Citizen initiatives towards more Parliament openness and accountability
The platform, Rahvaalgatus.ee is digital infrastructure that enforces the new civic right to address the Parliament of Estonia with collective proposals by citizens. The open-source platform enables to first discuss upon a relevant topic, then co-create the proposal, gather digital signatures to it, send the proposal to the parliament, and get updates on the process in the parliament.
In 2014, after a People’s Assembly on elections and citizen engagement in political life, a new civic right emerged in Estonia. Stated by the law, anyone can initiate a problem or propose a draft law on societal matters. If the proposal collects 1000 signatures, the Parliament of Estonia is obliged to discuss the proposal with the authors and give an official answer within 6 months. Two years later, the digital platform for citizen initiatives was set up within the Estonian Open Government Partnership action plan.
Therefore the process of collective addressing as well as the digital infrastructure are both creating the culture of citizen-led policy-making by means of co-creation. Instead of the old-fashioned decide-announce-defend, it nurtures the culture of discuss-deliberate-decide. What makes it a novel innovation in Estonia is the combination of a new process (the civic right) that is backed up with law and the digital infrastructure (rahvaalgatus.ee platform). Collecting and verifying digital signatures of collective initiatives runs smoothly on the standard digital identity of all Estonian citizens and residents.
Out of the 25 collective proposals sent to the Parliament through the platform rahvaalgatus.ee over the last 3 years, 4 initiatives have been turned into laws and for other initiatives, solutions are elaborated by responsible ministries.
In the context of the so far service-centered e-state model of Estonia, the collective initiatives right and the platform rahvaalgatus.ee enable a better dialogue between citizens and the state. Considering e-voting as a public service, there did not exist a legal way how to influence policy-making between elections. At the same time the relatively new civic right together with the digital infrastructure came to impact the openness of the Parliament of Estonia, the discussion culture in Estonian society, as well as advocacy capacity (campaigning for one’s proposal).
To spread the culture of co-creational policy-making!
Thanks to integrating the collective addressing right with different discussion hubs, like the annual democracy festival and two people’s assemblies, the user base of rahvaalgatus.ee is constantly growing. Then again, the platform itself is not important, since its just the infrastructure for a specific civic right. The proof for the more citizen-led policymaking is the growing diversity of topics - first there were only environmental topics, now there are issues of ageing and health, distribution of taxes, public space - as well as the improving quality of parliamentary discussions around the proposed problems or ideas.
The law of collective addressing proposes 6 ways how to handle a proposal with at least 1000 signatures. A new law or amending an existing law is not necessarily the most desired result by the proposer. For example, the collective address to exit oil shale mining was discussed in the plenary session and was well covered by media. It created a long-lasting public debate, helping to raise awareness and pressure the politicians.
Firstly the citizens and advocacy groups / civic organisations proposing topics, solutions or draft amendments.
With people addressing the parliament also the openness of the parliament is improving. On the rahvaalgatus.ee platform, anyone can track what happens with suggestions or problems, although it still happens that parliamentary minutes are published months later. The parliament is now committed (as stated in the Open Government Action Plan of Estonia 2018-2020) to raise the transparency by releasing minutes of plenary sessions and committee meeting as open data.
That will likely increase the public trust towards the Parliament of Estonia.
The tactics to first focus on achieving the critical mass of users has proved to be a great success. After reaching the critical mass the aim was to integrate the platform into strong advocacy processes - the Opinion Festival, two People’s Assemblies - with the aim to “produce” more deliberated proposals to the parliament. That has created exemplary policy-making processes, such as for the pension system reform as well as in the long-term discussion of the economic and social sustainability of Estonia.
Currently the platform focuses on the impact of collective initiatives by identifying indicators and visualize the achievement or result(s) of every proposal. That will also help to increase the openness of the parliamentary work, since irregularities can be tracked with high attention.
