Archive for February, 2010

New Media Tools and Participatory Democracy

14. February 2010 – 12:13 by Francesco Molinari

I have just come back from an intensive 2-day workshop in Barcelona, beautifully organised and managed by QeC-ERAN - a Brussels based network of cities once affected by socio-economic breakdown - under the umbrella of a EU-funded initiative entitled Local Forums for Developing Participatory Democracy (link). The workshop aimed at highlighting the potential of multimedia tools to enhance political participation of young adults (18-30) and raise awareness of their fundamental rights and responsibilities as citizens of the Union. A notable number of young people came in from the various partner cities (the countries represented were Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the UK). Several EU-level experiences were presented, including PEP-NET ;-) and a Twitter based discussion entitled Why vote?. Sound evidence was shown regarding the creation of several Local Forums at the various partners’ locations in order to bring together ideas, make innovative experiments with multimedia tools and build new expertise to be shared internationally. An online community of practice is now being setup to further make the promotion of participatory democracy to young people more sustainable at local/regional level. Proposed instruments to facilitate the community: chat, instant messaging, whiteboard and discussion tables; voting and survey tools; document sharing facilities such as googledocs and a wiki to write together and produce text with shared visions. My comment: I spotted a lot of ingenious creativity and serious engagement in these people. Though this be madness, yet there is method in it. Worth a second look soon.

The Social Graph: Identifying statements by the same person on the web

11. February 2010 – 14:55 by Bengt Feil

In a recent post I argued that it is very promising to look at the distributed opinion expressed by people on the internet in eParticipation and other projects. One of the major challenges in doing so is to be able to know which of the many statements one can found all over the web have been made by the same person. The Social Graph helps to overcome this problem.

A Social Graph includes all the websites and relationships between websites related to any particular web user. The Social Graph for me would for example state that I am an author on the PEP-NET weblog, my Twitter account is, my Facebook name is bengtfeil and so own. The Social Graph also includes information on the people related to me as friends on the different sites. Of course only publicly viewable information can by included into the graph.

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Making Europe more democratic? Participate in live discussion on Thursday 1 February @ 14:00 CET

11. February 2010 – 10:57 by Danish Technological Institute

Live streaming of the “Making Europe more democratic?” debate on Thursday 11 February @ 14:00 CET at

The debate aim to answer an array of questions relevant to democracy and surrounding the new European Citizens’ Initiative. The event will be hosted by Richard MEDIĆ, European Media and Communications Expert (former AER Spokesman).

The main speakers include: Sebastian KURPAS, a representative from the European Commission and Johannes W. PICHLER, Professor for European Law at the University of Graz and Director of the Austrian Institute for European Law and Politics in Salzburg (AT).

The initiative is part of the “AER Communications Atelier” under the new European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) the Steiermark Office Brussels will be hosted by the AER (Assembly of European Regions). It is also the first time the “AER Communications Atelier” gives interested parties the opportunity to follow the discussion as a live-stream and to participate actively in the discussion on

Danish Technological Institute/Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen

Squabbling Scientists….and eParticipation

10. February 2010 – 21:11 by Julia Glidden

I have spent the day running user groups for an interesting new argument visualisation tool that is designed to make it easier for citizens to participate in policy making on climate change.  Check out the new EU-funded project: 

Aside from learning some very interesting things about how easily eParticipation practioners fall into assuming prior knowledge (such as asking people what they think about the ‘platform’ or ‘argument visualisation’ when most people don’t know what either of these terms mean!), I also learned something very discouraging about the present state of the climate change debate.  One things is for certain - the present fall out among climate change researchers and flurry of media coverage surrounding it is taking a toll that not even the most innovative of social media tools can alleviate.

Anyone familiar with acedemia will recognise the current academic dispute surroung climate change research.  It is a sad and familar tale of petty jealousies and turf wars in which researchers conspire to block dissent and promote a self-selected clique.  This type of behaviour happens all the time in universities around the world.

 Unfortunately, while the researchers conspire to one up each other, average citizens are left dazed and confused about what, if anything, they should do to address climate change.  Should they really cut back on the family budget to fund higher environmental taxes?  Give up on the car? Cancel the family holiday in Spain? Live with that wind farm down the road?

Henry Kissinger once famously commented ‘The disputes in academia are so fierce because the stakes are so low.’  In this instance, alas, the stakes are not low at all.

It is truly unfortunate that while the so-called scientific experts squabble, the pressing interests and needs of average people are left unanswered.  There are enough valid concerns about the various methods being proposed to help save the planet without unnecessary doubt and obsfucation being thrown into the debate by quarreling academics. 

Google Buzz, Twitter and Blogs: Identifying distributed public opinions

10. February 2010 – 10:48 by Bengt Feil

The launch of Google Buzz, the search gigants attempt to get into the microblogging and status update world dominated by Twitter, yesterday again shows that the age of distributed publishing is here. People are stating their opinions and ideas openly in many different venues on the net – from Twitter to Facebook to their own weblog. But they are not limited to one of these venues, instead they regularly switch from one to the other. Therefor it is relatively hard to keep track of these statements.

