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And the most innovative e-government project in the German speaking world is …

17. September 2012 – 13:49 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Every year, Bearing Point and Cisco Germany award a project the title of “the most innovative e-government project in the German-speaking world”. This year, the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein was nominated for their project BOB-SH* in which they implemented DEMOS-Plan, our software for managing spatial planning consultations online. And they won!

So we’ve been feeling a little bit innovative for the past week too. After all, we worked closely with Schleswig-Holstein, giving technical support, training and telephone assistance to the wide range of stakeholders who will be working with DEMOS-Plan.

DEMOS-Plan is an online tool that closely follows the procedure laid down by German law for conducting consultations on a particular type of spatial plan (the “Bebauungsplan”). It allows statutory stakeholders to manage submissions internally by requiring one representative to sign off the submissions from different departments. These submissions can be linked to a particular paragraph of the planning document and/or the participant can draw on a map of the plan.

It’s great for the planning authority, because it saves them the trouble of sending paper copies of plans and collating all the submissions manually: instead, this is done automatically.

We think there are other countries in Europe where DEMOS-Plan could be useful and have been investigating this through the Parterre project. If you were at the PEP-NET Summit, you may have caught Francesco Molinari’s presentation of Parterre. (Hopefully you will also have noticed that the Summit was sponsored by Parterre!)

There will be more news on Parterre soon, so keep your eyes on the blog!

* Bauleitplanung Online-Beteiligung Schleswig Holstein

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PEP-NET Hangout – catch up on who’s doing what

14. September 2012 – 16:20 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Several new members have joined PEP-NET recently (see our members page), mainly thanks to the publicity around the PEP-NET Summit in May. I thought it would be a nice time to catch up again and meet the new members. We can’t organise a conference as often as we might like, but we can use Google+ Hangouts to keep in touch.

So if you are interested, fill in this Doodle poll to let me know when you can take part and I’ll publicise the date and time when it’s been decided. I’m hoping to keep it simple, with a quick round-robin of introductions and updates on what people are doing, and then discussion about conferences that people are planning to go to (hopefully people will be able to take the opportunity to meet up with one another in person), and then general chatter about recent developments and co-operations.

Looking forward to chatting!

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In response to Anthony Zacharzewski

2. September 2012 – 12:34 by gabor

A couple of weeks ago, Anthony Zacharzewski, social activist of The Democratic Society wrote a review on our association’s project that had the working title ‘webvotr’ and has since been named Civilzone.

We very much appreciate any feedback regarding the site and any comments would be greatly appreciated. Besides highlighting the elements of the initiative that he found most appealing and wishing us success, Anthony also raised a few interesting questions and pointed out some risky areas where we might not reach our original goals.

He suggested three possible problems.

Civilzone openly aims to mobilize society on international, national and at local government levels – Anthony thinks that in small local communities the so-called “Empty Restaurant Syndrome” might occur; due to the lack of users and interaction, the number of people joining smaller governmental units will not be enough to form a community able to make real changes and decisions. As an example, he quoted iCan, BBC’s similar project from ten years ago.

Although his worries are reasonable, I think this does not represent a real danger for us: there are two reasons why.

One of them is that while BBC forcefully tried to organise every single parish’s government from above, our scenario is completely different; we’ll try to begin organising the groups of administrators running the application on national level in as many countries as possible.

The administrators will post the parliamentary initiatives, then first the opponents are expected to demonstrate their dislike, and the ones in favour of the initiative will then show their support in reply to the negative arguments. Subsequently, there will hopefully be individual initiatives and perhaps success stories too, similarly to Hamburg’s Transparency Law.

Smaller communities will only be formed after this, as need for them emerges. As soon as we have at least one or two people willing to organise a community, they will be granted the opportunity from the administrators moderating the particular administrative area. By this time, results achieved on national and EU-levels will be the inspiration for many.

The other reason is that internet today is very different from what it used to be 10 years ago: not only regarding the number of users but also in terms of the transmission speed of information.

