Tag Archives: crowdsourcing

Enhancing Estonia’s democracy through Rahvakogu

In February, Democracy One Day blog reported on a fantastic e-participation initiative in Estonia, rahvakogu.ee. The idea was to crowdsource policy proposals that have a potential to enhance Estonia’s democracy. In that post, we promised to do a follow-up when the project is finished. So, to keep our promise, we contacted Olari Koppel of the The Foundation Estonian Cooperation Assembly (Eesti Koostöö Kogu[i]) to tell us what has happened since February.

The readers of Democracy One Day already know the idea behind the Rahvakogu and about the initial idea-gathering process. What we do not yet know is what has happened since the end of February. Please give us an update.

We gathered approximately 1500 proposals during the  crowdsourcing stage, the three weeks in January. After bundling, analysis, evaluation by experts and seminars these 1500 were boiled down to 20 most important proposals which were submitted to the Deliberation  Day audience (320 randomly chosen people). The result, 15 proposals were presented  to the Parliament by the President of the Republic [Toomas Hendrik Ilves]. The Parliament’s  Committee of Constitutional Affairs has been discussing these  proposals for some time now and had a public hearing on 3 June.

The positive thing is that the Parliament has treated Rahvakogu’s work as  a legitimate material so far and this is a clear sign of cooperation.  According to our laws, the Parliament actually has the right to reject any proposal without discussion, if the proposals are not submitted in accordance with the law. Even the President has no  right to submit new laws or amendments to the Parliament (he/she can  only initiate amendments to the Constitution).

Two MPs – one from the [ruling] coalition and the other from the opposition – acted as  rapporteurs. They presented the proposals about the timetable [of implementation] and  possible ways of combining the proposals. Also, they reflected the  initial reflections from the parties represented in the Parliament. I cannot say that politicians are overwhelmed by the job Rahvakogu does. But  they are not totally opposed either. I predict, one third of the proposals will be  passed and the laws changed as Rahvakogu asked, one third will be  somewhat modified and one third will be rejected. The real work –  writing the official amendments and discussions in the Parliament –  will start in September.

What are the proposals that, in your view, are almost certain to be adopted by the Parliament?

Rahvakogu is proposing the idea of lowering the threshold for founding a new political party. Under the current law you have to have 1000 members to establish a party. Rahvakogu’s proposal is 200. I think the final result will be somewhere between 300 and 500.

In addition, Rahvakogu is proposing the idea of lowering the threshold of votes necessary for entering the Parliament. Under the current law a political party must get 5% of the votes in order to become eligible for seats. Rahvakogu’s proposal is 3%, but most likely the final result will be 4%.

What about those that have almost no chance of being adopted?

This one is much easier to answer [laughs]! The Parliament is opposed to giving the citizens the right to initiate referenda. The proposal that would make the members of supervisory boards of state-owned companies directly financially responsible  [for possible financial losses of those companies] also does not have any political support.

What has been the public response to the whole process? Has it  been more positive or negative?

The public response has been ambivalent. There are people and groups  who lack trust  in the parliamentary process, particularly when it comes to politicians dealing with their own privileges and rules of conduct, the election laws etcetera. And these people call Rahvakogu’s  efforts a  nice try  but they doubt if any real results and changes  would come out of it. Some have even said that the whole Rahvakogu thing is a pretense, a process initiated by the political establishment in order to avoid serious consequences and real change.

And, there are of course people, who sincerely believe that this could  be a new way of doing and discussing things. It is too early to make any projections or measure success. I personally believe that, in a democratic system, political changes should  be evolutionary not revolutionary.

Would you consider the Rahvakogu initiative a success?

