Tag Archives: e-communication

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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Abgeordnetenwatch, Meinparlament and Politnetz – Interactive communication platforms in the German-speaking world

In a previous post the Latvian website Gudrās Galvas, an online platform allowing citizens to communicate with politicians, has already been introduced. Now, what about the situation concerning such tools of communication in the German-speaking countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland? What possibilities to communicate with their politicians do the citizens of the German-speaking world have and how useful are the communication platforms in these countries?

Germany – Abgeordnetenwatch
http://www.abgeordnetenwatch.de

 

Abgeordnetenwatch (in English: deputy or parliament watch) is an independent online platform allowing citizens to pose questions to representatives in parliament. Originally limited to the federal state of Hamburg, Abgeordnetenwatch today compromises the majority of deputies of the national parliament, the European parliament, 9 of 16 federal state parliaments as well as various municipalities. When there are elections, candidates can join the site and be consulted, too. Each day, about 10.000 people visit the site. Some general information in English can be obtained at:

http://www.abgeordnetenwatch.de/layer-248-0.html#kapitel4

How does it work?

Each participating representative has a profile (see below), mainly including some basic information concerning his or her political activities in parliament.

Screenshot_1

If you have a question to a specific deputy, for example, you might want to contact the deputy of your constituency in the national parliament, all you have to do is to go to his profile and click the link to the question formulary. All questions posed and the respective answers are shown at the profile page of each politician (see below).

Screenshot_2

 

 


What is it good for and what could be improved?

The site gives citizens the possibility to directly contact representatives with their questions or concerns and the majority of politicians do indeed answer most of the questions they receive. Just like questions and answers appear on the site, people can also look at the questions of others and the respective answers so as  to inform themselves, or maybe also become inspired to post a question of their own. Politi­cians on the other hand, get an overview of what really concerns the people and can demonstrate their expertise and willingness to help them. Hence, Abgeordnetenwatch can be regarded as a kind of center for channeling the online consultation process be­tween citizens and politicians and therefore certainly makes a valuable contribution to enhancing democracy and transparency in Germany.

Unfortunately the site is solely focused on a question-answer process. According to the general terms and conditions of Abgeordnetenwatch, each enquiry has to be formulated as a question. Neither politicians, nor citizens have the possibility to express an opinion on their own behalf and there is also no possibility to comment on a certain question or answer. Thus, real discussions between citizens and politicians cannot take place. Extending the project by finding ways to allow for an actual dialogue between citizens would certainly make the platform even more interesting.

 

Austria – Meinparlament
http://www.meinparlament.at/

 

Meinparlament (in English: my parliament) is a kind of  Austrian version of the German Abgeordnetenwatch and was also set up with the help of the Abgeordnetenwatch team. Hence, it is no surprise that it basically works in the exact same way and also uses a similar layout (see below).

 Screenshot_3

The only real difference between the two platforms is that Meinparlament does not include representatives of regional or municipal parliaments, but only representatives of the national and European level. However, in contrast to Abgeordnetenwatch, Meinparlament also has a section compromising all the members of the Austrian government including the Austrian chancellor. Hence, the chancellor and the ministers can be contacted just like any other member of parliament. Although there are also a few ministers on Abgeordnetenwatch, they do, however, seem to be less active than an  average politican. Meinparlament can therefore also be regarded as a real contact point to the Austrian government.

 

 

Switzerland – Politnetz
http://www.politnetz.ch/

 

The Swiss website Politnetz (in English: political net) is certainly the most interesting communication tool in the German-speaking countries. It is an independent platform, allowing for an actual dialogue between citizens and politicians. Currently about 3000 politicians including members of parliament from the national, regional and municipal level as well as various other politicians (e.g. youth politicians, candidates) and 15.000 ordinary citizens are registered. Last year the project was awarded with the Data Journalism Award by the Global Editors Network, illustrating its importance and innovative power.

How does it work?

Politnetz now follows a completely different approach compared to its German and Austrian equivalents as it is not a tool for consulting politicians, but rather a platform where citizens and politicians can express their opinion by publishing articles on political issues or comment on the articles of others and consequently engage in a discussion. As ordinary citizens have the same right to publish articles and leave comments as politicians, it might be regarded as a form of democratic or citizen’s journalism. In addition, the platform includes some elements of social networks such as Facebook. Below you can see how the system works. A member has written an article on family policies. After clicking on the article and reading it, you can leave a comment and give your opinion on the issue to which the author or other members might in turn react. You can also express your support for an article by clicking on ‘’like’’.

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 Given the importance of direct democracy and the frequent holding of referenda in Switzerland, the following feature of the site is also very interesting. Members can write short statements on how they will vote in the referendum and Politnetz contrasts the pro and contra statements with each other (see below).

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In order to publish articles and participate in discussions, you have to create an account or register via Facebook. Each member of Politnetz, politicians as well as the ordinary citizen, has his or her own profile page (see below) including some basic information and an overview of all articles written. Moreover, members have the possibility to embed their Twitter account in their profile and you can also subscribe as a supporter and follower of a politician.

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What is it good for and what could be improved?

What makes  Politnetz so interesting compared to Abgeordnetenwatch and Meinparlament is that citizens and politicians can actually have a real discussion, which also takes place on absolutely equal terms. Rather than finding themselves in a kind of inferior role requesting something from a politician, Politnetz gives citizens the possibility to tell the public and the political class their opinion on a certain issue or to react to statements written by politicians. To give an illustration: whilst sites like Abgeordnetenwatch function like writing a letter to a politician, which is then made public (and the answer as well), Politnetz is like attending a speech from a politician and discussing with him or her publicly afterwards or, changing the roles and giving a speech on your own which can then be commented by politicians. In turn, the site gives politicians the chance to present themselves, promote their ideas and get input from the citizens.

