eParticipation procedure for young citizen in Austria (mitmachen)

Published on: 19/04/2007
mitmachen.at represents an e-participation-procedure for young citizens for the development of political relevant future concepts for Austria following a "3-step-model for citizen participation" (1-contribution collection, 2-content wise aggregation, 3-prioritisation). The project focuses on the target group of young people living in Austria or abroad including all young Austrians and also those, who are related to Austria somehow. mitmachen.at was an applied research project of the BRZ (Austrian Federal Computing Centre) with partners from the public and the private sector. The procedure was open to everyone interested. The project started on November 1st, 2006 and lasted until January 9th, 2007.

Policy Context

E-democracy is part of a holistic view on e-government. At the moment, e-participation is in the state of pilot projects in Austria. In 2005, with the project "E-Generation" the results of an e-participation project have been realised for the first time and a new perspective was added to this field. A working group currently attempts to built up an "Austrian strategy" in this area. The project "mitmachen.at" was the largest project in Austria and is therefore on closer consideration in this field. Basically the "eGovernment-Action-Plan" of the EC defined "Strengthening participation and democratic decision-making in Europe", is a strong policy for enhancing projects in citizen-participations.

Description of target users and groups

All young or young-at-heart Austrian citizens including citizens abroad as well as all persons concerend about Austria from all over the world. The project was exclusively promoted via direct mailing to multipliers like Austrian schools (from 5th grade of secondary school onwards), several youth organisations (around 35), the Austrian Education Highway, the Public Employment Service Austria, the Austrian National Union of Students and other stakeholders in this field. A broad view on the target groups was very important, because of the principles of openness and equality of the procedure. To reach participation it was important to inform ALL organizations which are involved in youth work, indifferently with social class, nationality or gender.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Management approach: mitmachen.at was a project that was built up by applying formal project management methods (following PMA) within a project-oriented organisation. The management board signed a project-assignment to the project-team with clear expectations, responsibility and communication-structures. Partnerships: The project was built up with a strong partner-structure - partnering was a key factor. Overall for the inclusion of the target group several partners were aboard. The focus in this field was to cover all society-levels for active inclusion. Therefore besides the Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, which covers schools and universities, also the Public Employment Service Austria was an important player. Furthermore over 40 youth-organisations were informed via our partners or via email. The inner circle of partners of the Austrian Federal Computing Centre was formed by nine organisations, including four ministries (Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Education, Science and Culture; Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Chancellery). Multi-channel issues: Due to the fact that mitmachen.at represented a nationwide procedure, a multi-channel-approach within the procedure phases has been realised in the way of working together very closely with multipliers. Austrian schools have informed their students about the project to their information technology classes. Beside schools being the largest multipliers all youth-organisations (youth-groups, Austrian Employment Service, Austrian students union,...) were included in the same way. A consistent transport of the procedure status-quo and comprising information about Input-Output and Outcome-factors took place along the procedure duration. Every person involved operatively in the project was stated by name at the portal. One single email address was set up to give the multipliers the possibilty to contact the project-team in case of enquires concerning the process or contents. Several teachers took up this opportunity. During working hours all enquiries have been answered immediately by telefone or email with a resolution rate of more than 80 percent within 15 minutes.

Main results, benefits and impacts

Formal results: Phase 1: 2,074 contributions in 8 topics Phase 2: 174 future concepts aggregated based on contributions out of phase 1 Phase 3: 2,578 questionnaires received (54,626 hits on single questions) Impact: The results of the project/procedure have been published at a press conference at the Austrian Parliament. Several members of the Parliament and of different Austrian political parties took part and received the results together background information on the method. The project took place directly after the Austrian national elections and was considered as a supportive information on youth topics for future political actions by the members of the parliament and of political parties. The Austrian Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Mr Josef Proell, expressed in a press-release the importance of the results of "mitmachen.at" on environmental topics and their importance of future steps in this area. The topic “Environment” reached rank one in importance in participatory Phase 1 and 3. All results of the project are published on the website www.mitmachen.at. Since the end of the project in February 2007 the results are permanently downloaded from the website. Several Austrian media organisations and youth-groups have actively presented the results to their target-groups. Innovation: The “3-step-model” provides the novelty of a citizen-centered approach of participation. The content of considerations in Phase 1 (Contributions or Deliberation) is citizen-produced and the concepts aggregated by experts are verified in Phase 3 by prioritisation through citizens. It represents a political decision-making-process with clear and applicable results. Furthermore this process has been evaluated three times in different sized projects with distinct content- and result-based expectations. The project mitmachen.at represents the biggest effort made in e-democracy with a nationwide focus. It was also promoted internationally on the platform "Austrians abroad". Several scientific questions had to be evaluated in this project together with the scientific board. Firstly it was only promoted via email together with multipliers (Schools, Youth-Organisations, Public Employment Service Austria, and many more). Further technology innovations took place, a statistic-linguistic software (for proto-semantic evaluation of contributions) was used by the commission-members in Phase 2, so it was possible to receive the first practical experiences with such technologies in an e-democracy-project in Austria. Usability was a prerequisite for the project. The project-platform for mitmachen.at followed WAI-A and WAI-AA in great parts. Several security-functionalities, like the capture-software, averted WAI because of a necessary consideration between usability and security aspects.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Integral part of the procedure was the cooperation with the scientific board. This board had two main tasks, firstly the monitoring of the overall processes and secondly the preparation of a working paper about the project and the findings at the end of the project. These facts are basis of closer considerations of the e-democracy community in Austria as well as internationally. Mitmachen.at is the latest procedure in the row of three realisations of the BRZ during the last 2 years. The insights of every procedure have influenced the following. Furthermore the COE invited the BRZ (Federal Computing Centre of Austria) to a symposium, where the underlying “3-Step-Model” was presented to European strategic decision-makers in this field – so ia good practice dissemination already took place in the international field. Since the official end of mitmachen.at the interest on the procedure model increased remarkably. In the near future new procedures with other topics will take place.

Lessons learnt

1. Clear Input-Output-Outcome-factors and their communication is important. A important fact in e-democracy is to provide detailed information on the framework of the procedure (costs, staff, timeframe,...) and to make the technology and policy easy to understand. Technology means the functionalities used in the project (incl. security, data-protection), policy states the rules of participation. The most important thing is to inform people what will happen with the results and what kind of influence will they have. Participants had the opportunity to comment on the project itself by stating their expectations and concerns. This also helped to gain information on acceptance. 2. Accessibility and usability are of utmost importance. The cooperation with partners as multipliers was very important for promotion purposes of this nationwide procedure. Schools or other partners provided the infrastructure to participate in the procedure. Due to the fact that e-democracy has to be “inclusive”, it was very important to focus on usability aspects for this procedure. 3. Broader communication is necessary in nationwide procedures. For procedures with a nationwide focus it is necessary to include more grassroots-marketing-efforts. This was an important finding of the scientific board whether email-promotion of the procedure is enough to activate the target group of the procedure. Scope: International, Local (city or municipality), National, Regional (sub-national)