Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New opportunities for social cooperation

New dimensions and perspectives are opening in society. Possibilities for completely new forms of coexistence and co-creation. The ignorance of the ruling elite has gone beyond the limits of good taste, and viability. The people we have elected and entrusted with a portion of our energy to manage for the benefit of everyone, have forgotten that their remit and mission is to work for the common good. The time and space we live in deserves transparency and responsible action. It deserves, and is hungry for, open dialogue where each opinion is entitled to be respected, to be heard. Civil initiatives and non-governmental organisations play an important role in this process thus, to promote a more active public discussion, the latest issue of Aktualno 2.0 presents an example of such initiatives and the man who has been systematically and persistently developing its framework. This is his story.

Source: Simon Delakorda

VB: Who is Simon?
“Simon Delakorda, a Master of Political Sciences and the founder and Director of the Institute for Electronic Participation”, as he describes himself is slightly reserved, with inquisitive eyes. If you Google him, you’ll find “the first attempt at digital democracy in Slovenia” affixed to his name. A pioneer in his field.

Simon Delakorda, a Master of Political Sciences, is the founder and Director of the Institute for Electronic Participation (INePA), a member of the International eParticipation Conference programme committee, the Slovenian Political Science Organization and the Slovenian Association of NGO Managers, and an affiliated expert of the European eParticipation network Demonet. He is the author and co-author of scientific and expert papers on political participation and democracy on the web, and head of applicative projects at the Institute. Since 2000, he has participated in most e-democracy projects in Slovenia as a researcher, assistant lecturer and project leader within the University of Ljubljana, the non-governmental and the entrepreneurial sector. He was the moderator of the Citizens' Forum – the first successful example of e-democracy in Slovenia. He has received several awards and prizes for his work in e-democracy and e-participation.

VB: Your name is most frequently connected to the acronym INePA. What is INePA?
SD: It is the Institute for Electronic Participation. This is a private institute working as a non-profit, non-governmental organisation. It is the first organisation professionally working in the field of e-participation in Slovenia and the European Union. E-participation is an innovative implementation of web technologies for supporting participation and inclusion of the public, and the society in decision-making and the legislative processes.

VB: It sounds similar to electronic democracy?
SD: Yes, electronic participation is often associated with the notion of electronic democracy.


VB: Do you cooperate with other similar organisations abroad?
SD: Yes, the Institute's development and professional activities are tied to the political community of the European Union. Thus, the Institute cooperates with other organisations participating in the Pan European eParticipation Network (PEP-NET) and the Central and Eastern European Citizens Network (CEECN). The institute also maintains professional contacts with players in the USA.

VB: Is the EU a leader or more of a follower in the field?
SD: According to the United Nations’ e-participation index, the EU is the most innovative political community in the field of implementation of new technologies for the purpose of democracy. However, the effects of these technologies have yet to attain our highest ambitions since projects of e-participation are currently still limited to technological innovation and have yet to expand to social innovation.

VB: What are the effects of your initiatives and their results?
SD: In addition to professional work, education and advocacy, the Institute’s projects are connected to the use of web technologies in supporting participation of Slovenian residents, civil society and the interested public in the political processes and topics at the level of the European Union.

VB: How do I get involved?
SD: There are two such projects, namely the web portal for non-governmental organisations’ involvement in the Slovenia EU Council Presidency at www.predsedovanje.si which has already been archived and the web Citizens’ Forum at www.evropske-razprave.si where moderated discussions and consultations with Slovenian representatives in the European Parliament are taking place. In the web forum’s specific discussions, an average of 50 to 100 individuals and organisations participate with contributions regarding the Parliament’s work, climate change, social issues, etc. Their contributions are summarised in reports that are reviewed by members of the Parliament who then publicly state their positions on the issue and define how they will implement them in their work in the European Parliament. This is the role of the web Citizens’ Forum

Source: Simon Delakorda

VB: This approach is new, isn’t it? Is it also effective?
SD: The web Citizens’ Forum is the first such initiative in the field of e-democracy in Slovenia and both, the public and our representatives in the European Parliament are gaining valuable experience through such innovative forms of democratic dialogue. The results are very encouraging. As an example of effectiveness, I would like to point out the Tobacco Euro web petition at www.sodeluj.net, which enabled the Slovenian Coalition for Tobacco Control to collect 2000 signatures in support of the amendments to the Restriction of the Use of Tobacco Products Act, that would establish a funding system for non-governmental organisations working in the field of health. The signatures were forwarded to the Ministry of Health and we are currently waiting for their response.

