the general public.

The vision underlying the project is to generate innovative ideas amongst members of the general public, irrespectively of the social networks or websites they use, so as to propose new legislation, as well as amend existing laws that aren’t functioning particularly well. The discussion platform itself was created by the Latvian social network draugiem.lv (often referred to as ‘the Latvian Facebook’) and has other Latvian web portals ( inbox.lv, tvnet.lv, delfi.lv un kasjauns.lv) involved as participants. Right now it is hosted by Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS.

The hope was that, instead of anonymous complaining in the commentary sections of different news portals, the opinionated and active members of general public will use this platform for constructive debate and discuss matters that need urgent attention. At the same time, the web platform would also serve as a ‘meeting point’ for people  who on daily basis  use different social media networks and are all brought together here.

Ok, that’s the theory!

But how does it work in practice?

The idea crowdsourcing process gets activated whenever there is a respectable NGO or state agency that wants to crowdsource ideas. There is only one consultation process at a time. For example, at the moment (26.01.2013) you can see that a consultation on remigration (basically: bringing people back to Latvia!) has ended. It was a well-organized joint public – private sector endeavour.

Beginning in 2012, the Ministry of Economics of Latvia organized an expert working group on remigration: in autumn 2012 this working group came up with 7 suggestions. These suggestions were then subjected to public consultation – both, in traditional way and via musuvalsts.lv. The visitors of musuvalsts.lv could both vote and comment on those suggestions and make their own recommendations. As you can see, approximately 30 additional suggestions were made (there were more than that, but similar proposals were grouped together) and then given to Ministry of Economics! They needed this consultation in order to create a work plan on remigration.   We do not yet know what the Ministry has done with those suggestions, but we will try to keep you up-to-date! 🙂

[Indra & Iveta]

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