Innovations in Participation, 2013: Participedia’s Year in Review

This column profiles six new entries from 2013 in Participedia, an open global knowledge community for researchers and practitioners in the field of democratic innovation and public engagement. Visit Participedia to join the conversation and explore nearly 400 experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance.


By Michael MacKenzie, Tim Glynn-Burke and Archon Fung

It has been another great year for Participedia. We hope to become a key resource for scholars, activists, policy makers and citizens who are interested in new democratic practices and institutions. Our team has made big strides towards reaching that goal. This year, 445 new members joined the website and 152 new cases were added to our collection.

As a fitting finish to 2013, we profile six cases that were recently added to Participedia. Reflecting Participedia’s diversity and the global span of participatory innovation itself, each of these cases comes from a different country or region of the world, and each employs a different approach to public engagement.

India – Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails)
This democratic innovation combines new and old communications technologies. In 2012, actor Amir Khan produced a TV show profiling pressing political issues in India. The show was called Satyamev Jayate or “Truth Alone Prevails.” Each episode dealt with a separate political issue, including female feticide, child abuse, and corruption in the healthcare system. In addition to personal profiles of those affected by the issues and critiques of relevant public policies, political leaders were invited to take part in live discussions of the issues.

Millions of people watched each episode of the show. Viewers were encouraged to phone into the show to ask political leaders questions directly. Individuals were also encouraged to sign online petitions on the show’s website. The popularity of the show, combined with the online petitions, put pressure on elected officials to address issues that they had for various reasons been reluctant to address.

Although this democratic innovation did not provide citizens with any measure of formal influence, the success of the show proves that even informal participatory mechanisms can help initiate public debates and put pressure on elected officials. It remains to be seen whether the show’s influence will have any lasting impacts on law or policy outcomes, but the show was successful at placing certain issues on the political agenda. As suggested in the Participedia article, it would be possible to produce follow-up shows of each episode to assess whether elected officials acted on the promises they made during previous episodes.

Read more about India’s Satyamev Jayate.

Estonia — Rahvakogu (People’s Assembly)
This democratic innovation engaged Estonians in a nation-wide discussion about ways to improve their political system. The process combined two different democratic strategies: online engagement and a Deliberation Day event. During the online phase of the process, individuals were encouraged to make suggestions about how to improve the political system in Estonia. Topics included electoral reform, public participation, and the financing of political parties. In the first three weeks, the website gained 60,000 views and 1,800 users posted nearly 6,000 ideas and comments. The suggestions made in the online phase of the project were compiled by a team of analysts and organized into themes.

During the second phase of the process, 500 individuals were randomly selected to participate in a Deliberation Day event, of which 314 attended the event itself. At the Deliberation Day event, participants discussed the pros and cons of each theme that was identified during the online phase of the process, and they identified priorities for political reform.

The Rahvakogu or “People’s Assembly” was an innovative way to combine a large-scale participation process with a small-scale deliberative event. In other cases, such as the British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, large-scale participation took place after small-scale deliberations. In the British Columbia case, citizens voted in a referendum initiated by the Citizens’ Assembly. In the Rahvakogu case, large-scale public deliberations helped shape the agenda of a small-scale deliberative event.

It is too early to tell whether the Rahvakogu will have a lasting impact on the political system in Estonia. It is now the responsibility of elected officials to make legislative changes in response to the priorities identified by those who participated in the Rahvakogu. Nevertheless, the Rahvakogu is an example a democratic innovation that successfully combines large-scale participation with small-scale deliberation.

Read more about Estonia’s Rahvakogu.

United States — California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission
Before 2010, electoral maps in the state of California were drawn by members of the State Legislature (i.e. the Assembly and the Senate). This made redistricting a highly partisan process. As a result, California had some of the least competitive elections in the United States. The California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission (CCRC) was created to help rectify this problem.

The CCRC is an independent body comprised of ordinary citizens. It is mandated to have a total of 14 members: 5 who are registered with the largest political party in the state; 5 who are registered with the second largest party in the state; and 4 independents. Unlike many other participatory processes, members of the CCRC were selected through an intensive application process. 30,000 people applied for positions on the commission. Of these initial applicants, 5,000 completed the second stage of the application process. After reviewing these applications, the California Bureau of State Audits (BSA) selected 60 names for a shortlist. From this shortlist, the BSA randomly drew the names of 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats, and 2 Independents. This group of 8 Commissioners selected the remaining 6 Commissioners. This selection process produced a group of men and women from many different backgrounds. Among others, the group included a farmworker, a law professor, an insurance agent, a non-profit executive, an architect, a doctor, a city councilman, a bookshop owner, and two urban planners.

Watch the California Citizens Redistricting Commission public service announcement.

When redrawing the electoral map, the CCRC followed a number of criteria established by the State Legislature, including population equality, geographic integrity, geographic compactness, and geographic contiguity. The CCRC did not consult with incumbents, political candidates, or political parties, but they did conduct 34 public hearings across the state. Approximately 2,700 individuals offered input at these hearings. The CCRC’s electoral map was formally adopted and used for the first time in the 2012 General Election. Independent observers have concluded that California now has some of the most competitive electoral districts in the United States.

