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Digest Stories - E-Participation: the Future of Citizen Engagement in the EU

With the elections to the European Parliament in just a few weeks, the issue of citizen engagement in policy has never been more pressing. But if you want to get involved in politics, share ideas and engage in debates, would you know where to get started? Thanks to several EU projects, the tools and services required for e-Participation are beginning to emerge and EU citizens are making their voices heard in new and more interactive ways.
Digest Stories - E-Participation: the Future of Citizen Engagement in the EU
Encouraging engagement between citizens and policy makers

The EU is funding several research projects that are trying to determine what makes an effective way of engaging citizens online. Three of those projects – PUZZLED BY POLICY, OURSPACE and PARTERRE – have delivered tools that aim to make participation in politics open to every citizen.

'Policy making can be very complex – the documents have a lot of jargon in them,' says Deirdre Lee, the coordinator of e-Participation project PUZZLED BY POLICY. 'What we do is try to bridge that gap and bring policy to citizens.'

One of the keys to the success of these new initiatives is that they use existing social media platforms. ‘Sometimes what happens with e-Participation projects, is that governments build platforms or websites and then expect citizens to come there to give their point of view. When they don't come, they're disappointed,' says Ms Lee, who is based at Insight-NUI Galway, Ireland. 'We use existing networks like Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter to get the message out to the communities that are interested in policy.'

The PUZZLED BY POLICY pilots showed that people may not understand how their own views fit in with existing or new policy. With this in mind, the PUZZLED BY POLICY Policy Profiler tool shows the user where they are positioned in terms of policy directions, as well as with respect to other people, NGOs, political parties and other stakeholders. The users are then encouraged to join online discussions – as a result they get to see a range of opinions and can contribute their own.

Tamara Jonjic from the European University Institute and a partner in PUZZLED BY POLICY says that this process helps EU citizens understand their own views better, and allows them to share those views with policy makers.

'Citizens are empowered to critically analyse existing policies and also to suggest policy improvements and policy alternatives,' she added.

PUZZLED BY POLICY also shares summaries and reports of these discussions with policy makers. As a result, policy makers can make better-informed decisions that reflect the views of their constituents and this starts a virtuous cycle of engagement.

OURSPACE – helping young people take an interest in policy

The policy consultation platform developed by OURSPACE is getting younger EU citizens involved in the process of policy making. The platform brings together EU policy makers and future voters, and has already been adopted by youth organisations that include the British Youth Council, Model European Union (MEU) and Cafebabel.

The OURSPACE platform allows young people to join in debates and challenge policymakers via iPhone App, Facebook, iGoogle gadget and a standalone website.

'Kudos to the OURSPACE project as well as all those who have made a contribution,’ says Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek. 'Seeing the large number of topics and young panelists which can be found on the page, one cannot say that young people would not be interested in politics.'

Creating a dialogue with voters

The PARTERRE project helped to promote e-Participation by offering a set of tools to local government agencies, most of which have now become successful products and services. A self-assessment tool enables public sector organisations to determine whether they are ready to introduce an e-Participatory model of local democracy. PARTERRE also offers a 'Town Hall' style meeting service that allows users to debate policy initiatives in small groups, with 5 of these events having been rolled out in Palermo, Italy, from November 2013 to June 2014, commissioned by the Municipality (more information).

These meetings can also be fully migrated online by using a collaborative town planning tool, Demos Plan, very successful in Germany, where policy makers and citizens actively co-work on maps, drawings and other documents. Citizens can make comments and suggest changes to plans in real time and policy makers can incorporate their feedback seamlessly, rather than going through iterations of planning meetings and exchanges of heavy and costly printed files.

Finally, on the occasion of the upcoming elections of the European Parliament, and with the support of an Italian media company, another project has now just been launched by members from the PARTERRE team. The project – named Blasting News – consists of creating 28 websites across all EU Member States where citizens can post articles detailing what they expect from the next European Parliament and what Europe actually means to them. A first version of this new “blasting” initiative is online and will be fully operational very soon.

The importance of e-Participation

EU-funded ICT research projects create a set of tools that make e-Participation a reality. The projects develop and promote effective means for the involvement of stakeholders in the policy process.

'You should not forget that your voice has power,' says Ira Giannakoudaki of the City of Athens IT Company (DAEM SA), a partner in the PUZZLED BY POLICY project. 'You can participate now to benefit all citizens.'

Related information


e-Participation, internet, elections, EU citizens,, policy making, European Parliament
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