The civil society e-participation portal was established in order to strengthen involvement of the Slovene and European non-governmental organizations into decision-making processes before and during the Slovenian EU Council presidency in the first half of 2008.
The all in one place portal enabled the NGOs managing policy priorities sections in order to formulate, promote and inform general public, media and governments on their common policy standpoints, initiatives, news, documents and e-participation actions during the Presidency, to network with other NGOs in Slovenia and the EU and to run public on-line pools and informed debates/consultations covering specific topics of the EU Presidency agenda.
E-participation processes were formalized by the Agreement between the Government communication office and the portal Predsedovanje.si to encourage an efficient, interactive and transparent informing and consulting of public administration bodies and NGOs.
The portal was presented at the live events/debriefings organized by the NGOs during the presidency and opinions given there were published on-line. During the six month presidency, the portal was visited by more than 4.000 internet users per month (more than 25.000 overall), more than 500 news covering the Presidency issues, events and activities related to development cooperation, youth, EU neighbourhood and the future EU priorities were published, 12 moderated on-line debates and 8 on-line polls took place covering topics as intercultural dialogue, climate/energy, intergenerational cooperation and the future of the EU. 160 messages from both NGOs and individual citizens were published during the course and 155 votes were cast. On-line debates and polls inputs were summarized by moderators and sent to the government ministries which prepared one reply so far.
The Predsedovanje.si evaluation and information activities continued during the French EU presidency. The portal was implemented on the open source CMS platform and uses web 2.0 features such as thematic video content and RSS.
The policy context of the Predsedovanje.si portal was determined by the Slovenian EU Council Presidency in the first half of the 2008. In 2006, the Slovene NGOs prepared a proposal for the Ministry of Public Administration by suggesting specific ways of their involvement during the EU presidency. The proposal derived from the notion that the civil society participation presents an important factor for successful outcome of the presidency.
Among eight proposals, the government of the Republic of Slovenia decided to support and co-finance the proposal developed by Simon Delakorda referring to development of the common NGOs information and communication web portal Predsedovanje.si. The proposal suggested creating and moderating a multilingual open source platform, which would establish on-line civil dialogue on the EU issues during the presidency.
The legal framework for the NGOs e-participation was provided by the Agreement between the Government communication office (GCO) and portal Predsedovanje.si about the communication before and in during the Slovenian presidency of the EU. The agreement obligated GCO to motivate respective public administration bodies to use the portal for regular information-sharing with NGOs about activities and events, to engage in the e-dialogue with them about priorities, viewpoints and preparations of the informal meetings and to provide sufficient time for the consultations, availability of the documents and replies to the received comments. The agreement states that the link between the official web page of the Slovenian presidency (www.eu2008.si) and portal Predsedovanje.si should be established. Both sides have declared trustees, who are responsible for the implementation of the agreement.
As result, the agreement present an unique document aiming at formalising the e-participation of civil society within the frame of the presidency of the Council of the EU, which is perceived as one of least transparent and civil dialogue/participatory democracy supportive EU institution.
The target groups were non-governmental organizations, other civil society organisations and individual citizens. There were approximately 21.000 NGOs in Slovenia in 2005 composed mainly from establishments, societies, private institutions and religious organizations. One of the main challenges that NGOs face today is strengthening their capacity for a civil dialogue and participation n policy-making. The Predsedovanje.si portal has provided much needed opportunities for e-participation at the European level and issues, since the Agreement on cooperation of NGOs and the Government of the Republic of Slovenia is still not adopted and the civil dialogue is not yet institutionalized.
The portal was implement and managed by a group of 10 Slovenian NGOs from different fields and backgrounds. The Institute for Electronic Participation (INePA) provided technical implementation, administration, overall portal management/editoring and e-participation expertise/support/evaluation. The Legal Informational Centre for NGOs (PIC) was responsible for NGOâ€™s political priorities and participation coordination during the presidency. The Centre for Information service, Cooperation and Development of NGOs (CNVOS) provided administrative assistance and the EU neighbourhood policy priority coverage.
Other NGOs were responsible for information, documents, policy standpoints provision, events coverage and e-pools/e-debates moderation within their respective policy priorities: Society for Human Rights and Supportive Action - Humanitas (Intercultural Dialogue), Association for the Freedom of Choice (Future EU Priorities) , Association for Promotion of Equality and Plurality - Vita Activa (Gender Equality), Focus Association for Sustainable Development (Climate/Energy), Slovenian NGDO platform for development cooperation and humanitarian aid - SLOGA (Development Cooperation), Slovene Philanthropy - Association for Promotion of Voluntary Work (Intergenerational Cooperation), Institution PIP (Future of the European Union) and National Youth Council of Slovenia - MSS (Youth).
The implementation/management methodology was based on experimental approach since the Predsedovanje.si portal presents the unique and first of this kind civil society e-participation initiative in the EU.
Because of its suitability and limited financial resources available for e-participation technical implementation, the Open Source Content Management System Joomla! was used as a portal platform.
Joomla CMS was enhanced by custom template and additional components and modules (e.g. Fireboard for forum discussions, PollXT for online polls, tabs scripts for better content organization, video integration support, integration of Google calendar, RSS availability and multi-language support for English and Slovene). Predsedovanje.si offers enhanced interoperable experience which actively connects 10 NGOs publishing its content. Every NGO has its own account and user options (adding news, content management, forum discussions moderation).
The interoperability is available from 10 content blocks on the front page representinh individual political priority. Every priority has its own sub page with its introduction, standpoints, news, eParticipation options and relevant documents. All sub pages can be updated and edited from individual NGO user account.
