PEP-NET Summit 2012: Out in the Open (14 May, Hamburg)

In Hamburg, lots of bicycles, sunny but cold.

Rolf Lührs (DEMOS eParticipation) begins the summit, explaining how the EU-funded project PEP-NET is out of “formal” control, but has led to many things that are now happening in Europe as well as today’s Summit. Some general “Open” principles that have been identified, and now need to be tested:

  • Open, such as data, participation;
  • Collaboration, crowdsourcing;
  • Trust by increasing transparency;
  • Participants are partners, not customers;
  • Empowered actors: people need to feel that they can participate
  • Responsiveness to social change: new kinds of leadership are emerging and change needs to be seen as normal;
  • Representative democracy, politicians need to adapt.

Carsten Brosda ( Head of the Office for Media, Hamburg State Chancellery)

Hamburg is one of the big media cities, both in terms of traditional and new media. But you can’t just claim to be a digital city, you  have to live  it – the cultural specifics need to be included in the strategies to achieve open government.

Hamburg started 15 years ago to achieve more openness, setting up networks and looking and relying on trends such as social media, a focus on users, the use of cross-media and new modes of story-telling. But it will be necessary to consider  the social, economic and political implications,  for example how are such tools actually used? The City of Hamburg is aware that knowledge and experiences of citizens needs to be included, and has had good e-participation experiences, especially in the area of urban planning (such as the re-development of the Domplatz or building a “living bridge” across the river Elbe). In 2011, a guide to use of social media in public administration was published.

Progress is necessary – modern societies  are based on citizens participating.In Hamburg, in Germany, in the world there is a loud call for transparency, which means that there is a need for new ways to present information and learn what to do with the input from the citizens.  Does every democracy need e-participation? Must all participants participate at all time? On a practical level, not everybody has time and energy. This makes  certain aspects necessary, such as transparency, low levels of entry to participation, the use of many forms of participation to encourage trust.  E-participation  is an additional tool that can make government transparent and smart.

Keynote: Prof. Patrizia Nanz (European Institute of Public Participtation)

We are living in interesting times, during the third transformation of democracy. Whilst  some say that it is a time of crisis, disillusionment, with a gap between citizens and politics, others say that people are increasingly participating, want to participate, in informal ways, in many policy areas.

So what is good citizen participation: is it effective? democratic? There is a need to come away from window-dressing, e-participation needs to have a real impact on democracy. This means that discussions need to be inclusive, there needs to be a transfer to the bigger population, and be able to mobilise the larger population.

What are the challenges of e-participation? The internet is a great tool, but care is needed as it may lead to a fragmentation of the community (where you only meet and discuss with those who are like you; also known as echo chambers) and to the discussion of certain topics that are more interesting than others. An issue that has to be considered is anonymity: is it non-committing, non-binding? Is the combination of off and online may be better?

What is successful e-participation? Not the number of clicks! The internet alone does not offer room for high-quality political discourse. In Germany, all political parties  are “for it”, no-one against it. There is a market for e-participation, and the number of  practitioners has expanded. There are now many e-participation businesses, although they do not know about political or democratic principles:  commercialisation may be a big risk. Furthermore, there are many single experiments, these have not yet been integrated into the political system

Citizen participation needs to be taken seriously;  at the moment there is still “selective listening”. This means that there is the need for a massive capacity building in public administrations and training civil servants. Requirements are a systematic reform,  linking university research with practitioners, an exchange of the experiences and projects gained in the different regions of the Europe. Finally,  we need to consider the link between the  media and internet and the  way the internet not only links computers, but also links people.

Panel1 with Nick Booth, Founder and Managing Director of Podnosh (UK): Online civic activism: how we used the web to make stuff happen in Birmingham & Daniel Lentfer, Mehr Demokratie e.V.: Hamburg‘s transparency law: citizens pushing for open government & Cynthia Wagner, nexthamburg Crowd-sourcing and participation in urban development

Nick  considers what makes activists tick? How can activists be brought together? The focus should be on building networks, relationships rather than the tools. This led to  organising a “stock pot of social capital” (AKA meetups at the pub), which is about connecting and building trust, even though and when it is  not clear what the outcome will be, and supporting and encouraging conversation. These meetings became the “social media surgery”: they have no agenda, are about helping each other. They are easy to organise, people have a goodtime, and need to be kept very simple (need a free room, wifi, drinks, surgery manager) and need to have zero expectations (that is the opposite of governmemt: always decide on what has to be achieved). The people involved have been described as “militant optimists” (David Barries)

See  Tessy Britton (Ed.) for a collection of the experiences gained: Hand Made Portraits of Emergent New Community Culture

Daniel presents the Ttransparenzgesetz People got toegther to re-wrtite the freedom of information law using a wiki. The decision regarding the  law will be taken in September 2013. One of the experiences gained is that people need too be given the knowledge so they can participate, but they also don’t need to know everything in order to participate. Citizens need to be trusted, they need to be able to access all kinds of data.

