Digital Democracy: Opportunities and challenges for citizen engagement in the Scottish Parliament
9 February 2017 at the Scottish Parliament
The best in European democratic innovation was presented at a seminar in the Scottish Parliament hosted jointly by Scotland’s Futures Forum and Nesta. Pioneers from across the continent brought their experience of how digital tools can transform local and national democracy and their thoughts on the challenges that lie ahead.
Chaired by Futures Forum director Claudia Beamish MSP and Nesta’s head of policy in Scotland Peter McColl, the event provided an opportunity to discuss some of the opportunities and challenges of digital democracy in Scotland.
Speaking first was Teele Pehk, chief executive of the Estonian Co-operation Assembly, who described the development and use of the citizens initiatives platform known as Rahvaalgatus.ee.
Built on collaborative decision-making platform CitizenOS.com, the platform provides infrastructure for a crowdfunded right to address the Estonian parliament, supporting discussions and the development of policy and legislation.
Teele also recommended two useful reports e-Estonia: e-Governance in Practice (2016) and e-Democracy in Action: case studies from Finland, Estonia, Latvia (2016), along with the controversially titled book “Against Elections” by David Van Reybrouck.
Nicolas Patte, head of communications for Cap Collectif, talked through the work done with Parlement et Citoyens, a French initiative to enable citizens and parliamentarians to work together to find solutions to the problems of their country.
Along with the key performance indicators of transparency and free speech, he pointed to the importance of involving legislators as individuals and a decision cycle that explores options and explains decisions, particularly when they go against the proposal from those involved.
Next, Ari Brodach described the participatory budgeting process adopted by the City of Paris, which has committed €100 million in each of the next five years to projects initiated and decided on by the city’s citizens.
The criteria for the projects are that they must be capital investment in public area or municipal facilities, they must fall within the city’s competencies, and they must fall under general interest. Of the €100 million, €30 million is kept aside for low-income neighbourhoods and €10 million is dedicated for school projects.
Ari talked through the process for allocating the funding, from the discussion of ideas at workshops and their submission via an online platform, to the co-construction and development of the project online. A vote both in person and online follows, before the successful projects are implemented, with their progress tracked online.
Ari also emphasised the importance of transparency as part of the empowerment, noting that the major challenge was to show the results of the process – making it real!
Finally, Robert Bjarnason from the Citizens Foundation in Iceland talked through the work the Citizens Foundation has done both in Iceland, particularly since the financial crash in 2008, and throughout Europe.
Based on a belief that citizens must have a strong voice in policymaking, the Citizens Foundation has developed open source tools for participation. In an attempt to avoid problems with tone and content of debate in social media, one tool splits contributions into two columns – for and against – to encourage people to make their case positively rather than just respond to someone else’s comments.
Robert also talked through Citizens Foundation’s work in Scotland, supporting three projects:
- Oor Bit in Fife: https://oorbit-fife.yrpri.org/community/482
- Growing Gaelic in Argyll and Bute: https://argyll-bute.yrpri.org/group/894
- Talk South Ayrshire: https://talk-south-ayrshire.yrpri.org/community/562
The discussion that followed covered questions of online security, especially for voting, the challenge in facilitating positive discussions online and the steps that the Scottish Parliament could consider taking in this area.
Teele Pehk is chief executive officer of the Estonian Co-operation Assembly. Teele is a central figure promoting co-creation and e-democracy in Estonia and is leading online and offline advocacy efforts to involve the country in a new national citizen initiatives platform known as Rahvaalgatus.ee.
Nicolas Patte is head of communications for Cap Collectif, a civic tech organisation based in France. Cap Collectif works with local organisations and national representatives to run large-scale online debates involving the wider public.
Ari Brodach is head of participatory budgeting in the City of Paris. Ari is co-ordinating one of the world’s largest and most ambitious participatory budgeting projects, with €500 million committed until 2020 to implement ideas gathered online and in offline workshops across the city.
Róbert Bjarnason is co-founder of the Citizens Foundation in Iceland. He is playing a central role implementing software and broader methods for digital crowd-sourcing and participatory budgeting across the country.
Getting involved with the Scottish Parliament: http://www.parliament.scot/getting-involved.aspx
Nesta report: Digital Democracy – The Tools Transforming Political Engagement (2017): http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/digital-democracy-tools-transforming-political-engagement
Nesta background blog: http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/bringing-best-democratic-innovation-scotland
Overview of Estonia’s digital engagement and services: e-Estonia: e-Governance in Practice (2016) (31MB pdf)