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The European Citizens Initiative – the Dawn of a Citizens´ Europe?

19. May 2010 – 13:36 by echo source

As the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) has now come to the phase of its final shaping, we now have the chance to contribute to its success in being a tool for true citizens participation in European politics. However, current discussions on the regulations drafted by the Commission do show some confusion about what this legislative instrument actually can provide and which risks it contains.

Generally ECI is understood as an instrument for decision-making or voting, as we know it from direct democratic instruments like referenda. Thus, the main use of ICT for the ECI is seen in the authentication and collection of votes (e-voting).

But in fact ECI is not essentially a means for decision-making. Its legal consequences are limited to submission of proposals to the Commission, which in turn is not even obligated to pass this proposal to the parliament. Thus, ECI does only allow citizens to participate in political agenda setting and rather has to be understood as a process of collective opinion formation. Accordingly, current discussions on authentication and representativeness miss to address the crucial questions at stake, because ECI is not comparable to an election or referendum.

However, this does not mean that ECI is not worth anything. As an instrument for participatory agenda setting, ECI does offer citizens an opportunity to deliberate on questions, which they feel concerned about and to proactively bring them on the political agenda. ECI could open a space for trans-cultural, trans-border discourse embracing all the different viewpoints Europeans from various member states may have, and thus, has the potential to establish a European public sphere. It is about creating a process of discursive appropriation of Europe by its citizens, making them co-authors of the European endeavour.

Thus, ECI must be understood much more as a participatory process, requiring an intelligent and consistent combination of offline and online methods for constructive collaboration at local, national and European level.

Furthermore, to prevent ECI from being misunderstood as a mere oppositional instruments, it will be equally important to guarantee a synergic interplay between civil organizations and governmental institutions.

Therefore, further concretion and development of ECI must focus much more on the participative process of collective opinion formation and deliberative agenda setting.

Accordingly, the role of ICT in these processes has to be reconsidered. We will not only need e-voting systems and virtual IDs, but also powerful tools for cross-language dialogue, structured debate, collective co-creation of proposals and position papers as well as tools for effective e-campaigning and proactive self-organization.

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ICT Today – still fare away from “global agora”

3. May 2010 – 10:02 by echo source

The idea of creating a global agora through the use of ICT is at least as old as the Internet itself [1]. However, it took thirty years after the birth of this vision in the early 1970s to establish a broadly used global interactive medium. This development has been brought by the new wave of Web2.0 applications in the recent years. Interfaces became more dynamic and easier to use, user-generated multimedia content became common and internet-access spread throughout the world. However, a closer look at the tools of today´s social media reveals a lack of essential functional development. We still communicate mainly through E-mail and discuss in forums – both technologies dating back to the very beginning of the Internet. Even chats and wikis have not changed substantially since the last ten years. As a matter of fact, there are no tools at all, which could enable a truly solution-oriented, democratic mass collaboration.

In this sense, what we call Web2.0 is the process of socio-cultural adoption and re-appropriation of interactive tools, which are actually quite old – and this socio-cultural appropriation has been driven by civil society, not by governments.

It is not just that we are far from having reached the maximum of technological possibilities in creating effective tools for eParticipation – most of the tools eParticipation is using were not even made with this purpose. Thus, the fact, that civil society uses social media much more efficiently than governments do, is not very surprising. Neither is the fact that today´s eParticipation projects suffer from a negative correlation between the number of participants and their chance to actively participate.

„The greater the number of people targeted in an eParticipation initiative, the more general this initiative usually is, employing one-way communication. On the other hand, the fewer the people targeted in an eParticipation initiative, the more specific this initiative may be, allowing more active participation and more specific outcomes. […] Hence, if eParticipation is visualised as a means for involving the millions of European citizens with the aim to jointly shape policies and influence decision-making, then current reality shows that Europe today is far away from this target“ [2].

