e-participation tips from e-trikala1. June 2010 – 09:38 by Vassilis Goulandris (e-trikala)
e-trikala is the official spin-off corporate entity owned by the City of Trikala in Greece. Through e-trikala’s work, the City of Trikala is recognized as the pioneer and leader of ICTs in local government in Greece today. The City continuously expands its broadband and fiber optic network (36 km) infrastructure which at this point connects all municipal buildings, authorities, organizations, schools etc, and the free-of-charge wi-fi access to the internet (34 wi-fi nodes) for all households, businesses and city visitors. It also implements novel projects like intelligent transportation systems, innovative e-health services for citizens, an integrated remote citizens’ complaint service, a tourist information platform featuring PDAs - and eventually RFID technology - and many others in the pipeline.
The e-trikala company is empowered with the strategic direction and the adoption of ICTs for the city itself but also collaborates with other local authorities, to transfer know-how and implement new technology solutions for e-enabled services and e-government and serve wider agendas like health, tourism, culture etc. Moreover, the company has initiated an ambitious venture called “Cities Net” which connects 11 cities under a commonly shared vision for next generation e-enabled local authorities’ and citizens’ service.
In the field of e-participation, e-trikala has implemented “e-dialogos“, the only comprehensive project of its kind implemented in Greece up to now, which featured an original holistic methodology of e-deliberation, allowing the city council to connect with citizens, to discuss strategy issues and priorities of the city.
e-dialogos - a finalist project for the European eGovernment Awards 2009 - is by now well documented and there is no point in going into details here, since anyone can have a look here, here and here.
However, we wish to take on this opportunity to share a few top-line lessons we learned and we think are important to share with the Pep-Net members.
- Labour-intensity: Whatever technical platforms we may deploy, the art and science of e-deliberation requires a heavily labour-intensive effort.
- Organizational readiness: We always have to consider that most public entities are not yet adequately geared towards e-participation, so you may well face cultural and organizational strains for which ideally you should plan ahead.
- Multi-disciplinary teams: Your e-participation “foundation” may well rest on technical excellence but the “building” needs different skills and people from various corners (market researchers, political scientists, communication experts) cooperating seamlessly. The “house” after all, is going to be inhabited by people.
- Communication does matter: Do not expect that people will readily swarm in just because the e-participation platform is there. It simply doesn’t happen that way. You have to guide, educate, drive and inspire them if you care for wide engagement.
- Managing expectations: People will participate if they feel they can influence a specific policy and the final outcome. This requires clarity on your part otherwise you will soon realize that…you don’t control the conversation.
A final note: As you all know, Greece is in the middle of the most serious economic crisis of the last decades and is under an enormous strain to put its house in order. We all believe that ICTs and the web can play a pivotal role in a much needed reforming process, whether this takes the form of improving transparency in the public sector, competitiveness in the private sector or finding new ways to regenerate entrepreneurship. In this process, e-participation models can play a new and enhanced role in connecting the society’s creative forces, engage the healthy and productive sectors of society and above all, inspire hope.
The future is already watching us, waiting to write the next good story.