Interview: Peter Parycek and Noella Edelmann on digital democracy best practice, localism, and e-government

Peter Parycek and Noella Edelmann, Conference Chairs of CeDEM – the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government, were interviewed by Sean Kippin on digital democracy best practice, localism, and e-government. The interview was published by democratic audit UK on the 2nd July 2015.

Sean Kippin: Are politicians capable of managing complicated processes such as a transition to a more digitally oriented democracy?

Peter Parycek: I’m am an optimist, but I do think it will be very difficult for all of us. The people who are doing politics would stand to lose a lot of power, so when the question comes up, they aren’t interested in engaging with the process. There was a wonderful keynote address after the Obama elections by a colleague of mine around three years after the 2008 Presidential election in the US, and the speaker was so very disappointed by what had happened. There was so much “Hope”! for real change, and at the beginning Obama tried with initiatives like OpenData.gov, and his town hall meetings, but after around a year everything in that area fizzled out.

Noella Edelmann: A lot of people were deeply disappointed in Obama. I remember seeing a wonderful presentation looking at how at everything that was at first open and Obama would talk about the process of governance as being about what “we” were doing. After that, it all became about what “I” am doing, thinking. It was “We” during the election and “I” after a while in government, and that was symbolic of the way his approach to government changed.

Peter Parycek: Maybe he really tried to change it, but found the Washington D.C. system too established, and he couldn’t change it.

Even if we are polite with regard to Obama, and we give him the benefit of the doubt in assuming that he did genuinely want to make this change, he wasn’t able to do so because the system was too established, embedded and strong. Even the American president wasn’t able to change the system: if he can’t, who can?

Moving on, which countries are managing the digital transition well, and what is that they’re doing?

Peter Parycek: It really depends on how you define ‘well’. If you’re thinking about how you deal with data and artificial intelligence, then the United States is the leader. Their military and defence capability means they’re extraordinarily advanced on a technological level. We saw this during the Cold War with the military focus manifesting itself in technological innovation generally and the creation of the internet specifically, arising from their need for a stable and decentralised network.

They’d make the decision that such a thing was needed, and they’d spend the necessary money to carry out the research. The same happened after 9/11. Immediately, they set up a completely new programme to analyse data on an enormous scale. Who is processing the most data in the world? It’s the NSA. They have built up extraordinary knowledge over the past few years. Once these things are established they begin to have other applications, for example in commerce. So in terms of building systems to analyse and take advantage of data, it is the United States.

In terms of the governance of the whole state, I would say Singapore. They analyse data endlessly. The trigger for Singapore was Avian flu. They came up with an interesting mind-game, and asked; what would have happened if we had analysed all of the data which we had at the time of the outbreak? There was a very clear answer, which was that they would have fixed it immediately. And because they had a real economic breakdown as a result of the outbreak, and that was really the spur for this new approach. So they turned to the analysis of data, and they have started using it to really govern the state.

In regard to the traditional aspects of e-government, I would say that the UK is doing a good job. Also, Austria is doing well – but in a very traditional sense. For example digitising existing governmental processes. The UK is in the lead when it comes to more modern approaches. If you approach a UK website it really is state of the art, and it has been pushed forward a great deal in recent years. Most countries are still in the ‘1.0’ design phase. But in Austria, ‘behind the curtain’ is doing ok. Estonia is also doing well when it comes to internal linkages between their databases. They’re very good at that here in Austria, too. The census is done completely electronically, through looking at 18 different databases, and then you click, and there’s your census!

In regard to electronic identity and voting, Estonia is the world-leading country. 70% in the last election voted electronically, so their whole society is very digitised.

On Estonia, their system rests on a unified identity card system. In the UK there’s a great appetite for online voting but we didn’t like ID cards when they were propsed – is there a way of squaring that circle?

Peter Parycek: In Estonia they were very pragmatic. Theirs isn’t actually the most secure system – they just said “let’s do it!”. But it was easier in Estonia because its more or less a city (in terms of size). There’s no federalism, so you don’t have to discuss anything with the Scottish government or Parliament for example. So if Estonia is mentioned as a best practice case, you do have to be careful. The state is small and centralised, but they did do a great job because they had a very strong President. He made the decision, and he saw it through, because he was and is in love with technology and he used that passion to change the whole state. There can only really be change if one or more of the country’s leaders is in love with technology. Perhaps after some time he or she can change the whole system.

India will be interesting, because the new Prime Minister is a great lover of technology. He came from Gujarat state, which is the leading state in e-government, and I saw him give a brilliant talk about their e-government ideas and projects and I immediately said ‘this could be a presentation from Europe’. Now he’s the Prime Minister, with a billion people living under the government he leads. Perhaps India could become a leader in this regard? Of course, they do have big issues to navigate such as religion and poverty, but in the future its worth looking at. Because it is the world’s biggest democracy, it has a highly skilled workforce and big companies, it has a Prime Minister who loves technology. Things aren’t as settled there as our fat, settled, complacent democracies, so change could be afoot.