As stated in some other posts on this blog before this kind of distributed opinions are arguments could be very valuable if they can be gathered efficiently and be integrated into discussion making processes. I would like to take a closer look at the first of the two conditions, the efficient scraping of the arguments and opinions, and provide a basic tool to get started with this work.

As a short demonstration of what unified search can do I quickly build this crude Yahoo Pipe (more on that later) searching through Twitter, Blogposts and comments of blogposts. Feel free to use it and take a look at the internals. This demo search shows the results for the term „Google Buzz“. Of course these results could also be in RSS format.

No lets take a look at how to build such a unified search tool with a lot more functionality.

First of all there is a need to reduce the venues and areas in which the search for statements and opinions is conduced. Just searching the whole net using a common search engine would not solve the problem as the results are out of context and have little meta information. In other words: Search engine results are very fuzzy and hard to deal with. Before starting to engineer tools to find the statements in the different venues it has to be clear which kind of meta information is needed to further work with the information found. These three questions are example for possible meta information:

  • In which venue has the statement been posted? (Blog, Twitter, Facebook etc.)

  • Was is a reaction to another statement or does is stand on their own? (Blogposts, comment, @reply etc.)

  • Where was the statement made (geographically)? (Many tools like Twitter or Google Buzz do attach geodata to posts)

After the decision of where to search for what has been taken the solution can be build. Most social web contents are public and can be search through by simple reproducing the sites own search queries. For example if you load the URL: in you browser, the Twitter search results for the term „pep-net“ will be presented to you. By adding the right parameters to the URL the search can for example be specified to just results in a 50 kilometer radius around the city of Hamburg. On the basis of this approach it is fairly easy to build unified searches covering many social web sites at once.

Building the actual search can be done using a tool like Yahoo Pipes or by implementing it into an actual programming language like PHP or Python. Using existing tools like Pipes allow for very rapid development even for a non-programmer but the final result does lack in performance. Using a programing language allows for maximal flexibility and performance but the implementation work is much harder.

This article is of course only mend to be a quick introduction to the basic concepts of unified search and its possible use in participation processes. If you are interested in this area just post a comment here.

Internet can be muzzled?

8. February 2010 – 15:40 by Eric Legale

“Virtual walls are cropping up in place of visible walls” said Hillary Clinton, last January 21, in a very important speech on Internet freedom. We can see it every day in Iran, China, Viertnam, Burma and in many countries a spike in threats to the free flow of information. It also happening in Europe, in Belarus, where President Lukashenko has signed a decree regulating the dissemination of information on the, in the context of a tumultuous presidential election, next year.

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Tuscan citizens reflecting on the limits of landscape policy

5. February 2010 – 23:52 by Francesco Molinari

Another Electronic Town Meeting - seventh in a row since 2006 - is about to be celebrated in Tuscany right tomorrow. After using it to elicit the informed judgement of hundreds of people on such diverse policy issues as health expenditure, “lawfulness”, climate change, and the “living will” (to name but a few), the Regional Government is now gathering about 100 randomly selected citizens in 5 different locations simultaneously, in order to launch a discussion on the priorities and limits of landscape planning - another primer for this topic and for the use of this eParticipation instrument in Europe.

The Electronic Town Meeting is the modern version of a form of structured participation in local government that has been practised in the US region of New England since colonial times, and in some Western States since at least the late 19th century. Participants receive structured information on a given topic, then they can express themselves individually within small groups and the discussion results are reported, clustered, given back in real time and finally prioritised by means of an electronic polling system that involves everyone in the room in a transparent, yet privacy respectful, way.

The 6th February Town Meeting is all but a trivial exercise. In fact, everyone has in mind the “postcard” image of Tuscany as praised by innumerable writers and film makers all over the world. Yet the region today is also a land of contradictions, for instance between tourism and industrial development, cultural heritage and modern infrastructure building. One only example: the impact of installing renewable energy plants such as windmills could jeopardise the centuries old beauties of the Tuscan landscape irreversibly according to some. Would it be better then to stay dependent on fossil fuels and avoid this permanent loss of quality, and ultimately reputation, of the Regional lifestyle?

The event has been jointly organised by the Councillors of Urban Planning and Civic Participation of the Regional Government of Tuscany. It will be broadcasted in real time web streaming at the following URL:

More info (in Italian):

Vienna combines on- and offline democracy

4. February 2010 – 16:22 by Centre for E-Government

Recently, the Austrian capital Vienna launched an extensively advertised eParticipation and discussion platform called Wien will’s wissen (Vienna wants to know) for the referendum in February. By now most of the citizens have already received their ballot papers by mail, but they can also participate in online discussions.

Vienna’s government wonders about citizen’s opinions with an online platform going along with the referendum (Volksbegehren). The selection of the topics of the referendum was based on the orientation on factual issues as opposed to ideological ones.