VB: What is, in your opinion, the general significance of civil initiatives in Slovenia?
SD: In political communities, civil initiatives play the role of a corrective agent. Since they are based on direct and participatory democracy they are an important addition to the representative democracy. Due to the crisis of political democracy, or rather the crisis of Slovenian political parties, which is consequently a crisis of the social responsibility of political elites (reflected in lowered trust and standing of political parties in the eye of the public), the corrective action of civil initiatives is absolutely necessary. In Slovenia, the corrective action is not as effective as in developed democracies due to an inadequately developed civil society that is currently struggling with professional, personnel and financial deficits. This is the reason civil initiatives are often specialised and directed for the needs of daily politics or prey to attempts to be channelled through political parties’ methods of control. With the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union is introducing a new democratic mechanism, namely the citizens' initiative which enhances the significance of civil initiatives and simultaneously provides new opportunities for innovation in the field of electronic petitions.

Source: Simon Delakorda

VB: According to EU statistics, Slovenia is at the bottom level of development of civil society. How does this affect your work?
SD: These affects are uite strongly felt when a space opens for public debate and consultation about European or national policies, strategies, legal acts or other provisions of public importance that affect the quality of life in Slovenia. A relatively small portion of civil society participates in democratic processes. Due to the technocratic structure of decision-making institutions and the complexity of social and political relationships, competent participation requires a high level of professional knowledge and argumentation skills. Due to the deficits mentioned earlier, non-governmental organisations as players are progressively losing the ability to effectively represent public interest in the relationship with the state, capital or even expert fields. This results in the limited scope of published argument, of views, in web debates and consultations. However, this last issue has lately become one of the innovative areas of e-participation which is dedicated to the development of tools for web visualisation of complex multilevel decisions in support of the democratic decision-making processes.
Recent projects:

European Debates, a citizens’ web forum, ongoing since March 2009 with 20.000 visitors, over 540 published articles and 12 responses by Slovenian representatives in the European Parliament to reports on discussions on various topics.
http://www.evropske-razprave.si/

2. Web petition for the Tobacco Euro, September 1st 2009 – January 14th 2010 with more than 2000 signatures by individuals and organisations.
http://www.sodeluj.net/peticija_tobacni_evro/

3. OKNO – open source software package for NGOs, 2009 – ongoing; the OKNO software package comprises a collection of fully functional open source software with user friendly office, graphics, internet and multimedia tools for the Windows environment in Slovenian language. The OKNO software package for NGOs is available with free basic information on using open source software. The OKNO project is a joint initiative of Slovenian NGOs.
http://www.coks.si/index.php5/OKNO

4. The information and communication web portal for civil society participation in the Slovenian EU Council Presidency, 2008 – archived; 170 publications in the web forum, 163 votes in web polls and 16.000 visitors.
http://www.predsedovanje.si/

5. Video e-participation of NGOs in civil society dialogue, 2007 – ongoing. More than 100 published comments and 22.000 visitors.
http://www.sodeluj.net/

VB: What is your vision of development?
SD: That global, social and environmental issues can be resolved through an active attitude of each individual towards the general quality of life. An active attitude means one has to be aware of the issue, able to identify its source and willing to make changes. From this aspect, the mission of political democracy is to encourage systemic use, co-creation and innovation of democratic decision-making mechanisms with the aim of implementing the desired changes.

VB: And the role of e-participation in this process?
SD: Its role is to establish publicly, accessible user-friendly web tools for providing information, exchange and presentation of opinions, articulation of arguments, development of solutions and participation in decision-making. This is a vision of a transparent and inclusive democratic political system in response to the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century.


We ask ourselves: Where do I start? Can I influence public matters? How much is my voice worth? I hope we have at least partly answered these questions in this latest issue of Aktualno 2.0. To me the message is clear: each voice counts, each comment counts, and each opinion counts. And there are tools that can carry our voice high up, to the highest level – manifestation. Will you get involved?