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Gov2u: Using the power of online communities and social networks to create change. Evika Karamagioli Project Manager, Gov2u. Symposium E-democracy: new opportunities for enhancing civic participation 23-24 April 2007 Palais de l'Europe. ICT for an Enhanced Decision Making Culture.

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Gov2u: Using the power of online

communities and social networks to create change.

Evika Karamagioli

Project Manager, Gov2u

Symposium

E-democracy: new opportunities for enhancing civic participation

23-24 April 2007

Palais de l'Europe


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ICT for an Enhanced Decision Making Culture

  • Contemporary means of political participation, assisted by information and communication technologies, offer citizens and political institutions an opportunity to establish a new administrative and decision-making culture.

  • eDemocracy tools potentially offer citizens a greater share in political discourse. The ability to contribute their own ideas, suggestions, and requests is a largely unrealised potential that – were it supported and accepted– could transform the understanding of democratic participation.


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European Union

  • However, European countries differ substantially in the extent to which they have developed and integrated tools that support citizen involvement in the decision making process.

  • In 2005, the UN Global e-Government Readiness Report (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2005) concluded that although many European countries have an official policy of enabling citizen participation in policy making, only a few (e.g. Denmark, UK) are providing even limited online mechanisms to do so, i.e. by inviting citizens to engage in online participation.


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The Case of Greece

  • Greece is an indicative example of a European countries that, despite substantial European support, continues to lag behind other EU Member States in terms of Internet diffusion and usage. This can be largely attributed to certain characteristics of the country’s social formation such as:

    • Under-achieved industrialization,

    • The state/industry inter-relationship,

    • Clientelistic relations

    • Bureaucratic administration, and last but not least

    • A weak civil society.


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Some statistics…

  • As an indication - in 2005, on average 23% of European citizens were taking advantage of the benefits of broadband services. During the same period, according to the Greek Observatory for the Information Society, the rate of penetration of broadband in Greece amounted to a meagre 1.5% of the population.

  • The lack of interest in ICT in Greece relates to internet use at the office. Greece also comes second lowest of all Europeans in the EU for internet use in the home. A 2004 survey conducted in Greece by the national Statistical Service shows clearly that the main reason people are not using the internet is their belief that the information provided online is not particularly useful or of interest.


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The First Greek Digital Strategy

  • The regulatory framework for the internet, which is characterized by more human-centred internet policies, started to encourage more widespread internet usage for the first time in Greece in 2005.

  • An integrated Digital Strategy for the period 2006-2013 was drawn up for the first time in Greece based on consultations with public institutions and citizens.


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The first initiatives for positive change

  • It is only in the last 3-4 years that a few initiatives have been undertaken by Civil Society Organizations in Greece:

    • to raise awareness,

    • familiarize the public with new technologies,

    • to campaign for improved telecommunication services and infrastructure, or

    • to tackle the lack of interest amongst the Greek public towards the internet.


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Gov2u

  • Gov2u is one such organization that is actively endeavoring to bring about a change of attitude among public institutions and raise awareness on the potentials of ICTs – both in Greece and worldwide.

  • We do so through the promotion of ICT tools that we have developed and are implementing successfully around Europe, and through regular participation in targeted e-democracy and e-government events and publications.

  • Our software tools and activities are considered groundbreaking in this field and have attracted significant international interest and recognition.

  • Using the power of online communities and social networks we have as our objective to create change and enhance policy making by enabling citizen participation.



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Nominations / Awards

As a testament to the quality of Gov2u’s services and the timeliness of the Gov2DemOSS platform, we are proud to announce that within only one year since our founding, Gov2u was included by the World eGov Forum and PoliticsOnline in theTop 20 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics


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Operations

In the one year since the establishment of Gov2u, we have made headways in launching a number of groundbreaking projects, including:

  • Gov2DemOSS:A citizen participation platform which brings forth the latest technology tools to provide a new mechanism of interaction for Citizens with their local authorities;

  • eRepresentative:A virtual desktop for the elected official - drawing on the power of ICT to serve policy makers by supporting and facilitating their legislative duties.


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Gov2DemOSS

Gov2DemOSS is an open source, generic but customizable, informative and collaborative eParticipation platform.

It provides an efficient channel for institutions and

organizations to:

  • Keep their communities informed,

  • Manage their information repositories,

  • Gauge public opinion,

  • Interact directly with their constituents

    and most importantly

  • To involve them in the decision making process


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Gov2DemOSS

 “look & feel”


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Principal features

  • A web content management system to manage published information.

  • User management system for site administrators.

  • Forum/Blog/Survey modules  (site-wide or topic-specific on the forums).

  • Polls (site-wide or topic-specific on the forums).

  • Events calendar (including ability to interconnect events with the forums for citizen deliberation, e.g.: To discuss and/or vote on an issue that will be discussed at upcoming public meetings).

  • Added services for elected officials so that each one will be able to initiate his/her own individual polls, forums and to maintain his/her own blog.


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Technical Characteristics

  • The Gov2DemOSS e-democracy platform was designed and implemented using Joomla open source Content Management System (CMS).

