DEMOS - Delphi Mediation Online System (DEMOS)

Published on: 30/11/2006

DEMOS is an innovative Internet service facilitating democratic discussions and public opinion formation as well as networking and active support for innovative projects. DEMOS aims to reduce the distance between citizens, administrations and political institutions by providing a socio-technical system for moderated and goal-oriented discourses involving numerous participants about political issues at national and European level. Since 2001 DEMOS has been applied successfully in different fields of e-participation, i.e. Hamburg performed public online discussions about its attractiveness and living conditions, the field of urban planning and the city's budget and financial policy. Munich used DEMOS for a family discussion.

Policy Context

Moderated Internet discourses are seen as an excellent means to facilitate the interaction and political communication between government, administration and citizens. So far DEMOS applications have been used for example in the policy fields of financial budget planning, social and family affairs, urban development, genetic engineering & health, education, legislation. In general it is applicable to any policy context. All DEMOS projects have been assessed according to the following criteria: - contribution to the implementation of governmental priorities - size and importance of the target group - use of existing technological infrastructure The DEMOS approach contributes to the achievement of the European Commission’s “i2010 eGovernment Action Plan: Accelerating eGovernment in Europe for the Benefit of All”. The action plan incorporates an action on “Strengthening citizen participation and democratic decision-making in Europe” stating that “Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can play an important role in helping to address new challenges in the involvement of citizens in decisions-making, to cope with the increasing complexity of the legislative processes and to improve legislation”. Finally, DEMOS is currently used or further developed by two projects funded by the European Commission in the eTen programme or the eParticipation initiative, respectively.

Description of target users and groups

Citizens, Politicians, Public Administrations, Companies, NGO's

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The cornerstone of the management approach is to involve all stakeholders prior to ensure full ownership of the undertaking. Whenever an administration or the parliament decides to use the DEMOS approach for a selected subject to be discussed online with the citizens TuTech Innovation GmbH puts DEMOS into operation to take responsibility for the project management. This process is usually started by initiating a working group with representatives of all stakeholders. The working group is responsible for the development of the information concept and the process design. Following the underlying methodology of the DEMOS approach the corridor of the participation process as well as the further implementation of the results will be defined collaboratively in order to inform the potential participants clearly about the intention and possible impact of the participation process. Depending on the particular discourse also external experts, consultants and moderators will be involved. Multi-channel issues: While the consultation process takes place in the Internet, information about the participation opportunity, the progress of the discussion process and the particular results are delivered through various media channels. For instance Hamburg inhabitants were informed in advance about the opportunity to participate in the discussions by brochures and letters sent to representatives of all different kind of civil society organisations; city-light posters exposed at highly frequented locations; press releases of Hamburg’s administration for the local media, and articles and links on the city’s Internet portal. During the active discussion phase representatives of the local media were provided with progress reports and intermediate results. Most of them were very interested to cover the Internet discussion, especially during the discourse about Hamburg’s financial situation. Once the active phase was closed, final reports were edited, printed and sent out on request or uploaded on the discussion platform, respectively. All citizens who registered for active participation have been informed about the final document and the next steps. The weblog DEMOS-Monitor, launched in 2006, reports about the progress on the implementation of the results, upcoming discourses and other information related to e-participation. DEMOS-Monitor has also lead to a national visibility of Hamburg’s engagement. One reason for this is that this blog is ranked among Google’s top ten results for the German phrase ‘e-participation’.

Technology solution

The DEMOS platform is a set of PHP-based web modules to facilitate large-scale e-participation and on-line deliberation projects. The system is a server-based Web application. The complete program logic runs on the server. The participant only needs a common web browser. No plug-ins or other proprietary client-side programs are necessary. DEMOS can be used in all safety-enabled areas like municipal administrations. It is designed as a classical three-tier-architecture. The presentation layer uses a high-performance template engine and is able to produce a large variety of formats for web browsers and other devices like Mobile Phones. Every aspect of the layout can be customized. DEMOS offers a huge variety of additional software modules, e.g. keyword indexing, GIS-client, webmail, wikis, tagging, surveys, multi-language support. It provided the first real time online budget planer.

