demos@work (demos@work)

Published on: 22/02/2008
The Demos@Work overarching objective is to facilitate European-wide discussion between elected representatives and civil society on emerging policy issues that have a potential impact on all countries within the European Union. The issue selected for this trial project is the harmful effects of smoking. The focus of this project is mainly on citizens and politicians. More specifically, the project aims to: address the issue of citizen disengagement from decision making processes, strengthen the EU fight against tobacco use, improve the quality of services provided to citizens, facilitate the work of MPs and increase the awareness of the Parliament activities among its citizens. These will be achieved by configuring and putting into trial an online platform that will serve for an active and open dialogue between regional/national-level elected representatives, European parliament and citizens. On the one hand, elected representatives will not only receive direct feedback from citizens and updates on the public health policies, but also communicate and collaborate with their peers. On the other hand, citizens’ engagement will be promoted, the consumer information and the interaction with the EU will be improved and the complex political debate will become interesting for all citizens. Trial applications including the validation of the project will be conducted in two end-user locations, namely the regional assembly of Catalonia and the national assembly of Lithuania as well as the European Parliament.

Policy Context

The European Commission actively supports the research on the use of Information and Communication Technologies in the legislative decision-making processes, in parliamentary and government environments as a remedy in order to address the issues of building trust and understanding in the democratic process and encourage citizens to start to re-engage with their local democracy. Demos@Work is directly linked to the eParticipation 2007 Work Programme in that is proposing a trial project to test state of the art ICT-based tools in concrete legislative processes, with the specific aim of enhancing the participation of citizens and contributing to better legislation. Legislative measures including tobacco control projects have been adopted at both the national and European levels. The European Community attaches great importance to fighting tobacco use. The major objectives of EU policy are prevention and cessation. Considering therefore the wide interest both amongst the public and governments, the creation of an eParticipation platform for this issue could serve as a proof of concept to illustrate how such a platform can facilitate communication, knowledge sharing, and modernization of government services. Bringing on board citizens’ insights on such an issue of common interest could assist the legislative decision makers to shape their public health policy in an inclusive way by enhancing knowledge sharing and filtering, and by increasing efficiency through guided decision support systems.

Description of target users and groups

elected representatives at the regional, national and European level , citizens and representatives from civil society, industry, academia

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Demos@Work has a clear manageable work plan which is structured as follows: Management, Technical definition and integration of existing technologies, Trial activities, Dissemination and use. Project Management aims to ensure that the project meets its internal goals, and coordinates external liaison activities with the EU Commission as well as key regional stakeholders and partners. Technical definition and integration of existing technologies has as aim to produce a set of “ready to use” specification to be implemented in the system integration. For the trials there will provided two different versions for Demos@Work: i) the alpha version obtained from the integration of the already available existing applications (eRepresentative and Gov2DemoSS), and ii) the beta version obtained from the addition of the semantics/ontology modules. The trials will involve citizens and MPs, who will interact between them in four different ways: • Citizen-citizen (reviewing/commenting other citizens’ opinions) • Citizen-MP (providing feedback and opinions on the issues being discussed) • MP-citizen (providing issues to be discussed and responses to citizens’ opinions) • MP-MP (interacting among them during the law-making process) The resulting system will be deployed in the trial environment and evaluated against the requirements initially defined together with its benefits analysis.

Technology solution

Demos@Work will be created using Open Source technologies and it will be based on two existing online platforms (eRepresentative and Gov2Demoss) that have already achieved international recognition and the support of the European Union. In addition to this basic platform, other EC co-funded projects developments and results (LEX-IS and TerreGov) will be included on top it to improve the platform capabilities such for citizens engagement and its feedback for politicians. A powerful server with preferred Redhat OS will be installed. On this server a web server (Apache), a database server (MySQL) and PHP5 will be installed. All these software elements can be found as a software bundle called LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP). Full portal functionality will be available through regular browser on desktop computers, while a sub-set of those functionalities will be available through mobile devices (smart phones and PDAs).

Main results, benefits and impacts

The objective is to provide an innovative open-source software solution and methodology to help parliaments and assemblies (policy-makers) improve the quality, legitimacy and transparency of their policies in the eyes of their citizens. Simultaneously, citizens will be provided with the means to become familiarized and involved with the everyday functioning of democratic decision making processes. It is expected to improve consumer information and interaction with the EU as it will facilitate an open and inclusive dialogue between all EU citizens and the decision makers. Social and technological innovation to the work of elected representatives is proposed by suggesting a method that will help them to cope with the increasing complexity of legislative processes and will improve the results of their work.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Lessons learnt

The key challenge is to understand the character of the institution before incorporating ICT - e.g. is it a new or mature institution, what is the extent of its resources, the relationship between representatives and their constituents. The process of establishing user requirements and then of engaging the end users (including representatives) in evaluating the developed application gives a basis for optimism that existing parliamentary processes can be adapted to take advantage of the opportunities offered by developments in ICTs: that is, it is possible to start thinking in terms of organisation changes, not individual representatives adopting new tools of their own accord. ICTs merely act as a magnifier and multiplier of the inherent tendencies and characteristics of the spaces where they are implemented. Facilitating the connection between representatives and the represented is primarily and intrinsically a cultural function – it is not a product of technology. The main barriers to citizens making effective use of these tools are much more likely to be organizational [how to coordinate the provision and use of the tools] and societal [how to motivate citizens to use them]; developing usable and accessible technology is only meaningful if it is accompanied by political backing and the active involvement of policy makers. The absence of such will negate any potential impact of an eParticipation project towards engendering greater citizen engagement. Scope: International, Local (city or municipality), National, Regional (sub-national)