BBC’s iCan drew attention to the application but failed to generate activity. Even if a few individuals were determined to convince their friends and acquaintances of joining they could only attempt to do this through email and in person. Today the social network is a very active place where using the network of connections, clearly demonstrating the principle of 6-7 steps, the right information can spread on a global scale in seconds. Every comment left and every vote cast on civilzone will appear on the user’s Facebook wall, visible to all his friends, allowing societal participation to go viral.

I find the second query to be the most interesting: Anthony says that online experience so far has shown that only people from “the same side” can effectively cooperate on political matters. Besides many great examples, I can also point out current Hungarian ones: on Facebook, pages having around a hundred thousand likes, like One Million Strong for the Freedom of Press in Hungary or Viktor Orbán’s, it is clear that only people belonging to the same side can get along well. If every once in a while someone from “the other side” comes over, they either only want to disrupt the community, or if they’re actually trying to reason together or make a consensus, some keen users from the original community will make it clear with their atrocious comments that there’s no room for them here.

The difference for us lies in the fact that on civilzone we’ll have specific issues and initiatives that affect the lives of the people who live in the civil parishes rather than pages of organisations, parties and movements. So I hope that instead of supporting parties and taking sides, the discussion will focus on how much passing or rejecting a particular initiative can serve the interest of the community.

In order to promote this, we incorporated two features into the application: firstly, displaying the most popular pro and con arguments; secondly, the possibility of sending in articles or blog posts.

The third argument to be considered is the following: “How can it represent those offline, and how can it avoid just giving a stronger voice to those who (through education, wealth or position) already have a strong voice?”

Perhaps this is the area where we have the biggest cultural difference: in Hungary, besides online newspapers and weekly prints, there is only one radio station and one television channel that clearly voice the left wing’s standpoint – in opposition since 2010 – but even these are experiencing various difficulties. The internet on the other hand is widely known as a source of objective information and a means of taking a clear look at both sides of the coin. With regard to the above, the application would actually amplify the voice of those who are now in minority besides the crowds who voted the present government into constitutional supermajority.

Freedom of press is of course a separate issue; the parallelism here is not entirely correct.

I think that Anthony’s following query is the most relevant: it is true that those without internet access will not have a chance to effectively represent their interest through the application. Even though the growth is unstoppable and 92.9% of Sweden’s, 84.1% of the UK’s and 82.7% of Germany’s population are already able to access the World Wide Web, the figures quoted still do not make up 100%.

One possible solution is to use the application to demonstrate even more clearly that in an information society, internet access should be a universal human right – numerous countries (Estonia, Finland, France, Spain and Greece) have succeeded in implementing this. Civilzone could provide a way to start a petition in the European Union and it could be a useful, influential tool in shaping politics and the public opinion even for those wanting to help people living on the edge of the society.

In my personal opinion, the most challenging part of the project is building an international network. Even though I don’t have years of experience in this field I can see that in the case of e-participation or at least in organising activism through the internet, civilians – especially the younger members of the Y and the almost grown-up members of the Z-generation – are more successful than civil activists and also that thinking and keeping in touch on European or global level is quite rare.

It is very fortunate that organizations like PEP-NET and Participedia exist and improve the situation greatly, allowing us to write to you here, but I think more activity, discussions, statements, petitions and demonstrations, all in all, more participation is required to achieve our common goals.

Because of this, I’d like to ask everyone to write if they feel like they have something to comment about the present or the previous article; let’s ease the burden on John Heaven’s shoulders a little!

If you prefer paying attention from the background, I’d like to recommend Anthony’s organization and also our organization.

Let’s do some networking.

