Citizen initiatives towards more Parliament openness and accountability

The platform, 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.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

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 ( 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 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 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 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 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 platform as inspiration in user-friendliness. The long-term plan is to integrate platform into the digital window run by the government.

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Year: 2016
Organisation Type: Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)

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