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Is digital democracy any better than traditional democracy?

24th January 2018

Krzysztof Izdebski from ePaństwo Foundation introduces DSI4EU's Digital Democracy cluster.

When we heard about the possibility of joining the next phase of DSI4EU,we immediately thought: this is exactly what we believe in! According to our mission, the change we want to achieve is to engage competent citizens in the country’s administration management. We believe that this triggers better and fairer decision-making processes. We want to inspire people with the idea of responsibility for their own country and give them knowledge and modern digital tools to take care of and improve the country.

On the one hand, the web is the perfect space for obtaining that knowledge – it provides everyone, not only those in power, with access to data and information. However, without proper tools that organise and structure data, citizens, but also NGOs and the media and NGOs, find it difficult to monitor and explain authorities’ actions. Our experience shows that the more accessible the data, the more often it will be used by civil society to develop policy recommendations, advocate to their elected representatives, analyse information and report on the authorities’ actions. Scattered data concerning the legislative process frequently contributes to the shortage of news and regular information about the effectiveness of the government’s policies and the legislation passing through an assembly.

Secondly, new technologies can empower those who actively participate in public life as well as those whose daily interests lie in different areas. What works the best for democracy is the synergy between smart society and decision makers, and still the biggest challenge is to convince those who hold power. We often think that society is well prepared for dialogue – and, when necessary, confrontation – with politicians; we gather evidence, analyse data, elaborate policy papers, involve experts. But when we talk with decision makers, we find that emotions too often come before facts.

The rise of populism is only one side of that phenomenon. The other, widespread even among the most democratic governments, is lack of responsiveness to citizens’ needs and their arguments. And again, technology can and should improve it. We can name a number of initiatives -  like the French Parlement et Citoyens or Javna Razprava from Bosnia & Herzegovina - which connect citizens with their representatives and foster participative and evidence-based public debate. We also see good examples of collaboration between CSOs and governments such as the Ukrainian public procurement system ProZorro or the collaborative approach to releasing parliamentary data and making it accessible carried out by TheyWorkForYou.

Together with our partners, we at the ePanstwo Foundation have actively supported the development of the Digital Democracy environment in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) for a few years now. You may be familiar with Personal Democracy Forum CEE, which we will organise for the 6th time in April 2018, or the TransparenCEE Network, which we develop together with Techsoup Europe, Action SEE and many other CEE civic tech practitioners. Thanks to being an active actor in the Code for All network, we have been able to gather together experiences from the best digital changemakers across the world.

We want to bring that networking and collaborative spirit to the Digital Democracy cluster of DSI4EU. Too often, too much energy and too many assets are spent  reinventing the wheel. Activists are not aware that some of their ideas have already been tested and that it is more effective to scale projects rather than create them from scratch. We want to bring knowledge about existing tools and initiatives in Europe (and beyond) to the whole DSI community, develop platforms for cooperation and fuel peer learning activities. We will use the bottom-up approach, support cross-sector cooperation and put emphasis on popularising co-creation and replication methods.

We strongly believe that democracy is a collective responsibility. To protect its values and improve relations between citizens and authorities we need to engage in online and offline activities. Digital democracy is not better or worse than the traditional one. It is an inevitable form of improving public life. Join us in making it better.

If you’re interested in finding out more or joining the Digital Democracy cluster, please sign up to the DSI4EU newsletter, create a profile on the digitalsocial.eu platform, and/or drop an email to [email protected].

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