Clearly, we did not achieve to develop tools for large-scale democratic collaboration. Instead we keep on using forums for discussions (which do not provide any structured results) and try to co-create texts in wikis (which do not provide any democratic process for content control – e.g. Wikipedia did work quite well as an encyclopaedia. But it uses a meritocratic, and thus undemocratic regime for content control, which is actually the reason for its current problems). Both tools are not scalable, and therefore not apt for constructive mass-collaboration.

To cope with this democratic deficit and the limitations of these tools, most of the more successful eParticipation projects employ moderated forums intensively. This model works quite well for eConsultations in limited regional scales like cities. However, it is not applicable for large-scale participation. Furthermore moderation is expensive and therefore limited to a certain period of time. In practice this means, that in the very moment a citizens is confronted with a certain problem, normally there is still no platform where she could discuss her own concerns or participate in related decisions. As a result, motivation to participate is limited to the few citizens who accidentally are interested in one of the issues being dealt with during the consultation. But the great majority of the citizens will always be interested in other issues (mainly those that are relevant in their own everyday life) and thus not be motivated to participate. To make eParticipation apt for mass collaboration on the European level, an open space for deliberation, debate and decision-making has to be established, allowing citizens to come up with their problems and suggestions whenever they want. Therefore new tools have to be developed providing structured debate and co-editing for huge numbers of participants.

[1] Castells, M. 2005: Die Internet-Galaxie: Internet, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Berlin

[2] Panopoulou E., Tambouris E., Tarabanis K. 2009: eParticipation initiatives: How is Europe progressing?, European Journal of ePractice, No. 7, March 2009

This article is an extract from our paper for this years EDem conference in Krems. The whole paper will be published by the Austrian Computer Society under the titel “BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN BOTTOM-UP AND TOP-DOWN E-PARTICIPATION APPROACHES

The EDem conference series is jointly organised by the Danube University Krems and the University of Economics and Business Administration, Vienna.

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Active Citizen Ship as a Key to Motivation

26. April 2010 – 10:45 by echo source

Bridge the Gap

At the same time official eParticipation initiatives are widely ignored by the public, civil movements and organizations are using ICT quite efficiently, activating millions of people with their eCampaigns. Thus, to achieve mass collaboration, successive civil movements, organisations and campaigns have to be taken into account and integrated into eParticipation initiatives [3].

“What will be necessary instead is an intelligent combination and interweaving of top-down and bottom-up models, joined together, further enhanced, and populated with the online personae of real people at the middle ground of online social interaction” [1].

Last year US-President Barack Obama showed us how Web2.0 can be used effectively to involve civil society. But the current protests against his government also show us what happens, if this active involvement is not converted into an ongoing process of political participation.

Civil engagement is out there in abundance. However, to become a remedy for the actual crisis of democracy, eParticipation needs to pick up active citizens from where they are. Furthermore it has to give them prospects for true participation in political decision-making – that is, it must really empower people.

But the bottom-up noopolitics [4] of non-government civil engagement mainly act in opposition to the top-down hard power of official government [1], [5]. The attempt to involve grass-root civil engagement into policy making is therefore bound to the integration of two different power-models.

„More generally eParticipation tools can bridge between actor-driven and system-oriented modes of participation (as demonstrated empirically by Monnoyer-Smith, 2006)“ [6].

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Dilemma of eParticipation – How to Frustrate People

21. April 2010 – 16:18 by echo source

eParticipation is often equalized with “digital democracy”. Top-down approaches are based on the assumption that participation means involving citizens in governmental power structures. As governmental power builds on the development and execution of policies, it has been tried to make citizens participate in policy making. This led to the idea of a direct digital democracy, where virtually every law could be drafted and decided on by the citizens themselves. However, this vision of open virtual parliament or digital democracy faces several serious difficulties. Firstly, because of the lack of technical solutions for scalable discussion & co-editing, collective drafting is not possible with existing online tools. Thus, there is still plenty of space for new innovations in this field to overcome such technical constrains. More importantly, such a participatory digital democracy would be characterized by single-issue decisions. This certainly can be seen as one of its greatest advantages. But if open drafting would generally result in binding laws, its democratic legitimation would have to be guaranteed. Thus, citizens would have to participate in virtually every running decision at local, regional, national and European level at the same time. Since this is absolutely impossible, decisions would be made by random sets of participants (probably mainly lobbyists) without any democratic legitimation. Clearly, eParticipation cannot and should not be understood as an alternative for existing representative democracy, but rather as a complementary instrument.