  • The portal operates in open source environments such as the Apache web server and MySQL (which is used as its database repository), and is written in PHP.

  • Template-based so the HTML layout can be totally customized.

  • Simple elements on the presentation can be altered by CSS with the restriction to follow certain naming conventions regarding the CSS classes used.

  • The template system ensures that we can always accomplish any level of accessibility (A, AA, AAA) as defined by EU standards.


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Gov2DemOSS in USA

  • Customized application including:

    • Forums,

    • Polls,

    • Calendar of events

    • All other standard features.


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City of Amposta

  • Customized application including:

    • Forums,

    • Blogs,

    • Calendar of events

    • Polls

    • E-Voting

    • All other standard features.


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e-Consensus

  • Customized application including

    • single access portal to 50 municipalsites, with common user registry and management;

    • The portal serves various entities including city councils, citizens and local associations.

    • e-Voting function, as well as a dedicated citizen community space where citizens can create their own space and select


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Gov2DemOSS in Greece

  • Gov2u has been awarded with a new eParticipation project funded by the Greek Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.

  • The project entitled “Electronic mobilization of NGOs and local authorities for the promotion of gender equality in Karditsa” will explore the potential of ICT in strengthening local initiatives directed at promoting equal opportunity and cooperation between civil society and the local authorities.

  • A customized and dedicated version of our Gov2DemOSS Platform will be created for the project.


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Evaluation

Interviews conducted in Greece with users from 2 municipalities as well as public consultations in the city of Amposta clearly show that:

  • Almost half of the citizens involved did not expect their contributions to influence policy.

  • Participants believed that the Gov2DemOSS platform would be most useful if adopted in the early stages of agendasetting and in the final stages of implementation and monitoring.

  • It was indicated that minority groups and senior citizens might be hesitant to adopt similar tools due to their advanced profile.


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Evaluation

  • The majority of users felt that the website structure provides them with access to all relevant information they need in order to understand and respond to the issues raised.

  • The information provided on the Gov2DemOSS website was judged ‘appropriate and relevant’ making clear what was expected of the citizens.

  • Users preferred contributing to an e-discussion based on providing straight factual information rather than just an opinion, thus allowing equal involvement by all participants.


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e-Representative Project

eRepresentative is a two-year, EU co-funded Strategic Targeted Research project (STREP) under Action Line 2.4.13: Strengthening the Integration of the ICT Research Effort in an Enlarged Europe in the Area of eGovernment initiated in February 2006.

The members of the implementing consortium are:

  • Napier University International Teledemocracy Center,

  • Hewlett Packard Nederland B.V,

  • Scytl Secure Electronic Voting S.A,

  • Gov2u,

  • Dutch Parliament,

  • Lithuanian Parliament,

  • Catalonian Parliament,

  • Hungarian National Assembly and

  • Westmeath City Council (Ireland).


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The “eRepresentative” Desktop

  • The “eRepresentative” desktop will be a virtual desktop for elected representatives which will allow them to operate in the legislative process remotely, safely and easily.

  • For example, users can draft a law, discuss it, introduce an amendment and vote for its approval with appropriate security and without having to be present at every moment in the Assembly building.

  • It is equipped with smart technologies to manage data overloads that representatives face in their work and will operate seamlessly with the Parliaments' current systems.


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e-Representative Look & Feel

  • Personalized, specific, filtered, secure data to support representatives any place, anytime.

  • Supports collaboration between representatives

  • Enables participation in the legislative decision making process in a secure, timely & remote manner.



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eRepresentative: Evaluation

In the first series of interviews with MPs from the assemblies involved in the project, over 70% stated that:

  • “My interaction with eRepresentative was clear and understandable”.

  • eRep improves awareness of status of legislative proposals.

  • The discussion space prepared them better for meetings.

  • eRep is more convenient to use remotely than legacy search interface.

  • They are satisfied with the relevance of retrieved documents.

  • They are satisfied that eRep allows them to share documents conveniently

  • They find poll results helpful in decision-making.

  • They believe secure discussion is likely to help wider discussion of proposals before they are registered.


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Concluding remarks

  • The experience gained from both our projects demonstrates clearly that ICT is an enabler, not a solution. The provision of tools alone will bring neither efficiency nor participation if not properly integrated into policy making and decision making procedures.

  • Awareness raising, education and integration of internet usage in the public’s everyday life are equally indispensable for a comprehensive and successful public strategy and as such, should not be neglected.

  • The public will be loathe to participate in significant numbers if their input is not taken into consideration. Therefore political will to engage with citizens online is an extremely significant factor.


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Concluding Remarks

  • Although the regulatory framework for the internet is starting to be characterized by more human-centred internet policies, the fact remains that Greece has a long way to go in order to fight the existing techno-phobic attitude of its society towards this medium.

  • Reducing connection costs or offering free access, improving infrastructure, broadband/wireless services and faster connections are examples of measures that could be taken to encourage greater use of the internet in Greece.

  • The direct involvement and support of civil society in educating and promoting a change in attitudes is an indispensable component.


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Thank you

THANK YOU FOR

YOUR ATTENTION

For more information please contact us at:[email protected]


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