Read more about California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission.

Finland — Crowdsourcing
Finland is leading the way in policy crowdsourcing. In 2013, the Finnish Ministry for Environment and the Committee for the Future of the Parliament in Finland initiated legislative crowdsourcing to establish a new off-road traffic law. The Finnish government set up an online platform and invited everyone to contribute.

In a first phase about problem mapping, participants were invited to comment and make suggestions on ten broad topics. About 700 participants submitted 340 ideas with 2,600 comments and 19,000 votes in response to those ideas. The input was analyzed and served as the basis for a second phase, in which citizens were invited to come up with solutions for the identified topics and problems. A total of 500 views and ideas were generated in the second phase, with 4000 comments and 25,000 votes from 731 users. The website was visited by more than 14,000 citizens.

As the project is still ongoing, the outcome and effects of the experiment are not yet conclusively measurable. A few noteworthy components of the platform were that organizers made background information available, and every comment or contribution was visible for the other participants. Further, moderation on the discussion platform encouraged participants to deliberate and think in detail and increase the information exchange. Evaluation of the initiative includes a crowd evaluation and an expert panel evaluation.

Findings indicate that the crowdsourcing experiment was successful in increasing citizen participation and input in lawmaking. Participants valued the experiment primarily because it made the process more fair and inclusive, although some were skeptical that their suggestions would finally be included in the actual law. Citizens also broadened their knowledge on the issue. It remains to be seen whether the participants’ skepticism on whether their suggestions will be included in the final law will come true.

Read more about Finland’s legislative crowdsoucing.

Ireland — Constitutional Convention
Changes in Irish society during recent years have led many to believe that the Constitution—last reviewed in 1996—should be revised and adapted to the 21st century. In response, the Irish Parliament (Oireachtas) initiated a Constitutional Convention with 100 delegates and an eight-point agenda of issues to discuss and propose amendments.

Delegates included a random sample of 66 citizens representative of the Irish population. Another 33 delegates were drawn from Ireland’s political parties, and the last was an independent chairman of the convention. Agenda items were to include reducing the president’s term to five years; reduce the voting age to 17; same-sex marriage; and amending the clause on the role of women in the home and encourage greater participation of women in public life.

irelandThe Convention meets on Saturdays within a 12 month period. Members are briefed prior to the formal deliberations, and a panel of academics and constitutional lawyers provide guidance. The Convention reaches a wider population via a website that allows users to submit proposals for discussion, video-streams the plenary sessions, and publishes related documents and deliberations. Matters are decided by majority vote of members present, and Parliament has to respond within four months. If it agrees with a recommendation, it must legislate a referendum to amend the Constitution.

The main criticism leveled against the Convention is its unbinding nature; Parliament is obligated to respond but not obligated to accept the Convention’s recommendations. The Convention issued its first report on reducing the voting age (supported) and reducing the president’s term in office (opposed). Almost three weeks later, an outstanding majority of the Convention (79%) recommended the Constitution be amended to recognize civil unions between same-sex couples. The government has since approved referendums on both reducing the voting age and on civil marriage for same sex couples.

Read more about Ireland’s Constitutional Convention.

Argentina — La Plata Multi-Channel Participatory Budgeting
La Plata’s Participatory Budgeting uses an innovative combination of offline and mobile channels to promote the engagement of citizens in the direct allocation of the investment budget of the city. The overarching objective of the project is to produce the desirable outcomes that are associated with successful participatory budgeting processes, such as increased transparency and better and innovative delivery of public services, while simultaneously promoting the participation of citizens in making public decisions.

La Plata’s process is composed of 3 phases: face-to-face deliberative meetings held across the city; voting between the options previously selected by the deliberative meetings, cast through paper ballots and text messages; and execution of the projects while monitored by the citizens.

Over 200 deliberative face-to-face meetings were held across different areas of the city. Citizens are able to remotely participate in the process (e.g. mobile voting) by selecting options for public investment that have been previously generated during the deliberative phase. The number of participants in the voting process (i.e. mobile, paper ballots) is on average 10 times higher than in that of face-to-face participation.

argentineTraditional participatory budgeting have often suffered from low turnout levels, where only a very small percentage of the city population gets involved in the initiative. La Plata’s unique participatory design, combining face-to-face deliberation with remote voting (e.g. mobile voting), has produced outstanding results, with almost 10% of the city population participating in 2010.

Another strong point of the project is that there is no ambiguity with regard to the impact the citizens have. The city administration complies with the budgetary priorities that are selected by the citizens, quickly executing the chosen projects. The initiative has positively impacted the neediest sectors of society; for instance health care services provided by the municipality have doubled.

Read more about La Plata’s Multi-Channel Participatory Budgeting.

Participedia now has a total of 397 cases. Many of the cases in the collection are very detailed. Others still need additional information to be added. Anyone can create an account and then add new cases or help to improve existing ones.

Resolve to contribute to Participedia in 2014!




Filed under Frontiers of Research, Participation, Representation, Technology