To solve this dilemma, today´s eParticipation initiatives do not allow citizens to make binding decisions. Instead they ask people to contribute their ideas and preferences to preparatory stages of official decision-making processes. The binding decisions are still made by the institutions and their traditional decision-makers. In fact, eParticipation today is limited to eConsultations. It neither really empowers citizens, nor does it take into account their very own issues and concerns. As a result, the motivation for participation is very limited.

Instead of having been empowered, many participants may feel somehow betrayed or used to legitimate official decisions. From this perspective, eParticipation might be more interesting for decision-makers than for most citizens, who mainly look at politics as something quite boring and frustrating, which they do not feel very attracted to.

This article is an extract from our paper for this years EDem conference in Krems.The whole paper will be published by the Austrian Computer Society under the titel „BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN BOTTOM-UP AND TOP-DOWN E-PARTICIPATION APPROACHES


The EDem conference series is jointly organised by the Danube University Krems and the University of Economics and Business Administration, Vienna.

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Democracy in Crisis?

12. April 2010 – 11:29 by echo source

Today humanity is facing an enormous multi-crisis dilemma – creating an ever-growing complexity of interrelated local, regional and global problem-patterns. Political decision-makers have a hard job finding appropriate solutions and depend more and more on scientific advice [1]. Leading advisers Martin Lees (Secretary General of the Club of Rome) and Karl-Henrik Robèrt (Founder of the Natural Step) have recently pointed out (in a personal conversation), that this incapability to come up with appropriate solutions has got systemic roots. Our institutions are built to cope with single issues within limited regional scopes, thus they are not apt to deal with such multi-crises-dilemma. Therefore, the generation and collection of information, its conversion into institutional knowledge and its use in decision-making processes have been recognized as crucial tasks [2].

From this point of view, our current multi-crisis-dilemma can be understood as a general crisis of today´s democracies, basically caused by its over-complexity and the lack of appropriate knowledge management systems based on the integration of collective knowledge.

It is now widely accepted, that only multi-stakeholder-inclusion can support our institutions with the necessary knowledge to face our challenges at stake. This requires a more networked approach of governance and a knowledge management based on public spaces for policy deliberation [3], [4].

But although the resulting frustration in the European population is manifested in decreasing voter turnouts on the one hand, and the use of ICT for eCampaigning and proactive action planning increases on the other hand, most eParticipation projects show quite a low citizen participation [5]. To understand this paradox it would be important to have a closer look at the technical tools and socio-political concepts being used in today’s eParticipation.


[1] Hisschemöller, Matthias: Participation as Knowledge Production and the Limits of Democracy; In: Maasen, S. & Weingart, P. 2005: Democratization of Expertise?: Exploring novel Forms of Scientific Advice in Political Decision-Making, Dordrecht, NL

[2] OECD 2003: The learning government: Introduction and draft results of the survey of knowledge management practice in Ministries, 27th session of Public Management Committee, 3-4th

[3] Blumler, J.G., Coleman, S. 2001: Realizing Democracy Online: A civic commons in Cyberspace, IPPR/Citizens Online Research Publications, No 2, Mar 2001

[4] Centeno, van Bavel, Burgelman 2005: A Prospective View of e-Government in the European Union, Electronic Journal of e-Government, Vol. 3, Issue 2, 59-66

[5] Millard, J.2009: eParticipation, European Journal of ePractice, No. 7, March 2009

This article is an extract from our paper for this years EDem conference in Krems.The whole paper will be published by the Austrian Computer Society under the titel „BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN BOTTOM-UP AND TOP-DOWN E-PARTICIPATION APPROACHES - E-PARTICIPATION AS ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP”

The EDem conference series is jointly organised by the Danube University Krems and the University of Economics and Business Administration, Vienna.