The online platform is to be seen as an additional information and discussion service for the exchange of ideas between citizens and experts. Online contributions and comments can be made on the topics of the referendum. (Citizens will be asked five questions about prospective decisions of the Viennese government.) Plus, contrary statements of two experts – amongst them bloggers and media experts – referring to one of these questions are published.

By registering on the platform with an username and e-mail address everyone is offered the opportunity to submit questions and statements or to comment on the postings of other users. Before going online, all comments are reviewed by editors in order to ensure that people stick to the netiquette.

Implementation of Facebook and Blog

The platform is joining the trend of implementating social networks by including the possibility to use an existing Facebook account for comments. Users can use their accounts for uploading videos or pictures related to the five topics. In doing so, people should be persuaded to voice their concerns without having to go through an additional registration process.

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Long way to go?

3. February 2010 – 18:17 by Olga Lacigova - 21c

We still have a long way to go before governments become 2.0 savvy. Recent report published by McKinsey & Company got it spot on!

According to the report and from our experience, in recent years we have seen a significant improvement in the use of information and communication technology by central and local governments. Majority of governments have websites and offer certain public services online such as paying tax, paying for parking tickets or renewing personal identification documents or driving licences. Moreover, public service employees use the internet on regular basis to communicate and to manage other resources.

These improvements were made possible thanks to significant spending by the governments; however, the public sector services still lag far behind the private sector. Many funding schemes designed to transform the government failed, and the benefits are not immediately obvious. Citizens are increasingly more demanding as the use of ICT and social media by private companies is highly advanced and the private sector standards are seem far from reachable by the public sector.

The report points out three main obstacles that decrease the impact of ICT modernisation funded by the public sector: ‘ineffective governance, lack of Web-related capabilities, and reluctance to allow user participation in the creation of applications and content’.

I personally agree with the last point the most. Local authorities are fearful to allow citizens co-create their website or to post blogs expressing their concerns and many believe that council’s website is an official informative source and should not be transformed into a place of discussion and Facebook/Twitter debates. I agree that we don’t want to see offensive postings when we are looking to pay our parking tickets, however, having a space where I can say what I think would help my neighbourhood would come often very handy. So where is the limit and how to overcome this problem?

Source: Jason Baumgarten and Michael Chui (

Digital Reputation Analysis as a Political Tool

2. February 2010 – 18:09 by ActValue Consulting & Solutions

Web 2.0’s great power cannot be ignored.

Politicians have shown to understand this issue very well. They know that this new
way of communication can be used as a powerful tool to disseminate political programs
and to influence voters. Independent studies have shown that in the US President
Barack Obama has won the elections thanks to young people as never before. This
part of the population has voted for the democratic candidate en masse (2 out of
3 voters) and the number of young voting people has increased, for the very first
time, much more in comparison to any other voting category. In fact the influence
of the evolution in communication in the Web2.0 era has changed the way voters follow
the election campaign.

Voters are no longer simple watchers but nowadays they are proactive subjects who
determined the political programs and trends through the power of the informal web
(e.g. forum, social network, blog, newsgroup e wiki) which means that citizens exchange
opinions (positive or negative ones) in a free way , without discrimination.

Similarly politicians should use the same tools to test, detect and understand how
their programs are perceived by the voters and they can stimulate discussions and
gather useful feedback. Based upon the outcome of last year’s election, we estimate
that in Italy candidates who will be able to exploit web 2.0 can win up to 30% of
the voters aged between 18 and 25, the ones who did not vote.

The analysis and interpretation of opinions, judgments and prejudices found on the
net is a core activity for the protection and the promotion of brands, products
and services, people in terms of visibility, reputation, credibility. Candidates
should borrow this model from marketing (e.g. President Obama is a brand) to supervise,
defend and emphasize their image in order to create a competitive advantage for
the future. Audience will resonate a candidate’s name to a good feeling of deep
trust. Thus it is very important, as a political strategy, to create a feedback
between information gathered on the net and the definition of a candidate’s political

Here below we propose a model which can be used for web reputation analysis in the
political contest.




Political program


Web Voice




Social issues

Social issues

Curriculum Vitae

Scale of value

Economy & Jobs

Economy & Jobs

Relations skills

Basic principles





Foreign politic

Foreign politic


Popularity rating

Domestic politic

Domestic politic

Popularity rating






Health care

Health care













This model needs to be detailed and refined. The analysis outcome will then include
a Position Map of web domains, built upon their relevance, their visibility and
the tone (either positive or negative) of the conversations they host.

Participating in a few selected conversations and stimulating the right channels
a candidate will then be able to create a positive environment and influence the
voters’ feelings towards his/her political messages.

Concluding, we can say that web 2.0 is a terrific tool and it may give good interaction
opportunities to everybody; on the other hand it requires professionalism, skill
and experience to define and execute winning political strategies.