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Crowdsourcing legislation: how can DSI improve decision-making processes?

7th June 2018

By Krzysztof Izdebski.

Imagine if we took digital social innovation (DSI) to the next level, so that digital democracy could be at the heart of the EU institutions’ decision-making processes, rather than just a platform for consultation. It seems, in fact, that we are closer to this vision than you might first expect.

Implementing digital tools within decision-making processes is nothing new - indeed, platforms for citizen participation involve in most EU countries, whether at the national, regional or local level. Something that originated as yet another crazy idea from activists has rapidly become a popular tool for gathering citizens’ opinions, allowing them to make decisions on local issues like transportation, city planning and how budgets are allocated. In fact, we have profiled a number of such tools on this website, including Consul. Other examples include Parlement & Citoyens and Cap Collectif participatory applications (France), DemocracIT (Greece) and (Latvia). Similar solutions have been created at the EU level including Debating Europe and the European Crowdsourcing Campaign for Public Transport.

It’s also worth taking a look at the European Citizens Crowdsourcing (EUCROWD) project, which took place from September 2016 to March 2018 under the framework of the Europe for Citizens programme 2016 of the European Union.

Members of the consortium conducting the project have examined the potential of digital tools to support crowdsourcing legislation on the EU level. According to one of the published studies, “crowdsourcing legislation has the potential to reduce the gap between EU decision-makers and citizens and contribute to the creation of more engaged citizenship. It allows people to participate in debates in a constructive way and to learn from each other throughout a deliberation process”. With this in mind, the project team explored three aspects of implementing a crowdsourcing legislation platform on EU level:

  1. Which EU policy areas are the most suitable for opening up to crowdsourcing at the EU level?
  2. Which technological platform(s) should be used to make the crowdsourcing process more efficient?
  3. Which stage of the policymaking process should crowdsourcing ideas take place?

These are questions which should be asked before creating or scaling similar solutions on any administrative level, in any country. It is partly why many organisations have identified  local budgets as an opportune area for improving policymaking by engaging citizens, as has taken place with participatory budgeting projects like those undertaken by Citizen Budget or URBACT. More recently, we’ve even seen a range of topics, including city planning, being opened up to crowdsourcing through something akin to… Tinder. CitySwipe shows images of potential scenarios and simple yes/no questions to decide what should be done in the neighborhood.

When it comes to the selection of specific tools or platforms, it’s important that the chosen solution is:


  • Transparent and open-source, to guarantee that everyone can see how it works, what personal data it is gathering, and how its algorithms work.
  • Multilingual, to ensure the widest participation possible.
  • Accessible in multiple ways, to provide a more comprehensive spectrum of opinions.
  • Scalable, to allow for new features without the need to rebuild from scratch.
  • User-friendly, to enable and encourage citizens to engage easily, and spend their time discussing rather than working out how to use the platform.





Having said this, concrete suggestions from the EUCROWD studies are not forthcoming. On the one hand, the authors advocate for using a single platform but, at the same time, the recommendations arising from their participatory events suggest that each topic should have a tailor-made platform designed for the purpose of the particular issue. In my opinion, the first solution is better, as users are then more able to get used to the process and do not have to learn each and every time how a new platform works. It’s also important to help guarantee the sustainability of the platform, so that it can be used, iterated and improved  frequently with feedback from users But again, some sort of monopoly could damage innovation.

Regarding when in the process citizens should be engaged, EUCROWD argues that for early involvement “in order to collect inputs that are not too technical and from all parts of society”. The important thing is for those leading the process to give feedback to citizens by responding to the most common remarks and explaining why specific recommendations were chosen - this will also help to maintain the interest in the future and will empower citizens. The latter is the most important aim of any activity connected with building bridges between societies and governments.

It’s welcoming and exciting that EU institutions are becoming ever more aware of how DSI can, and should, be brought into formal decision-making processes. This is essential to restoring trust in the European Union and avoiding repeats of recent crises. However, we still have a long way to go and we hope the European Union continues to build upon its efforts to truly involve its citizens in how policies, laws and decisions are made.



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