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echo – The Global Agora – Rethinking Democracy

7. April 2010 – 19:18 by echo source

As we now have been PEP-NET member for about two months, we now finally would like to introduce echo to the ones who may not knows us yet – better late than never ;-)

Motivation and image

Today humanity is facing some serious environmental, economic and humanitarian challenges never seen before. However, satisfactory solutions are not in sight. The lack of transparency in political decision making provokes a growing sense of powerlessness and political resignation among the population and weakens people’s faith in democracy. Calls for transparency and more participation are growing louder.

The current crises can thus be understood as a general crisis of democracy.

New ways have to be found, empowering people to develop constructive solutions to effectively tackle our “glocal” challenges. This is why echo has been founded: As a platform for sustainable change and active citizen participation echo enables a new form of non-partisan participatory democracy on local, regional and global level. With echo the first web-application is being developed to enable collective intelligence through democratic discourse even with a virtually unlimited number of participants.

echo offers a quick overview of interesting discussions, gives people an opportunity to voice their opinions in a deliberative discourse and to jointly find the right solutions. On echo, people can connect with allies, experts and decision makers and together turn their decision into reality.

echo consists of three clearly separated functional areas, which at the same time are tightly interwoven:

Discuss, Connect, Act!

Discuss is the core area, which contains most unique features and enables collective intelligence to emerge. The discussions taking place in the discussion area offer a differentiated overview of the different statements edited and supported by certain regions or societal groups.

Every statement is edited through a self organized democratic process (without the need of moderators or admins). Thanks to the new semantic cross-language search engine, users can find easily a comprehensive selection of relevant information. With only minimal effort thousands of users can contribute to the dynamic evolution of sound statements.

Connect offers users an easy possibility to organizes their contacts, add interesting experts and opinion leaders their personal network and to connect people with specific competences relevant to a certain subject. To enhance usability and foster a viral growth there will be interfaces connecting several external social networks like twitter and facebook.

Act! motivates the participants of discussions to proactively launch actions and projects, to jointly turn their ideas and visions into reality, and thus, make change visible in every day life. To do so, echo offers a virtual work space equipped with the necessary tools and information to efficiently plan and accomplish different kinds of actions and projects and found eco-socially sustainable businesses.

As most actions and projects will need funding, echo is based on powerful business models. “Powerful“ does not merely mean working cost-covering. It also means helping users to provide their actions with the necessary funds. This enables people to accomplish their goals and lets their virtual engagement influence our real world in a positive way, which is the key to motivate ever more people to participate on echo. Thus, the comprehensive concept of echo has true potential to free people from their sense of powerlessness, offer them a way of successful self-determination and help them restore their faith in democracy.

Create Synergies

In order to overcome the limitations of individual platforms, echo employs a distributed approach and makes its functionality available throughout the whole Internet. Accordingly, relevant discussions and actions from echo can be displayed and edited on any web page and blog. In this way, echo complements the functionality of other platforms and creates true synergies, instead of hamstringing competition.

Shared User- and Opinion Base

Through cooperation with echo, partner platforms connect their communities with each other. This way, their different user groups are joint together in a single cross-platform community. The users can now connect throughout all platforms, discuss and jointly launch actions and projects.

Moreover, echo addresses to users on a larger scale exceeding such groups from existing platforms through an extended network with further organizations. This in turn, multiplies the range and influence of each single partner platform. Projects and campaigns profit from the viral dissemination and its huge and highly motivated community.

Discussions on issues, which are relevant to the different partner platforms can be initiated on any other partner platform, thus, enriching discussions and making them more interesting and alive. This way a much broader opinion base is formed, as possibly could emerge on any single platform. New impulses and issues flow back and forth, enriching discussions and rising the attractiveness of all partner platforms.

This thematic diversity – covering different thematic fields and ranging broadly and deeply into society – rises virality enormously. The synergetic effects allow for a common development of content throughout different communities, which offers interesting information to virtually every Internet user. Thus, the influence of the proposals elaborated in this distributed system will boost its influence on society enormously.