Io partecipo - The eParticipation community in the Emilia-Romagna (Io partecipo)

Published on: 19/05/2008

Io partecipo – I participate – is the new project set up by Emilia-Romagna Region to provide its citizens with information services, listening/open communication channels, aiming at promoting participation in public life. The main access channel is the web area which uses the e-democracy open source  kit which has been developed and used by a consortium of regional agencies, within the framework of the project. MISSION: through the setting up of a system of permanent and meaningful relations with citizens in Emilia-Romagna Region, experimenting with methods and tools fostering participation in regional policies. The goals of Io Partecipo are translated into specific services delivered online. INFORMING: delivers customized information: at the basis of the services, there is the identification of users' groups, to which specific interests and needs expressed by citizens refer. SUPPORTING: offers customized consulting services. Experts in different fields answer directly to specific citizens' questions and, if they are of general interest, publish them on the web. All the consulting services are delivered free of charge.  CONSULTING: carries out poll taking on specific themes, which represent a venue for direct and active participation of users according to their interests and needs. The goal consists in creating a two-way relation with users, based on a concrete and constant mutual exchange of data between the administration and its citizens. DIALOGUE: activates periodical online forums to open a direct dialogue with citizens on issues and topics of particular public relevance. In a virtual space, different subjects discuss together, and have the opportunity to exchange opinions and reaching shared views. COOPERATING: offers citizens the opportunity to become editors! With a specific form they can send news, indications and articles to the Io partecipo editing room.

Description of target users and groups

The project focusses on two types of targets which can be classified as:

  • internal
  • external

The target which is internal to the project comprises the services of the administration which can use the new system of communication to optimise and/or increase their information channel to citizens.

To reach this target, internal marketing actions are carried out within the Region; they are: project promotion (fostering knowledge) and support tools for participants (fostering utilisation).

The external target is the primary one, the citizens ( 4 million in Emilia-Romagna). Only if they are reached, would the project goals come through.

Also with respect to citizens, the actions to be activated are both informational/promotional and educational/consultational.

Besides making use of the classic channels of mass communication, traditional media and new-media, the project will be promoted with a campaign which will bring all over the territory a “Io Partecipo corner”, with dedicated staff, where citizens who are interested in becoming service users may find information and support. The activity will be informational/educational and will try to reach the target group usually little interested in technologies (therefore with lower opportunities to be informed of the project directly from the web) with an indication and support action.

The campaign will bring the “Io Partecipo corner” in every Public Relation Office (URP), all over the regional territory, and in all public events with some connections with the project goals (trade shows, events, conferences, etc.)

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The organisational structure has been designed to support the project management in terms of direction, control and coordination of activities comprised in the work plan, consistently with defined objectives.

In particular, the roles definned are:

  1. Project Coordination
  2. Central editing room
  3. System administration
  4. Local URP editing room
  5. Local editing room
  6. Experts
  7. Editors

Technology solution

IOpartecipo establishes its foundations on reuse and open source/free software. Why? Tools chosen by governments for e-democracy initiatives have to be totally "transparent" in the management of information. Transparency must be met, at a technical level, management of data/information that people “provides” to the authorities and vice versa. A participation process must ensure the possibility of access and retrieval and verification of data that have been exchanged. Transparency have to be independent from technical suppliers and allows the verification of the data by anyone with appropriate technical skills. Transparency must also be available as long-lasting property, it must resist the time. Software applications that possess these characteristics in "natural" ways are those licensed as free or open source software (depending on the license with which they are issued for use) therefore should be considered as a necessary choice for participation.

So building block of IOpartecipo, from the technical and organizational point of view, is the “E-democracy Kit” developed by a previous e-democracy project: At the beginning of IOpartecipo project counted several installations (at least 8 in different municipalities and provinces in Emilia Romagna Region) of its tools. IOpartecipo includes and enhance tools and methods.

The applications chosen to be part of the’s Kit are widely consolidated from the technical point of view basing on Internet applications already used by large part of the citizenry.

The E-democracy Kit contains:

·     open source software applications and its technical documentation;

·     methodological instructions to support the use of the applications. These instructions outlines:

-    the competencies needed to use the tools;

-    the organizational processes needed to set up the backoffice of the participation processes.

So the Kit is a set of applications to distribute information on selected issues and to manage decentralized editorial offices of different City Services. The citizen expresses its own preferences when he subscribes to the service via the web; these preferences can be changed at any time and Information are distributed via e-mail. Moreover these tools let citizen to address questions on specific themes and get on-line customized answers from experts or to participate to surveys. In addition to the software tools the Kit is a successfully tested methodology for the set up of a set of editorial units and for the monitoring of services appreciation and satisfaction.

The Kit includes also an “enhanced forum”: a web-based platform including forum, poll and document repository enabling fruitful and constructive debate between citizens and politicians with the intention of facilitating and encouraging "online-democracy" using the Delphi method. The Delphi method can be described as a method for structuring a group communication process that allows a group of individuals as a whole to deal with a complex problem effectively. The Delphi method is a technique for eliciting and refining the group judgments of recognized experts in situations where exact knowledge is not available but where partial information is available at the disposal of the individuals in the group.

Finally IOpartecipo adds a new opportunity dedicated to becoming an editor, with this additional service the project offers a chance of involvement by providing news and information of common interest encouraging civic journalism initiatives.

Conclusions: from technical and methodological point of view IOpartecipo reuses and enhances a set of applications licensed as OS/free software and methodologies for eparticipation. These tools have been designed from the outset as open, easy to install and neutral with respect to the thematic of citizen involvement.

Technology choice: Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The expected positive results of the project are mainly linked to quantity and quality of relations which will take place between the public administration and citizens.

The project can also show benefits for public administration, in view of a self-reforming action, considering that public bodies and agencies are perceiving the need to open channels of on-going and direct dialogue with citizens, in order to deliver services and policies respondent to their real needs.

Citizens may find in the Io Partecipo portal a “menu” of general information and services, from which they can pick their areas of interest, with an exercise of self-profiling. A platform from which users may have a general view of the activities of Emilia-Romagna Region (starting from an initial selection and subsequent enlargement) also, and in particular, with respect to issues, services, policies, on which processes of listening and involvement will be activated.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Lessons learnt

In these months we have learned that: - the technical aspect was a litte-bit problem - the organizational aspect was an opportunity - the political support could be a problem, but we decide to continuing

Scope: Regional (sub-national)