Main results, benefits and impacts

DEMOS (Delphi Mediation Online System) is a new online platform and specific method of supporting large scale citizen participation and result oriented public debates on the Internet. The distance between citizens and representatives is growing. Decisions are often not sufficiently communicated to the citizens and both, effectiveness and legitimacy of decisions could be increased by integrating experiences, expertise and opinions of the citizens more consequently into the political process. This is where DEMOS has taken up the bow and developed a new participative methodology based on a sociological conflict resolution approach and an innovative and low cost system architecture composed of novel software components. This system has been installed and successfully applied in different cases so far, e.g. the Cities of Hamburg, Munich and Bologna, demonstrating the system's usability and validity as well as the enclosing public relations-strategy. DEMOS contributes to close this distance with a new online service for the Internet and helps to involve large numbers of citizens into the discussion of political and planning topics as it was shown in the different applications done so far. It addresses the question of how to attract and actively involve a large number of users with different cultural backgrounds and interests in all stages of the discussion process. With DEMOS, a new kind of `guided´ online community can be organised and maintained under the supervision of a mediator and supported by domain experts. DEMOS is a web-based discussion and publication platform. It helps to facilitate participation in public debates and gives moderators a huge variety of different tools to create successful dialogues. In addition, the DEMOS platform has strong auto-analysis functions which support reporting and embedding in decision-making processes. DEMOS offers users different ways to access the debate. In contrast to classical Internet forums, it provides dynamic views instead of long lists of articles represented by threads where the user has to travel through the whole thread to find the most up to date article. With the DEMOS, users are encouraged to create their own view (i.e. selection of articles by specific patterns) and their own access to the debate at the same time. Participants are able to relate their articles to articles of other authors. The possibility to relate to other articles is realised in an user-friendly way by a special citation-tool. Special views can be created to introduce participants the up to date discussion results. Beyond other possible ways to filter, to sort, and to display the articles, an additional voting tool can select for instance the most appreciated proposals. DEMOS also provides a built-in content-management-system to enable the moderation team to create additional content in an easy and user-friendly way. Innovation: The novelty of DEMOS lies in its comprehensive approach covering methodology, technology, political integration and implementation of results. - Sound methodology Moderated online discourses enable interactive and asynchronous communication between large numbers of participants. The threshold to participate is quite low: users can contribute anonymously and spontaneously, they can participate actively or as observers, they can either write contributions, take part in polls, ballots and surveys or communicate with other users. The DEMOS online discourses are all based on a special participation methodology which integrates different sociological methods in the so-called ‘DEMOS process’, providing support for three phases: broadening, deepening and consolidating the discussion. Ideally, this structured discussion process leads to political consensus. In practice, participants may continue to disagree, but the reasons for the disagreement will have been made clear. The participation methodology is also concerned with motivation and how to relate the discourse to the political process, e.g. identification of suitable subjects, adaptable rule systems to encourage active participation, result implementation. - Political integration All discourses were carefully prepared and communicated with the responsible administration and/or parliament in advance. The objectives, terms of participation and chances to influence decisions have always been pointed out precisely and communicated to the public. The moderated online discourses are deliberative consultation processes between citizens, administration and members of parliament. - Implemented results Essential to the credibility of eParticipation is that citizens see that it has an effect. The success of the DEMOS discourses is that different ideas, concepts and measures which have been developed in the various internet discourses have or are planned to be implemented. These include for example floating lofts, living bridges, family friendly housing and measures to consolidate Hamburg’s budget. - Innovative technology (see the Technology chapter)

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

In 2004 TuTech Innovation GmbH together with the city of Hamburg organised the conference "Electronic Democracy - Citizen Participation On The Net", where 100 international experts, representatives of civil society and public administration attended. Hamburg has conducted several DEMOS online discourses. Moreover, in the nationwide context of the MEDIA@Komm-Transfer Hamburg developed a guide for local e-democracy focussing on moderated Internet discourses basing on their experiences with their DEMOS applications. Munich launched a DEMOS online discourse on family issues in 2006. Other cities, i.e. Dortmund, were inspired and informed by those dialogues in Hamburg and Munich. Having started with the EU FP5-project DEMOS in 2000 with Hamburg and Bologna as pilot users, DEMOS plays currently an important role in further EU projects: - LexiPation is funded as a preparatory action under the European eParticipation initiative. The DEMOS platform will be used to conduct moderated online discourses on legislative proposals, involving policy makers, citizens and other socio-economic groups in Hamburg, Thessaloniki, Massa and Alston. It will be combined with the Living Labs methodology, a user-centric approach for co-creative design and validation of IT products and services recently developed with great success at EU level. - TELL-ME is funded as a market validation project under the eTen program. By using DEMOS TELL-ME will provide a methodology and toolset for the pan-European deployment of Living Labs in the areas of e-Government, e-Democracy and e-Services, thus creating new opportunities for networking and best practice exchange between public entities, citizens, industry and academia. TuTech Innovation has presented DEMOS at numerous national and international conferences. The weblog DEMOS-Monitor reports on previous or forthcoming discourses and other national and international e-participation events and has gained considerable attention.

Lessons learnt

Online discourses exploit the specific communicative potential of the Internet (interactivity, speed and scope) and allow interactive and asynchronous communication between large numbers of participants as well as representatives, stakeholders or delegates. The threshold to participate is quite low: users can contribute anonymously and spontaneously, as writer or observers, take part in polls, ballots and surveys or communicate with other users on peer-to-peer basis. People can form coalitions effortlessly and discuss certain topics or subtopics of mutual interest. Online discourses can cope with a high level of fluctuation of participants and although come to concrete results. They can also be regarded as an instrument for interactive public relation attracting and involving new participants / target groups, raising public attention and increasing the number of involved people in decision-making processes. To be conducted successfully, Internet based procedures need to: Lesson 1. Be backed up by the initiators (e.g. administrations, companies) Lesson 2. Give an explicit outlook over targets and result implementation. Lesson 3. Based on methodologies that match the media. Depending on the objective, size and topic, results might vary from collection of different viewpoints to concrete agreements or action plans, but ought to be taken seriously in any case.

Scope: International, Local (city or municipality), National, Regional (sub-national)