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Conference: Internet & Participation

10. August 2012 – 11:55 by Rolf Luehrs

Date: Saturday, 1st of December 2012, 10am – 6pm

The Internet was always connected to a vision of a participatory society. There is the idea that the new medium would produce politically better informed citizens and that that would lead to greater citizen participation. However, skeptics believe that the barriers between the individual and the political public sphere are not technical but social in nature and therefore cannot be repealed by online technologies. Today we are still somewhat between the highly technical deterministic and technical indifferent position. With the social web new opportunities developed and they are used by civil society organizations as well as by political parties and by governments and administrations – from e-petitions to adhocracy, from wikis to open data. What works? Who participates? How can people be mobilized online? What impact do the new online tools have on political communication, on political decision-making and on the political system itself. That is the subject of this conference. We will look at the political online participation from different perspectives, from the civil society side, bottomup, and from the sides of politics, top-down. The conference will not only focus on and discuss scientific results but will also try to build a bridge between science and practice in order to share knowledge and experience. Therefore scientists and representatives from civil society organizations, parties, administrations etc. are invited.
Conference language is German, translation cannot be provided.

More Infos

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Webinar invitation: New online tools to support argumentation in policy debates

8. August 2012 – 12:23 by Zebralog

/Please note: This post is not from Hans Hagedorn, but from Steffen Albrecht @ Zebralog – Hans’ avatar is displayed because of a malfunction of PEP-NET’s profile function – we’ll try to fix this…/

Get involved in the latest developments of  eParticipation tools!

Policy analysts, decision makers as well as civil society stakeholders and other people interested in policy-making all have to cope with numerous arguments brought forward in policy debates. The EU-sponsored IMPACT project develops open source online tools that help to make sense of the range of opinions about public policies expressed in policy consultations.

In a series of webinars, four new prototype tools will be presented, followed by an evaluation of the tools in which participants can discuss further improvements and the potential impact of the tools on policy-making. Based on material from the EU’s consultation on the Green Paper on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy, the participants will learn how to formalise and visualise arguments, how to estimate the effects of policy proposals with the help of policy modelling, and how opinions about arguments are assessed with the help of structured consultations.

We invite all PEP-NET members and readers of this blog to participate!
Please register for one of the following dates on this website:

The following dates are available:

Webinar with focus on argument reconstruction & visualization:

  • 21 August 2012, 11:00–12:00 CEST (Tuesday morning)
  • 23 August 2012, 16:00–17:00 CEST (Thursday afternoon)

Webinar with focus on policy modelling & structured consultation:

  • 28 August 2012, 16:00–17:00 CEST  (Tuesday afternoon)
  • 29 August 2012, 11:00–12:00 CEST  (Wednesday morning)

Further information is available here. If you have any questions, please contact Steffen Albrecht:

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Webvotr – early days for a new democracy Facebook app

1. August 2012 – 16:04 by Anthony Zacharzewski

At the PEP-NET summit in Hamburg a little while ago, I met Gabor Mihucz, a Hungarian democracy activist, who pointed me at his organisation theAssociation for Societal Participation and their new project “webvotr“.

Webvotr is still in concept form at the moment, but is intended as a Facebook app for democracy. The organisers say:

We have decided to create an application specially built for the social networks which would take the importance of spontaneous organizations to a higher level by honoring the demand of voters for a greater say in the policy-shaping process and which would maximize the force of public pressure exerted on politicians while also prompting people to participate in public matters who have lost all faith in common representation built upon a consensus. It is our hope that this application will again allow a meaningful dialog between voters and representatives.

It’s obviously very early days for the project at the moment, but you can get a rough idea of how it works from the “Application” page on the site.

I think the motivation behind the app is good – I think the challenge for Gabor and his team is to build something which promotes democratic discussion and can’t be gamed. It will need rapidly to create a network of users, with a positive culture. These are areas where political discussion on the Internet has generally failed.

As I say, I like the intent of the application. I think it makes sense on one level to build it on top of Facebook (but there are compromises inherent in that approach as well).

I like that the intention is to create an evidence base around proposals being discussed – it might not always be used, but it’s important to have it there.

I think they are on the right lines in describing an open networked system: “Depending on their political affiliations users can join groups or factions, they can create their own Facebook profile and forums, they can organize sessions, events and protests, which can be posted on Webvotr.”

I like their idea of having an iFrame that allows the app content to be viewed on other websites (though I’m not techy enough to understand how that works alongside Facebook).