Cynthia argues that with the new socialmedia, participants want to interact rather than consume. But do we really have democracy? The project nexthamburg is an example of crowdsourcing in urban development. It shows that such e-participation projects need to be fun and easy to be involved, people want to come together, share their ideas, so interaction needs to be made easy and convenient. She also adds that for building a community, for encouraging discussions , e-participation needs to have goals. Just being online alone does not work, an initiative needs to got to where the people are.

Panel2: Transparency and public participation in architecture with Prof. Alenka Krek Poplin (HafenCity University, Hamburg) Playful Public Participation in Urban Planning & Peter Verhaeghe, (stRaten-generaal, Belgium) Co-productive architecture & Erik Tissingh, Over Morgen in Beeld (Netherlands) Digital 3D models and citizen participation

Alenka  shows how online serious games used for e-participation for example designing urban spaces, in some cases the games allow for participants to join in conversations with others, with experts, to vote. The EU SWITCH project investigates how to design online map-based public participation process. What was innovative in this project was the combination of an interactive online map and an online questionnaire. One of the surprising results was that there is still alot to learn about how people use maps, and one cannot assume that people know how to use maps or the functionalities offered.

“So will ich” is another project that addresses how students want to live. The platform offers a variety of participation options, and given that people are different, participation must be diversified: online questionnaires, games, ideas. Different tools are to attract different people to the participation process. Project results  show that users must be understood in different ways and we need to consider their different experiences which can be visual, auditory, emotional, mental (e.g. learning), kinesthetic and motoric (e.g. with sport applications, where you learn to play golf).

Peter focuses on the role of the architect, who has to understand the needs of the people. Any one persons needs will have an impact on the external world, a larger system! So what is expected from an architect? How does the architect solve problems? Good design is important, but we must not be blinded by it. If the function is weak, design will confuse it even more, e.g. the Guantanamo Bay Prisoners’ Compound or the design of a new road that would allow for international traffic to drive through Antwerp: the project was put on hold, and the jury admitted that the

Building happens in a community, more than designing just for one person or customer. Architecture needs tobe supported by the public in general. Partners must be allowe d to be involved in all phases of the participation process. Need transparency, need trust. Don’t need to fear complexity, participation can lead to innovation. Architecture is only then successful when it is cooperative collaborative, co-productive, communicative, respects opinions.

Erik presents the use virtual of reality of for e-participation processes in The Netherlands. Spatial planning in the Netherlands is strongly government driven, focuses on quality and sustainability (consider the next generation), and seeks citizen involvement. There are 3 “laws” for citizen participation:

  1. clear on expectations and clear on level of participation;
  2. provide information: better information leads to better planning process;
  3. always offline, use online whenever possible (that’s why we come here to meet);

Examples of the use of virtual reality:

Objectives are: more acceptance, faster planning processes, cheaper planning processes and achieving higher quality decision-making processes. Or: fair play.

Keynote: Renate Mitterhuber (Head of E-Government and IT-Strategy; Deputy CIO, City of Hamburg) Hamburg’s Social Media Guidelines

The main reason for producing the guidelines “Social Media in Hamburg’s Public Administration”: public administrations do want to use social media, but don’t know how to. This guide is by&for public administrations,  to develop a network and achieve a win/win situation for PAs. It is a checklist, offers guidelines, provides examples for best practice, and a glossary as well as help employees when using social media.

There are a number of challenges when PAs use social media:

  • social media is a very open form of communication culture
  • social media needs short reaction times
  • need to integrate different departments within the organisation
  • need the agreement by the PA (e.g. at regional level)
  • need to integrate the comments and contributions made by citizens
  • the process model is very complex

Integrating social media is very complex, this process of integrating it needs to be described and helps needs to be provided. The result of visualising the complexity of integrating such tools into PAs is that many then decide to not to integrate it!

In some cases PAs are ordered to use social media from a political level – and this is why the Social Media Guideline has proven to be such success.


Hans Hagedorn (DEMOS Gesellschaft für E-Partizipation mbH) Participation in “hypervocal” societies

Hans asks a few questions:

Often comes across the notion “we”, “we” who want something. But who are “we”? For example the Pirate Party: they need to find a common voice, values. How can a common value be consistent? Maybe a “me” may be better, more flexible?

Decision-making in a hypervocal societies (© Hans Hagedorn) can be fast and consistent. But only if there are the appropriate methods and tools. Which is what today is about.

PEP-NET Summit 2012: Out in the Open #pepsum


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