This is a reply to the post: “Recommendation on E-democracy - adopted by the COE”.
It shall clarify the critiques on the CAHDE working-group, posted here earlier, which – in our opinion – missed out some details about the project.
The Council of Europe (CoE) established in 2002 the Ad-Hoc Committee on Electronic Democracy (CAHDE) aiming at creating a legal document suggesting standards of E-Democracy, formulating principles for introduction and providing generic definitions and analyses of tools and policies to facilitate the introduction of E-Democracy. The goals were challenging and manifold: they span from the general reaffirmation of essentials of democracy and the extension of democracy by using ICTs to facilitate information and deliberation of political issues and until the increase of transparency and accountability of democratic institutions and processes. The Committee of Ministers adopted the recommendation on February 18th, 2009.
A critical discussion of results and outcomes is important and necessary. Especially if we are aiming at giving advice on upcoming developments and technologies, that are not mainstream in the near future. Let us clarify some important points in advance and sketch the framework for discussion.
E-Democracy itself is at first the implementation of political processes with the support of ICTs. This electronic extension of democracy is changing the opportunities to participate and deliberate in the public discourse. Democracy is becoming more direct and E-Democracy could lead to a more participative democratic culture. Besides this very positive possible long-term goal E-Democracy is faced with high demands and expectations of saving the whole democratic culture. This healing power does not automatically exist, but using the Internet increases the opportunities for communication and political participation. The Internet is not an apolitical sphere, but we are still at the beginning of exploring the various opportunities that lay ahead of us. Nevertheless the current imaginable tools, practices and policies within the framework of E-Democracy are subject to a complex, demanding and sometimes time consuming development and implementation process. Time is probably the most important resource on the road to an inclusive and integrated electronic democracy.
One key component of the CAHDE work was research of already established tools and policies of E-Democracy and the deduction of generic tools and policies for top-level recommendations on how and when to implement specific tools or policies. E-Voting.CC, the Competence Center for Electronic Voting and Participation carried out this research on tools and policies on behalf of CAHDE. This overview of 33 tools and policies is presenting a comprehensible and quick overview of possible ways and methods of introducing electronic democracy. The aim is to provide a guide for the implementation of a fully supported E-Democracy on all different levels – from public authorities to NGOs and even single citizens. The generic tools and policies are drawn from a research on more than 100 international examples of using electronic means with regards to electronic democracy.
The level of abstraction is significantly high when deducting general guidelines and conclusions. Single citizens can use the recommendation and the overview of generic tools and policies equally to governments, public authorities and NGOs to get an overview of possible tools and policies, which are available on different levels.
The tools and policies are not meant to be a concrete set of instructions in the sense of how to do e-democracy like an instruction how to setup a wardrobe after buying it in the furniture store. The recommendation, the work of CAHDE and especially the research and analysis of generic tools and policies leads to conclusions on the future development of E-Democracy and shed light on a very important development of democracy.
Nevertheless a set of practical recommendations for its introduction is part of the recommendation and available to everyone outside the Council of Europe through the Internet, which allows access for every interested stakeholder of the society and enables them to make use of the provided knowledge and information.
The CAHDE project was a valuable step in the right direction: Towards better understanding of e-democracy and its tools and also towards easier implementation of e-democracy initiatives through the framework provided by the recommendations.