Zavod Inštitut za elektronsko participacijo - INePA

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Rewiring democracy – connecting citizens and institutions in the digital age

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World Forum for Democracy 2013Digital communication tools have not so far produced a dramatic increase in public participation or trust in representative democracy, neither have they hailed the end of these institutions. However, thanks to communication technologies and the Internet, society is becoming more inclined to direct-action democracy.

This is the key message from the World Forum for Democracy "Rewiring democracy – connecting citizens and institutions in the digital age", organised jointly by the Council of Europe, the French government, the Alsace Region and the city of Strasbourg on 23-29 November 2013.

The purpose of the second edition of the World Forum for Democracy followed Council of Europe activities in the field of e-democracy in discussing trends and opportunities for democratic innovation offered by the internet. Several hot topics questions were raised during the forum: Are participatory websites created by governments and parliaments an answer to crisis of politics, which manifests itself through citizens' disaffection from political parties and representative institutions? Or there is a need for reshaping institutions, political parties and modes of political participation in order to lay the foundations of a democracy 2.0? Is there a risk that the use of digital communication technologies erode(s) civil and political rights, fragment(s) the democratic debate, and undermine(s) the capacity of representative institutions to shape a common position?

The forum issues paper entitled Exploiting the web as a tool of democracy: new ways forward in the study and practice of digital democracy suggests that while the web has proven itself a powerful tool of democratic empowerment in certain cases, we should not adopt a technologically deterministic stance which presumes that the Internet necessarily supports democratic ideals. The web may exhibit particular affordances, but as a tool of democracy, the web is, in the end, largely what we make of it. Governments and legislatures will need to reform, and potentially abandon, current practices of representative democracy in order to reverse the troubling trends. At the same time, civil society groups need to think more creatively and strategically about their use of digital media for recruitment, fundraising, advocacy and when scrutinizing the actions of governments.

Discussions among 1000 participants from more than 100 countries were organized in Forum Labs format analysing a real-life achievements, issues and concerns around specific e-democracy phenomena: liquid democracy, online petitions and campaigning, crowdsourcing in policy and lawmaking, virtual agora, cyber deliberation, digital human rights, on-line transparency and open parliament, digital local democracy, wikicity, election alert, participatory budgeting, solution journalism, community media, multimedia activism, direct democracy and skills for democracy.

As a part of Forum Labs, thirty three digital participation platforms and initiatives were presented around four themes: (1) Alternatives to representative democracy?, (2) Towards Democracy 2.0?, (3) Governing with Citizens and (4) Envisioning the future.

The Forum pointed to the following tasks for international and national actors:

- Encourage/promote change in political parties to enable greater openness, transparency, accountability and responsiveness to grassroots input, including by exploiting e-initiatives;
- Ensure that e-participation schemes are transparent, auditable, and accountable to participants and the wider community and in conformity with the highest standards on protection of privacy;
- Step up media literacy to enable citizens to make full use of the opportunities of digital technology for self-empowerment and participation in political processes.

These tasks are based on World Forum for Democracy 2013 conclusion that new developments discussed do not, for the moment, constitute an alternative to representative democracy, because politics online is still mostly politics as usual.

Simon Delakorda

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Prispevamo k razvoju demokracije in sodelovanju javnosti z družbeno inovativno uporabo interneta. Zavod INePA (Inštitut za elektronsko participacijo) je prva profesionalna nevladna organizacija na področju razvoja demokracije in sodelovanja javnosti s pomočjo novih spletnih tehnologij. Inštitut deluje kot strokovni vir znanja, informacij in izkušenj ter kot priznana referenca za uspešno izvajanje kompleksnih partnerskih projektov na področju e-participacije in e-demokracije.

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