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Rahvaalgatus

The Estonian People’s Assembly and digital democracy

Crowdsourcing policy, debating ideas and voting via Estonia's e-democracy platform 

Following the 2012 Silvergate Scandal, the major political parties in Estonia faced increased political distrust and disengagement in a country already affected by unpopular austerity measure. Under pressure from public protests and a petition signed by 17,500 people, the President held a series of roundtable discussions. These led to the development of Rahvakogu - ‘The People’s Assembly’.

Rahvakogu was split into a five stage process:

  1. gathering proposals (and comments on them) online;
  2. collation and analysis of proposals;
  3. impact assessment and expert opinion on proposed legislative changes;
  4. stakeholder deliberation events on five issues identified as priorities;
  5. deliberation days to select final proposals for submission to Parliament.

Rahvakogu used the open source Icelandic digital democracy platform template, Your Priorities, to enable a rapid roll-out. During the three-week period of crowdsourcing proposals, over 60,000 people visited the site, with 2,000 registered users. Over 2,000 proposals and 4,000 comments were made. Following the analysis and deliberative processes, 15 proposals were submitted to Parliament. 

One of the laws which was passed as a result of this process has led to a new online digital democracy platform, launched in March 2016 by one of the facilitators of the People’s Assembly process, the Estonian Cooperation Assembly Foundation.

It was built in collaboration with Let’s Do It, the foundation which created the open-source software Citizen OS. Named rahvaalgatus.ee following a public naming contest, it facilitates the process of making proposals, debating and voting on them, as well as digital signing and the sharing of updates. Citizens require 1,000 signatures for their proposals to reach discussion by Parliamentary Committees.

Since its launch, eight initiatives on rahvaalgatus.ee have reached the 1,000 signature threshold and passed to Parliamentary Committees. New awareness raising campaigns have been launched, initially focusing on young adults, digitally engaged older people, and Russian speakers who are typically the least engaged with civil society and social issues in Estonia. 

Much of this case study first appeared in Nesta's report, 'Digital Democracy: The Tools Transforming Political Engagement'. Read more here

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