Believe it or not, there has not been a user-friendly law- and policy-making participation platform in Estonia before. The Government of Estonia is preparing a one-stop e-window for policy and law-making, using the experience of rahvaalgatus.ee platform as inspiration in user-friendliness. The long-term plan is to integrate rahvaalgatus.ee platform into the digital window run by the government.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Process of collective initiatives as well as the digital infrastructure are both creating the culture of citizen-led and co-creational policy-making. Instead of the old-fashioned decide-announce-defend, it nurtures the culture of discuss-deliberate-decide. What makes it a novel innovation in Estonia is the combination of a new process (the civic right) that is backed up with law and the digital infrastructure (the platform rahvaalgatus.ee). Collecting and verifying digital signatures of collective addresses runs smoothly on the standard digital identity for all Estonian citizens and residents.
The platform also acts as an aggregator of all information available on the content and usage statistics. This is how we nudge the culture of citizen-led co-creation in policy making.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The collective right to address the Parliament of Estonia with proposals emerged from the People’s Assembly process back in 2013. Two years later setting, the functionalities of the platform were designed in close cooperation with the organisations and experts who were involved in the People’s Assembly: think tanks, researchers, journalists, civic organisations, the Chancellery of the Parliament, the Government Office. Back-end engine of the platform is another civic Estonian-made digital tool citizenos.com.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Rahvaalgatus.ee platform follows user-led design approach, is an agile development and has open code. Critical mass was achieved with targeted campaigns to different unions and advocacy groups.
After reaching out to the constantly growing user base, the focus was more on strong processes and organisations working on open governance and democracy. The aim was to integrate the collective right with initiatives and advocacy groups that were leading the change. This approach generates deliberated collective proposals.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Rahvaalgatus.ee has collected more than 46.000 e-votes (digital signatures) for more than 26 proposals that have been sent to the parliament. For comparison: around 34.000 Estonians are e-voting in elections. The platform is following the innovation diffusion theory.
How do we measure the impact of collective proposals? Currently the law gives 6 possibilities for the parliament. There is unique possibility to publicly follow the processing of every proposal.
Currently an impact measurement tools for collective proposals is being designed by an expert from the social enterprise movement in Estonia. The impact tool will consist of assessing the engagement process, the final results of a proposal, the quality and inclusiveness of the public debate around the issue. Once the indicators are set, every proposal that is processed by the parliament will be visualised based on the impact tool.
Challenges and Failures
It has been challenging to test and develop the process and the infrastructure in parallel.
Another challenge and an opportunity has been to apply design thinking. In Estonia there were no user-friendly public participation platforms before rahvaalgatus.ee. Already two platforms have “died out” since there is no user support, feedback-based development, nor public awareness raising. From that perspective, the rahvaalgatus.ee platform is regarded, also by the public sector, as the first user-friendly and sustainable public engagement platform.
Some surprises have occurred such as the low capability of campaigning for proposals by advocacy organisations; the low digital signing skills among youth; the lack of sense of responsibility in the Estonian government for sustaining the right for collective initiatives and the enabling infrastructure.
Conditions for Success
- Supporting legislation and standard digital identity
- Access to networks, organisations and advocacy groups
- Understanding of the principles of agile IT and organisational development
- Strategic approach: how to use scarce resources as effectively as possible
- Leadership and guidance, support from funders and advisory groups
- User-friendly design
- Civic tech principles: low basic costs, diverse funding scheme (the organisation is accepting micro donations since 2017)
The People’s Assembly on the Future of Ageing, that combined the collective addressing right with deliberations, has been replicated by the ongoing sustainability initiative #HowDoWeLast?
In addition there are negotiations to launch new People’s Assemblies that would combine the collective addressing right and the enabling platform rahvaalgatus.ee.
Stakeholders should be involved as early as possible. Then they are informed and all the know-how is engaged since the first phase . Engagement is a precondition for innovating.
Article about rahvaalgatus.ee development: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/stories/rahvaalgatusee-yet-another-e-platform-civic-engagement-no-process-of-democratic-renewal
Entry in the OGP CitizENGAGE database: