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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Online citizen participation in parliamentary work

Thematic area: Information technologies
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: completed
Duration: 2015 till 2015

Background and central aspects of the topic

The topic of »Online citizen participation in parliamentary work« has been focused on due to the work of the »Study Commission on the Internet and Digital Society« of the 17th German Bundestag briefly: »Internet Enquête«). A so far novel approach for parliamentary work focused on the participation of citizens in the fact-finding work and on a wide range of innovative measures. Thus, there were daily updated reports on the work progress of the Study Commission on its website, sessions were broadcast on the Internet live or with a time delay and citizens could personally attend project meetings. Moreover, a blog was set up in which the members of the commission could present their views on the commission's work and discuss with citizens. First, a forum was set up, then the platform www.enquetebeteiligung.de by means of which interested private individuals and even organizations could submit suggestions or positions with regard to the work of the Study Commission. The »Internet Enquête« completed its work in spring 2013. In its report on the results, it documented in detail the procedures, instruments, challenges and experiences of the commissioners with regard to online citizen participation. The final report focused on these experiences and referred to the work of the Study Commission as a testing ground for searching new forms of political discourse.

Preliminary work by TAB

On the one hand, there were two TAB studies dealing with citizen participation in parliamentary work by means of e-petitions (TAB working report no. 146 »Electronic Petitioning and Modernisation of Petitioning Systems in Europe«; TAB working report no. 127 »Public electronic petitions and civil participation«). On the other hand, by spring 2014, TAB developed the preliminary study »Online citizen participation in parliamentary work« by means of which the new forms of work of the »Internet Enquête« have been evaluated as a first approximation. The development of the preliminary study met the wishes of all parliamentary groups of the »Internet Enquête« which had decided in its session of 28th January 2013: «…to archive the information stored at the online participation tool 'enquetebeteiligung.de' in order to ensure accessibility to this information ... in the long term and that this information can also be used to its full extent for a scientific evaluation of citizen participation by TAB« (Bundestag committee bulletin no.17[24]069). To meet these wishes, in summer 2013, the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment (ABFTA) of the German Bundestag decided to commission TAB to develop a TA preliminary study in order to carry out first scientific analyses following the work of the »Internet Enquête«, to identify further need for investigation and to point out first options for action with regard to the parliamentary work of the German Bundestag. After having noted the preliminary study, the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment (ABFTA) has decided on 2nd July 2014 to commission the TAB to (continue to) deal with the subject within the framework of a larger TA project.

Objectives and approach

The usability and user-friendliness of participatory tools are essential prerequisites for successful online citizen participation in parliamentary work. Internet-based participatory tools have developed in recent years. They complement the possibilities of previous instruments, which focused on information and communication, by adding further functions such as dialog orientation, voting or collaboration e. g. with regard to the creation of texts. For the participatory tool of the »Internet Enquête«, an existing system has been adapted to the requirements of the Study Commission and of the German Bundestag. E-petitions are another example from the work of the German Bundestag. Other parliaments, committees and political parties as well have developed participatory tools and are testing them for online citizen participation. This key issue of the study shall focus on analyzing current developments at the national and European level and on identifying good examples from the point of view of the providers of participatory platforms as well as from the point of view of the users or the citizens in general.

The results of the preliminary study shall be deepened and validated i.a. by means of guideline-based expert discussions. For this, the members of the »Internet-Enquête« as well as other parties involved in the process, e. g. from the German Bundestag Administration, shall be interviewed. The focus is on the novel approaches and on deviations from usual procedures (i. a. public sessions as a rule, daily updated information on the Internet), but also on impacts on the work of political representatives and working processes of the parliament.

Moreover, it is envisaged to have conversations with Members of the German Bundestag of the 18th electoral term in order to find out whether the »Internet Enquête« has already given fresh impetus for today's work of committees and parliamentary groups. Within the framework of this in-depth analysis, the role of electronic petitions referring to citizen participation shall be discussed as well. In addition, issues of general relevance – particularly concerning the protection of privacy – shall be discussed with external experts, e. g. from the German Federal Office for Information Security.

Moreover, it seems to be promising to analyze in depth the thematic suggestions submitted both by citizens and organizations on the participatory platform »www.enquetebeteiligung.de« as well as the course of the discussion with regard to its content. These analyses might be carried out in an exemplary way i. a. by means of the thematically restricted project groups »Intellectual Property« and »Net Neutrality« or by means of another project group covering several lines of discussion, e. g. »Democracy and the State«.

Moreover, the subject of »Online citizen participation« is intended to be the focus of an inquiry within the framework of the Stakeholder Panel TA (»technology assessment«) carried out by IZT (Institute for Futures Studies and Technology Assessment) in autumn 2015. Here, among others, the following aspects shall be taken into consideration: objectives of online citizen participation, requirements for and subjects of online citizen participation, evaluation of online citizen participation from the point of view of stakeholders from society, politics and science.

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