E-democracy at many levels
Local e-democracy is a hot topic in many countries. Funka is involved in several parallel projects and assignments that deal with the topic from different perspectives.
For the past three years, Funka has participated in a major EU project called WeGovNow, which has developed a platform for gathering existing e-democracy tools in a common interface and is now finishing. On behalf of the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization in Norway, we have carried out a survey of various digital tools for citizen dialogue and at the moment test implementations are under way in a number of Norwegian municipalities. Recently, we have also run a project funded by the Norwegian Children and Family Directorate, where we examined how accessible the various tools are.
Interest is great in many countries, especially at municipal level where work is in progress to try to increase citizens' involvement, says Andreas Cederbom who, among other things, led Funka's work within WeGovNow.
E-democracy tools are a broad concept. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are an example where citizens can easily make a comment, but there are considerably more advanced tools that offer everything from open budget work to digital discussion and voting tools.
The tools must work for everyone
Working with e-democracy is not about acquiring a new tool, it is often about acquiring a whole toolbox with different types of tools. That's exactly what WeGovNow focused on. The project has resulted in a common interface with an open APi that new tools can implement and thus make it possible to integrate into the same platform. From the users perspective, this would mean one single login for various tools. For the municipality, it means a toolbox that can be used for different types of projects and situations.
In our assignment for the Norwegian Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, we are testing how the actual implementation of democrazy tools work. Some early findings includes that the internal organization must be prepared to work with the proposals that are sent in. Citizens must feel that it is meaningful to contribute, that their views are taken seriously and that "something happens". Feedback, transparency and dialogue are central to the success of a citizen dialogue.
In the project where we specifically examine the accessibility of the tools, we have selected a number of tools and tested them with both experts and end users with and without assistive technology. It is difficult to compare the tools as they range from very simple services to large and complex systems. Not surprisingly, the simpler services are typically easier to handle for most target groups. At the other end of the spectrum, we have seen examples of tools that have very large deficiencies in both UX and accessibility. The project is presented at BufDir's conference UNIKT forum in Oslo February 12.
It is not easy to give advice to a municipality that wants to start working with e-democracy, says Lena Drevsjø, who has led the study of accessibility in the tools.
At the same time, there are clearly great opportunities for both citizens and municipalities to create truly democratic and inclusive decision-making processes. This is probably an area that will grow in the next few years. The more people who want to use the tools, the greater the preassure on the suppliers to ensure accessibility for everyone.