It is too early to answer this question. But it definitely works  as a method for gathering and discussing various proposals. There are two ways of evaluating the whole Rahvakogu event. Some prefer the process – communicating with people, discussing, gathering ideas, finding a compromise et cetera. Some prefer the results, i.e. how many proposals will actually become law. Process-wise we can call it a success already. The method -deliberative poll or deliberative democracy- is sound and it can be used in the future. Result-wise we have to wait till next spring [2014]. And I do personally hope, that the Parliament will start amending laws out of  the desire to improve our democracy. Although the cynical element also exists – that it is just very unpopular to ignore Rahvakogu.

I wonder if Rahvakogu initiative (the whole consultation, the idea -crowdsourcing process) was something totally new for Estonia or did you build on something that had been tried before?

There have been several efforts in the past to build a direct link between the politicians and the general public. You can still write a letter to your representative in the Parliament or to a government minister. And there are also internet platforms where you can follow public discussions about certain topics initiated by the Government.

However , Rahvakogu is unique because of its method, scope and the measurability of the possible outcome. We defined the topics, designed the process  and set a deadline.

How did you come up with the methodology for Rahvakogu?

It was like putting a puzzle together  – one thing leads to another etcetera.  It is really a combination of different things. There is nothing unique about web-based crowdsourcing, i.e. pooling of ideas, proposals and arguments. And Professor James Fishkin from Stanford [University] has conducted  deliberative polling in 18 countries already. We combined the two and  also made an agreement with the political parties represented in the  Parliament, that they will give a fair treatment to the Rahvakogu  proposals.

There were many Estonian NGO’s involved in Rahvakogu initiative: how did you manage the logistics?

We had the so-called initiative group to run the whole „show“: some IT geeks to design and maintain the online platform, people from the so-called roof organization of NGOs, e-Government Academy, the analysts from Praxis [Center for Political Studies], one representative from every political party represented in the parliament. My organization coordinated the whole process, kept people together, watched the deadlines, paid the bills etcetera. Most of the work was done on a voluntary basis in the evenings and weekends.

I know that there are several other things under way in your organization. Could you briefly describe some of them?

This year, the Estonian Cooperation Assembly started a three-year project of the so-called state management analysis. We are going to evaluate the functioning of the state apparatus by first describing all the different bodies established by the state and executing state power, from the ministries to various semi-public/semi-business/semi-NGO organizations, where the state is a stakeholder or an interested party. We review all the functions and  resources (money and people), which are used for running these bodies.  The next stage is the same analysis at the local level. And the basic question we are trying to answer is whether this whole organization we know as the State is working in the public interest, is the bureaucracy only solving problems or perhaps creating some new ones, is the system sustainable and so on? Our analysis could finally become a White Paper for a wider state reform.

Well done and good luck with that!

[Interview by Iveta]

[i] The Foundation Estonian Cooperation Assembly was established by the President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves  in 2007 as a cooperation network for non-governmental organizations. The foundation monitors topics which influence Estonia’s long term development and that are seen as priorities by its members. It was given by the President the task to „run“ or co-ordinate the Rahvakogu process.


Crowdsourcing Icelandic constitution: a myth or reality?

Many have heard the  inspiring story of Icelandic people crowdsourcing their own constitution. But how much of it is real and how much rather is wishful thinking?  To find out, Iveta Kazoka, PROVIDUS policy analyst, talks with Finnur Magnusson who was the Chief Technology Officer of the Constitutional Council in Iceland.

Prior to writing constitutional draft, was large scale citizen participation in decision making something common for Iceland?

Not really! We’d not been as participatory as some other countries. There had been some attempts on city level, especially Reykjavik, but the parliament was quite one-way in its communications.

How come the parliament didn’t draft the constitution itself?

There had been numerous attempts! The parliament had been setting up committees and working groups for the last 40 years or so. There was no new constitution, just some updates coming from such efforts: for example, a new human rights chapter. Our constitution has a strict acceptance clause – that means that all amendments have to go through two consecutive parliaments in order to come in force, so it is very difficult to change our constitution.

Who had the initiative to draft a constitution by involving so many people?