There are also a few areas where I think the project might be taking a risk.

First, Webvotr plans to create a separate group for each administrative unit, which seems to go against the natural networks model that I mentioned above. Local groups might work, particularly if they are linked to offline activity, but there’s a risk of Empty Restaurant syndrome – where a low-traffic group doesn’t attract traffic because people don’t see anyone interacting there. This was one of the problems with the BBC’s iCan project about ten years ago. They had a sub site for pretty much every parish in the UK, but even the marketing reach and trust of the BBC couldn’t draw people in.

Second, and more fundamentally, I wonder whether Europe is ready as a society for online-first political engagement. As I said above, I don’t think that there are many success stories in online political discussion (as opposed to online political campaigning). There seems to be a scaling problem, or a trade-off between size and culture, where small focused groups or groups that are “on the same side” can create positive cultures, but larger participation reduces the quality of the interactions.

Perhaps we’re getting closer to that time, we’re certainly closer than a few years ago, but I wonder how Webvotr answers the inevitable challenge to its representativeness – how can it represent those offline, and how can it avoid just giving a stronger voice to those who (through education, wealth or position) already have a strong voice?

None of this should take away from the idea, however. It’s good to have people like Gabor working on initiatives such as this – particularly in Hungary, where there are some clear and present threats to democratic process. I think Webvotr has the right fundamental philosophy – support people to talk and involve themselves in their areas – and I wish it a great deal of success.

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Open by default: Hamburg passes a transparency law

19. June 2012 – 11:06 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
Daniel Lentfer presents the Transparency Law at the PEP-NET Summit

Daniel Lentfer presents the Transparency Law at the PEP-NET Summit 2012

Campaigners for a local transparency law, the so-called Transparenzgesetz, can look forward to a  summer watching the football with a cool bottle of Astra and a Bratwurst. Expecting stiff resistance from the local authority, they had planned to spend the next few months preparing for the next round of a local citizen’s initiative, which would have required them to collect thousands of signatures in order to force a referendum. But to many people’s surprise, an adapted version of the law was passed last week.

Following negotiations with all parliamentary party groups and the campaign’s initiatiors (Mehr Demokratie, Transparency International and Chaos Computer Club), a text was agreed upon and passed on 12th June. By introducing an inventory of publicly held information, including data, and obliging public servants to open information by default, the law will go a long way to increasing transparency in the local authority. The types of information that are included in the duty to publish are, amongst others, contracts for public services, official statistics, geodata and spatial development plans. Where there are compelling reasons, such as data protection or the protection of sensitive business information, the duty does not apply.

This law supersedes the Freedom of Information Law, passed in 2009. Hamburg’s wide range of instruments for involving citizens extend from citizens’ initiatives on a local level to livestreaming parliamentary proceedings, via the online spatial planning consultation system that TuTech developed with the city. The Transparency Campaign and the Parliament are in agreement that Hamburg is set to become Germany’s most transparent state, its transparency capital. As far as I know, this is the best example of open data and transparency being pushed through by a civil society campaign.

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Monmouth is the world’s first “Wikipedia town”

25. May 2012 – 13:38 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Mrjohncummings

The Welsh town of Monmouth is to become the world’s first “wikipedia town”. In a project that involves kitting out the whole town with free wifi hotspots and sticking QR codes on all significant monuments and places of interest, “Monmouthpedia” enables tourists to call up community-generated articles on their smartphones.

The project doesn’t simply use QR codes that link to a specific article, but to a wikipedia article in the user’s own language where available. This is enabled by the QR-Pedia website, which anyone can use to convert a link from a Wikipedia article into a QR code that ascertains the user’s language an delivers the article in the right language.

I can see this being a success because the QR codes make it much easier to find information about specific objects without having to type in a long, complicated URL, and you have a good idea of what information you are requesting. In many cases, QR codes are used unnecessarily (presumably because they are fashionable) on flyers and posters and link to a company’s website, which would be easier to call up by typing in the URL or searching for it. I also find that you often do not know what the QR code links to, which isn’t a great motivating factor either.

