Innovation for Democracy
2nd Innovation for Democracy Café
With technology rapidly advancing, digital participation has become a trend in civil society, as well as in governmental space. As the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world over two years ago, this trend grew and digital tools have also taken on increased importance. What digital tools are available online? How do we choose the most suitable ones to help facilitate public participation? What benefits can we have after putting digital participation platforms into use? What do we have to be cautious about before adopting digital tools?
Two experts joined Ms. Ya-wei Chou from FNF Global Innovation Hub in this episode to share their insights, experience and discuss these questions with the audience: Ms. Katya Petrikevich from Participation Factory in Czech Republic and Ms. Hao-Ting Chang from Public Digital Innovation Space (PDIS) in Taiwan.
Guide and Ratings for Digital Participation Platforms
“What challenges have you faced when engaging people online?”, asked Ms. Petrikevich in the beginning to get the audience reflecting on civic tech and digital participation. It clearly reflects that digital democracy is not an easy task, and requires knowledge and collaborations.
Digital participation platforms are useful tools for governments and civil society groups to engage more people in the participatory process, and further enhance trust, inclusion and equity. However, there are so many choices available on the Internet that it can be a little overwhelming to search for the most suitable one according to your needs. What’s worse, without sufficient knowledge of choosing digital tools and developing a holistic strategy, applying digital tools might defeat the purpose of broadening people’s participation, or fail to protect users’ data privacy.
That’s why you’ll need a guide to help you through the selection process. Developed by People Powered, this guide leads you from selecting a digital participation platform to running a process on the platform you choose. It also takes into account the challenges you might face along the way and offers tips or solutions to those potential problems. It is also important to keep in mind that a hybrid process combining both digital and traditional offline approaches is essential for people who might not have access to adopt the digital way of participation.
Another focus in Ms. Petrikevich’s sharing is the ratings of digital participation platforms. The ratings are developed on the basis of publicly available information provided by the platform developers, interviews and surveys, as well as user experience by the group of experts from People Powered, focusing on the most widely used and comprehensive platforms. The platforms are then assessed and compared based on six criteria: cost, capacity requirements, features, accessibility, ethics & transparency, and track record & liability.
Together with the guide, the platform ratings can help improve the participation process by presenting a list of featured functionalities and best practices. On top of that, they also cut down on user’s cost of research, reveal hidden costs, and help potential platform users get a clearer grasp of their options and the price range.
Aside from the guide and ratings, Ms. Petrikevich also mentioned the concepts of cyber-security and open source in the talk. When we apply digital tools, there are a few ways to avoid falling victim to cyberattacks: First, one can start by using magic links for user authentication. Magic links are an exclusive one-time link that allows users to log in without a password. Also, Ms. Petrikevich suggested collecting as little data as possible on the platform, minimizing the risks and consequences of data leakage. Moreover, frequent automatic backups are imperative for ensuring the security of digital participation processes as well.
To prevent cyber-security issues, open source is just as important as the above mentioned suggestions. When a platform is open-source, it means that its source code is open for everyone to inspect, modify and reinforce. It helps users see how their data is managed and used, and allows anyone with the competency to fix security vulnerabilities, further enhancing the transparency and security of the digital participation process.
Collaborative Policy Making with Digital Participation Platforms
Keeping in mind that participation should always be the ultimate purpose, what happens after you’ve used a digital participation platform? Our second guest, Ms. Hao-Ting Chang, shared with us her experience working in the central government regarding how they collaborate with government officials and all the stakeholders to co-create and solve problems raised by the public.
So, where and how exactly do government authorities collect the public’s voices nowadays? Ms. Chang started with the example of join.gov.tw, a public policy online participation platform in Taiwan. On that website, citizens can start a petition, second other people’s proposals, and express opinions on the policies that government departments are planning to implement recently. Furthermore, in order to foster cross-ministry cooperation and problem-solving as a solid basis for discussing and implementing people’s proposals though join.gov.tw and all the online participation platforms, PDIS designed a mechanism called Participation Officer Network in 2017.
Participation Officers (PO) are representatives from each ministry in the government, gathering together with PDIS at least once a month to discuss the issues proposed on the E-participation platform and ideas of facilitating cross-ministry collaboration. They hold collaborative meetings and trainings, in which they serve as hosts of group discussions, guiding citizens, stakeholders, and government officials to find alignment and solutions.
With the PO network, PDIS has developed a process of addressing public issues. First, they use tools like Pol.is to collect opinions and identify the most important problems. Pol.is is a comment-collecting platform that can effectively map common ground from all users’ comments with its algorithm, thus enhancing the government’s efforts in reaching a consensus with the citizens and tackling problems. By doing so, people can be really involved in the policy making process. Secondly, they hold collaborative meetings with all the stakeholders, alongside live broadcast, online mind-map, and slido for online participants to ensure that all needs are considered. Finally, they take action, incorporating youth participation and user researches in the implementation process.
After organizing quite a few collaborative meetings, Ms. Chang pointed out that in order to successfully improve the process of participation and policy making, one must begin with identifying the needs, and then find out the alignments of the government and the public, and eventually build up partnerships with citizens, stakeholders and civil servants.
Establishing the Correct Mindset for Digital Democracy
Digital participation platforms are indeed practical tools for strengthening public participation and digital democracy. Nonetheless, they are not the solution to all problems, and neither should they be.
Both speakers acknowledged that it is important to identify one’s needs and targets and determine whether digital tools are necessary in the process prior to choosing and using a digital tool or platform. Providing both digital and non-digital solutions, as well as support for people who are not familiar with digital tools, will also make public participation more inclusive and comprehensive.
So, keep this correct mindset, be aware of data protection and cyber-security, stay open-minded, and we can make online resources for digital participation a helping force to democracy.