It was our prime minister [Johanna Sigurdsdottira] and her party who were interested in having a new constitution and insisted that it should be widely discussed. The process of drafting a constitution started with a specific event – 1000 randomly selected Icelanders were flown in to Reykjavik in order to decide on the main principles for the new constitution.  .

Do you think that such a large scale event was necessary?

I believe that it was a very good starting position for drafting a new constitution!  It paralleled a historic event – our first parliament Althing where people came together to decide on common matters.  There was also a more recent event: when the crisis struck, people brainstormed ideas to make life better.  That was a great success! So when politicians decided on drafting a new constitution, they wanted some similar process. It was important that people gathered in the event represent the Icelandic society – so they were randomly chosen as to come from all over Iceland; gender, age, other demographics were also important. They met in Reykjavik where they worked for a whole day being paid the salary that a member of parliament would have got for a day’s work. That’s how we got many new ideas. We even made a complex mind map to organize them.

Was there a statement, idea that originated in this event and ended up in the draft constitution?

People wanted the constitution to be readable, in a clear language. They also wanted more direct democracy and that it is clearly written in constitution that Icelandic public resources belong to its people. Those were very clear messages coming from the Assembly. Those ideas can be found also in the final edition of the constitutional draft.

Who were the people chosen to draft a new constitution?

There were more than 500 candidates who participated in elections for Constitutional Council. Candidates needed a specific number of signatures in order to run. So people voted in elections using single transferable vote system, and that’s how we got 25 Council members.

But then there was a hiccup. One person challenged the election results because of technicalities (our voting legislation states that you should fold your ballot and you should be in closed surroundings during vote, but this time we voted using electronic machines). The High Court deemed the election results void. But the government decided to go ahead anyway – they just renamed the institution “Constitutional Council” (rather than “Constitutional Parliament” as originally intended) and offered the 25 to take their seats in this Council.

But were the 25 people in the Council already known in Icelandic society?

It was a good cross-section of Icelandic society. We had politicians, mayors, a TV celebrity – yes, it was hard for someone totally unknown to be elected for Council, but otherwise the Council was quite diverse.

Was the Constitutional Council free to choose its own methods of engaging people?

I’d say that High Court ruling turned out to be a good thing regarding this specific issue. The parliament had made some very clear guidelines on how the constitution should be written, and that was a very old-fashioned way of doing it. Many committees, consensus-based procedures – a lot of people, me included, were doubtful whether that was at all possible to write a constitution this way. So when they renamed Constitutional Parliament into Constitutional Council the parliament decided to let the Council itself to decide on its procedures. You can do whatever you want, but get everything completed by the deadline!

So we had two weeks to come up with methods. We knew that the process should be as open as possible, so we developed on that. Basically we tried to publish what we had frequently. We created the foundations of the process, but then adapted it to circumstances.

What methods did you use to involve people?

We used our own website. We publicized our event via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, but the work itself took place on our website. Every week we posted an update of the bill, and as soon as it went live on the website, you could post Facebook-style comments! It was quite critical to get the first release of the report – when the drafters saw that nothing bad happened because of it, then they themselves wanted to publish more, just to see what the people would say. And everyone got very used to this type of working.

Did crowdsourcing lead to changes in the draft?

Maybe 12-13 Council members were very active on the discussion threads. People noticed that: they felt listened to, considered. In the meeting notes you can see that they are discussing the ideas from the people.

I can say that at least 4 out of 100 articles in the constitutional draft were directly influenced by the online conversations, for example, on open data and rights of children. We also received formal letters! So we had a very considerable amount of suggestions.

Were there any influential people against such a process of drafting constitution?

Yes, one of political parties – Independence party – was against from the very beginning. They believed that it is the parliament that should write the constitution. This party and their media have been criticizing the process the whole way.

Even the scholars in university sometimes say that this big of a change should be drafted by legal teams, and not members of the public. There are also members of parliament who think like that – they also say that the draft needs more time, more work, that maybe some amendments should be enough…

So there is no total agreement on the new constitution. In fact, the things are not looking good! If it is not passed in this parliament, then it will take a very long time due to the constitutional amendment rules in Iceland.