Browsing through some discussions shows that the system really works. Various articles are published regularly and citizens and politicians often have a lively debate. Sometimes, it is also interesting just to see how politicians comment on each other’s articles, like watching a political debate on TV with the important difference that you can join the discussion any time if you wish. So you can say that Politnetz fulfills an important role in taking the traditionally already very open and democratic political system of Switzerland to the times of the information age.

What could now be improved? Well, I really think that there is not much to improve at Politnetz. However, a simple consultation function as offered by Abgeordnenten­watch and Meinparlament would nevertheless be nice to integrate into the website since the comment section under articles is not really suitable for general questions. Given the ‘’Facebook-like’’ style of the site, a message board on the profile page, similar to the Latvian site Gudrās Galvas, could fulfill this function. Moreover, the site could also try integrating government representatives from the national and regional level (at least I couldn’t find any).

 [Christian]

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E-communication tool GudrasGalvas.lv

 

http://gudrasgalvas.lv/

So this is an online platform (hosted by Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS) providing voters and general public with an opportunity to interact with the MPs and ministers. In many ways it resembles a social networking website, like Facebook, for example, where each politician has his/her own profile, which includes a picture, Curriculum Vitae and their online appearances. Most importantly, though, it allows anyone to post a question or a suggestion to the politicians to which he/she is then expected to answer. You also get to see statistics of how active this particular politician is –  how often he/she logs onto the platform, how many questions he/she answers etc.

The one thing that most certainly makes this a valuable platform for democratic participation is that the voter is given an opportunity to directly interact with a certain politician –  not only via asking questions but also proposing concrete suggestions and solutions and receiving direct feedback on the  proposal (provided the given politician responds and engages actively which, as observed, has by and large been the case on most of the instances).

Here’s what it looks like:

screenshot_gudrasgalvas

However, as the evidence shows, the web-platform becomes actively visited shortly before the elections and is relatively quiet during the interim. The question remains, how do fix this? How does one increase civic activism?

[Indra]

There are several additional interesting features about this website. In the screenshot below you can see three of them in the profile of a MP:

1) the MP can not only answer a question posted by a voter, but also create a survey himself/herself. He can tell the broader public about the survey via twitter or other social networks, which is exactly how this particular MP got responses to her question!  Hence, this platform functions also as an e-consultation tool.

2) As you can see in this picture, this is not a strictly question-answer platform, but rather it allows a discussion to begin between a voter and a MP – this opportunity has been added to the website because the MP’s felt that they needed more opportunities to engage with their voters.

3) in the section called “media monitoring” a MP can check what is being tweeted about him or her (also their own tweets are stored here). This is one way of motivating MPs to visit this website more often.

GG1

Next screenshot shows some additional “motivational” features of gudrasgalvas.lv. There are several gamification elements spread throughout the website that are intended to motivate both MP’s and voter to be more active! For example, the MP’s who respond the most to questions or create survey/blogs get an activity badge and their names turn up on the first page of gudrasgalvas.lv as the most active MP’s. The experience of gudragaslvas.lv has shown that this is quite an effective way in encouraging participation.

Each visitor of gudrasgalvas.lv can create his/her own profile. All the questions asked by that user are being collected there (it is possible to get e-mail notification whenever they receive an answer), and he/she can also see how much points she has earned by surfing through the site, by having participated in surveys, by having asked questions etc. (see, the screenshot below – that user is currently the 70th most actvie user on gudrasgalvas.lv!) On the right side of the screenshot you can see the general statistics of gudrasgalvas.lv – until this day 16347 questions have been asked to candidates and MP’s. MP’s and candidates have answered 9463. Out of 100 Latvian MP’s, 87 have logged in gudrasgalvas.lv at least once.

The audience of gudrasgalvas.lv can vote for the MP of the week. Then a short video interview with that particular MP is made available on the website. The MP can also indicate the other ways how he or she prefers to communicate with voters: for example, via Twitter, Facebook, political party page etc.

GG2

Finally, gudrasgalvas.lv also functions as an accountability tool. Most of ministers and all of MP’s took part in elections where they were asked by gudrasgalvas.lv (which at the time was functioning as a communication website between election candidates and voters) to specify their motivation in taking part in election and 3 promises they could give to their voters (see below in the screenshot). This information was kept on the website, so every voter can judge for herself whether these promises have been kept and post questions about them. In addition to that, this website is also linked with another Latvian website deputatiuzdelnas.lv where the audience can find information on whether the MP has or has not been involved in some shady deals (we will tell more about this website in the future)!

GG3

In addition, there is also a widget freely avilable on gudrasgalvas.lv that can be embedded in any other website fully integrating with its functionality  – the widget allows the users of that particular website to ask questions to MP (for example, in the context of some news story). The Q&A then gets posted both at that website and also at gudrasgalvas.lv.

It looks like this (this is deputatiuzdelnas.lv website):

DuSdeputats

So, these are the main features of this multi-multi-purpose website …

What do you think about it? This is definitely something new for democracies – something less stiff and formal than usual parliamentary websites, there is quite a lot of youthful gamelike element integration. But is such an informal way of communicating with high officials something of benefit to democracies or not?

[additions by Iveta]

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