A set of standards was also incorporated within the portal: RSS, XHMTL, basic and advanced SEO, W3C CSS Valid. In addition, Predsedovanje.si content provision was upgraded by a short thematic videos covering EU presidency issues provided by an independent NGO multimedia project Studio 12. Those videos are copyrighted but embedded into portal through video scripts.
Predsedovanje.si statistic: 25.000 internet users visits, 500 news published, 12 moderated on-line debates with170 messages summarized in 8 reports, 8 on-line polls with 163 votes.
The Predsedovanje.si evaluation e-poll results indicate, that the NGOs perceived Predsedovanje.si as a common information-communication space during the Slovenian presidency with positive impact on information accessibility/availability, policy issues awareness, developments and events visibility, media recognizability, reinforced networking and cooperation. The results also stressed the added value of the English translation in overall visibility, involvement and networking with the foreign NGOs.
However, the potentials of the portal were not fully exploited because of limited visibility among NGOs, insufficient involvement into the official live events and a small number of participants from on-line debates and polls resulting in a very limited impacts on government presidency political priorities. In addition, the government bodies provided only 2 official replies to the 8 NGOs on-line forum debate reports.
The Predsedovanje.si NGOs initiative was both politically and financially supported by the Slovene Government, Representation of the EC in Ljubljana and recognized by some well organized and visible NGOs already involved at the EU level. As result a consortium of 10 NGOs under the CNVOS was established in order to actively participate in portal implementation and co-operate with other NGOs presidency initiatives (e.g. the SLOGA development cooperation campaign, the Big Ask environmental campaign). On the other hand, the institutional support also resulted in a negative interpretations which suggested, that the Government secured a foreseeable operation of the NGOs during the presidency based on limited founding and without any explicit legal commitments.
The public promotion of the portal, results dissemination and good practice sharing was implemented by both on-line activities (accessibility from mayor Slovenian web search engines and the official government presidency web site, weekly updates from the portal through the central NGOs e-mailing list and web link exchanges with other NGOs sites, the ePractice.eu and the European eDemocracy award case submission) and off-line activities (presentation at the presidency events/debriefings/ conferences, public newspaper, radio and NGOs newsletters coverage both in Slovenia and the EU).
As this is the first of this kind civil society e-participation initiative implemented during the EU Council Presidency so far, its open source standards allow full technical replication by civil society in member states leading the next presidencies (France, Czech Republic, Sweden). The Predsedovanje.si e-participation tools continued to operate until the end of the French presidency.
The case received both public and expert presentation at several live events before, during and after the Slovenian presidency with government officials, academia, labour unions and associations participation.
Starting in September and November 2007 two public events were organized in Ljubljana by NGOs. Both received substantial degree of attention from the Slovene mass media and interviews for European media followed later. In December the case and its e-participation implication during the period of preparations for presidency were presented at the expert conference â€œSlovenian Presidency of the EU Council â€“ opportunities and challenges for the public sector" in Ljubljana.
More intense public promotion took place in February 2008 during the first period of the presidency. Two more public events/debriefings related to the Predsedovanje.si forum debates on Intercultural dialogue and Lisbon strategy were organized in Ljubljana and the short case presentation took place in Warsaw during "The Citizens on Guard of Public Interest: Watchdog Activities - Favorable Environment and Occurrence" conference in March. Five more live events in Ljubljana related to Predsedovanje.si forum debates (Climate/energy, the Future of the EU, Lisbon Treaty etc.) took place and case presentation/endorsements followed in March, May and June at "The Forum Civil Dialogue in Croatia and Slovenia" (Zagreb), "The use of new media during Slovenia's EU Council Presidency" (the Club of Venice meeting Postojna, Slovenia), at "How to deepen civil dialogue in Europe?" conference (Brussels) and other in Geneva.
During and after the presidency the preliminary expert reflection on e-participation impact of the Predsedovanje.si was prepared by the Institute for Electronic Participation and published at the Association for Innovative Political Science web site and presented at the Presidency assessments meeting in July in Ljubljana. The final Predsedovanje.si e-democracy effect analysis is expected to be published in 2009.
Although detailed political science Predsedovanje.si e-participation impact analysis is going to be published in 2009, the portal information contribution for NGOs policy information/communication access, standpoints dissemination and reinforced networking during the EU Presidency has been already confirmed.
On the other hand, the interactive e-participation expectations behind the initiative were to optimistic as the government bodies provided limited feedbacks to NGOs views on presidency political priorities identified through on-line debates.
Main lessons related to limited on-line deliberation and civic engangement related to the Predsedovanje.si case:
1. Imaginary & small scale/selective involvement strategies by the Government (false participation lesson).
2. NGOs civic participation apathy & limited expertise (active citizenship decadence lesson).
3. Public alienation & technocratic complexity of the EU policy making (EU democratic deficit lesson).
As the main policy challenges of the Slovenian EU presidency agenda have been pre-determined before the start of the presidency, the NGOs had limited opportunities to effectively influence decisions negotiated among the member states by the closed doors of the EU Council. Even when providing some general comments and suggestions on certain presidency priorities, the public administration bodies failed to provide response on majority of the NGOs on-line debate reports, despite official agreement with the GCO on e-dialogue during the Presidency.
Secondly, only a limited number of Slovene NGOs posses political interest and capacities to actively participate and shape the complex EU level policies with explicit argumentation and strong expertise. As result, on-line debates were mostly general in nature as NGOs had lacked experience with an on-line engagement and participatory process management (e.g. technical and moderation skills).
Overall, the Predsedovanje.si e-participation initiative reinforced both NGOs and the Government of Slovenia awareness, public recognition and political formalization of the Internet as a relevant channel of democratic participation and civil dialogue both nationaly and at the EU level.