How would you explain such an opposition? Are the arguments by legal academia convincing to Icelandic parliament?

This has put many people in doubt – that maybe the constitution needs more time, more arguments… There are also attempts by the parliament to delay the process. It is very hard to reach a consensus. We needed 4 months to draft a constitution, but now it is already 2 years since parliament can not manage to approve it.

What does the Icelandic public think about the constitutional draft?

We had some on-binding referenda questions. Majority gave a clear indication that they wanted this constitution to be adopted, and that they wanted more direct democracy, and also the statement on national resources. A slight majority wanted us to change the section on religion, so there has been an update in the text.

So at least 50% of population wants this constitution, and that’s important for political parties prior to elections. But the current parliamentary majority is not very vocal in supporting the draft! Maybe that’s because there are some changes that takes some power away from politicians and makes things more difficult for them – for example, ministers would not be members of parliament anymore.

As things stand right now, I’m not very hopeful that this parliament will adopt the constitution.

Irrespective of what happens with the draft, do Icelandic people now expect such brainstorming methods to be a new norm for civic participation in decision making?

Despite a few positive discussions, the parliament hasn’t shown any signs of increasing citizen involvement. But there are some parties running for elections who advocate for similar work procedures – such as Pirate party and some new parties (and we’ve never had so many new parties!) There is some work under way in the Ministry of Finance on open data. The city of Reykjavik has done the most – for example, they’ve created a site for participatory budgeting. So there are a few things on municipal level, but the parliament remains quite the same.

You can also watch Finnur talking on the Icelandic constitution here:

http://bambuser.com/v/2995524   (in Finland, 2012)

and in Riga, 2013 here:

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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.


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!)


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.


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! 🙂


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What do they know?

WhatDoTheyKnow is  one of the most useful crowdsourcing websites that I’m aware of! It is run and maintained as part of mySociety project.

Its main idea, according to their statement:

You choose the public authority that you would like information from, then write a brief note describing what you want to know. We then send your request to the public authority. Any response received is automatically published on the website for you and anyone else to find and read.

What is so wonderful about this website?

See the underlined parts in the screenshot below! It gives citizens the possibilities they would never have without such a website.


Its basic advantage: a large number of freedom of information requests are collected there.

Why is it important?

Well, I could think about several reasons! For example, you might not need to write a freedom of information request yourself and  then wait for response …  rather you could check whether such information has not already been sent to someone else! Maybe somebody already has this information and it is available on that website. Maybe that information has been shared by such an authority you didn’t even know existed – whatdotheyknow allows to conduct a search of all FoI requests relating to an issue that you are interested in. See, for example, some of the things that are now public thanks to the website.

What else? Imagine that you are a journalist (or a researcher) and you would like to know what people are interested about when they contact some public authority! This is a wonderful library very much suited for such a purpose. According to the website, around 15% to 20% of requests to UK Central Government are made through the site.

This is a very high number indeed!

In addition to that, you may opt to follow all the new requests to a specific authority, thus in this way the crowdsourced information might help you to learn something useful in a timely manner (for instance, somebody has read somewhere about some specific information that an authority has and then makes a FoI request – if not for this request, you might have never known that such an information even existed!)

What’s more – not just the freedom of information requests themselves appear on this website, but the responses from public authorities as well!  Sometimes there are reasons why a request has been unsuccessful – you could do an analysis on this (whether the institutions apply the law in a correct manner, whether there are institutions that are more willing to withhold information as compared to others).

Such a collection of requests also allows public institutions to learn about the patterns of information people are requesting and, maybe, share the often requested information on their website on their own initiative.

So, to sum up, this is a wonderful, unique website that helps to endure citizen oversight over public authorities. It is done by crowdsourcing  FoI requests and responses, and giving citizens plenty of options to work with this information.


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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.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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