Another innovative example of QR code use is the Korean supermarket in an underground station that consists of pictures of products, each with an associated QR code. Again, the QR code links to a very specific object and it’s obvious what you can expect when you scan the code.

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Challenges and solutions for immigrants´ eParticipation

23. May 2012 – 09:53 by irmatolonen

The inclusion of immigrants is vital for social cohesion and economic development.  To enable immigrants to feel part of a larger society it is necessary to ensure that they have proper possibilities to participate fully in the society. The Immigrant Inclusion by eParticipation – IIeP project: – 30.4.2012) focused on obstacles on the way of participation and public engagement for people from various language and cultural backgrounds that reside in Estonia, Finland and Sweden, and solutions to overcome these using web-based social and communication tools.

The two manuals: “E-inclusion guidelines: supporting diversity” and “E-Participation guidelines: supporting diversity”, published in English, Estonian, Finnish and Swedish are the main outcomes from the IIeP – EU/Central Baltic INTERREG IVA project. These outputs found online and in pdf-versions on the new website: are aimed to meet the needs for those involved in participatory processes and immigrant involved issues. They also provide ideas and best practices for authorities to facilitate inclusion. The manuals can be used widely to support residents´ active participation in local multinational communities.




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eParticipation is finally getting teeth…

22. May 2012 – 10:09 by Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei / Pedro Prieto-Martin

This week Avaaz, the “campaigning community bringing people-powered politics to decision-makers worldwide’, started the beta-testing of its community petitions platform, which allows anybody to launch a petition in a question of minutes. This new systems empowers anybody to make use of the streamlined processes and tools that have allowed Avaaz to grow its user base to more than 14.400.000.

Avaaz thus follows the recente move from, the “social action platform that empowers anyone”, which just two weeks ago ‘absorved’ the Spanish platform “Actuable” and is now planning to translate its ‘petition making system’ to many other languages to really extend its reach worldwide.

Each of these platforms claims to have promoted petitions that forced very important political ‘actors’ to react: from Hillary Clinton to Presidente Morales, from Bank of America and Apple to Hilton Hotels.

This is an interesting ‘tectonic’ move in the realm of (e)Participation, which we should follow closely. It is, additionally, much related to the discussion about “Sticks and Carrots” we hold in Pep-Net’s blog a year ago.

We were then reflecting about questions like: is it better to praise “good deeds” of Corporation and Politicians, or is it better to warn and punish them when they “misbehave”? Why not both things at the same time?

Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop, reported that once an executive of Shell told her:  “We don’t fear regulation, we only fear consumer revolt”


Well: it is clear now that consumer and citizens are getting better at revolting and exerting pressure. Change is happening out of anybody’s reach, and (e)Participation is slowly “getting teeth”, which soon will be able to hurt enough as to influence behaviour: if you do not want your brand reputation to get ruined… you better behave!!! And this applies to corporation as much as political actors.

The promise of a ‘Future Goverment’ that becomes FAST (flatter, agile, streamlined and tech-enabled) -which was delivered in the last World Economic Forum- starts to be truth. But, for sure, it is not government who is promoting it. It is NGOs and CSOs. It is citizens.

It is important to note that the technology behind these petition plattforms is very, very simple. The concepts and processes of use are also not sci-fiction. But for sure, this kind of powerful, sustainable and social minded (e)Participation was rarely promoted by our Governments’ Innovation Support Actions. Instead of an impact oriented eParticipation research, put at the service of Civil Society, a Government- and Academia-centred approach was preferred. And thus eParticipation has just advance by little steps.

It is a pitty, because these platforms are now out there, growing. They were created with less (or ‘no’) involvement of eParticipation researchers. And that means that we do not have easy access to the very valuable information about eParticipation that these systems are generating (about pattern and reasons of use, users’ demographics, typologies of action, success rates, etc).

We should reflect about this. We have not so many more opportunities to miss. The field is developing faster and faster. Do we want to be part of it?