Is there a tension between increased localism and devolution and digitisation? Does the latter act as a centralising force?

Peter Parycek: Maybe yes, maybe no! You can use technology for decentralisation, too. If you’re able to find a common definition of ‘shared services’, they can run centralised or decentralised services, but the service itself is highly standardised. So if you can set up the main services and then share it, perhaps it can be effected or modified a bit for the local needs in question, that could have great potential. The question is how to use technology to govern on a local level. I think the local level will have a great future in a digital future, because it enables you to do things on a local basis. However you define the elements, and how deeply you should govern the whole state. If it is completely fragmentised, then the state is in trouble. You can look back into history – in West Germany, every city was its own state, and it wasn’t very successful. They had fun, and independence, but Napoleon also had a lot of fun and took it all over. So you need some policy areas reserved for a national level, and then what you can govern on the local level, to find the best conception of governance. And technology will change these conceptions. But we have to discuss it, define it, and how to use technology to make it work best.

The content of externally published articles and interviews exclusively reflects the author’s opinion and does not reflect necessarily the opinion of the Danube University and the Centre for E-Governance of the Danube University Krems.

CeDEM15 #review


CeDEM, the international Conference for e-Democracy and Open Government brings together e-democracy, e-participation and open government specialists working in academia, politics, government and business to critically analyse the innovations, issues, ideas and challenges in the networked societies of the digital age. This year, the CeDEM was organized from May 20th to May 22nd 2015. Let’s have a short review with our four Keynote-Speakers Shauneen Furlong, Marijn Janssen, Theresa A. Pardo and Alon Peled.

1. Keynotes
2. 5 questions
3. Best Paper Award
4. 7 questions
5. Image Gallery (flickr.com)

Links and Infos


CeDEM15 Deadline for Submissions Extended until 4. January 2015!


By popular demand, we have extended our deadline for the submission of papers until 4. January 2015. Submissions can be made to the following CeDEM15 tracks:

  • E-Democracy and E-Participation
  • E-Voting
  • Bottom-Up Movements
  • Social and Mobile Media for Public Administration
  • Open Collaborative Government
  • Democracy, Globalization and Migration
  • Connected Smart City
  • Open Data, Transparency and Open Innovation
  • Technology and Architecture
  • Self-governance in Complex Networks
  • Rethinking Information Visualization for the People
  • Freedom and Ethics in Digital Societies
  • Design and Co-creation for E-democracy
  • Citizen’s Participation in Democratic Governance Processes through ICT in Africa
  • Open Access
  • Reflections
  • Workshop Proposals
  • PhD Colloquium (PhD bursary available!)

CfP and all details regarding the CeDEM15 available here: http://bit.ly/cedem15

In addition, we take this opportunity to proudly present the CeDEM15 Keynotes:

  • Shauneen Furlong (University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, CAN)
  • Marijn Janssen (Delft University of Technology, NL)
  • Theresa A. Pardo (State University of New York, USA)
  • Alon Peled (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, IL)

Looking forward to your submissions!

All Things CeDEM

CeDEM, the international Conference for e-Democracy and Open Government held in Europe (Krems!) and Asia (Hong Kong!) brings together e-democracy, e-participation and open government specialists working in academia, politics, government and business from to critically analyse the innovations, issues, ideas and challenges in the networked societies of the digital age.

In terms of CeDEM, we have planned a number of events and opportunities for you to participate in this year and next year.

CeDEM Asia 2014 FBCeDEM Asia 2014 will be held 4-5 December in Hong Kong – the conference discusses recent developments such as the Hong Kong protests. Registration, programme and further information about the conference are available here: www.donau-uni.ac.at/cedem-asia-2014

CeDEM_LOGO_2014CeDEM14 If you were unable to attend the CeDEM14, you can read the summary on this blog, or read the CeDEM14 Proceedings which are now available Online (OA) and for sale:

 Cedem15_Logo_2CeDEM15 will be held 20-22 May 2015, as usual, in Krems. The call for papers is still open for your submissions, and we have bursaries for PhD students.For all details, check the CeDEM15 website. In the  meantime, we are pleased to announce our (confirmed) keynotes:

Shauneen Furlong (University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, CAN): “International Challenges to Transformational eGovernment”
Marijn Janssen (Delft University of Technology, NL): : “Experience-based Design in Open Government”
Alon Peled (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, IL): “‘Wazing the Information Super Highway: Linking the World’s Open Data Resources”
Theresa A. Pardo (University at Albany, US): topic tbc

sharepsiThe 4th SharePSI Workshop will be co-located with CeDEM15. The  Share-PSI 2.0 is a EU funded project for the exchange of experience and ideas around implementing open data policies in the public sector. Attendees of CeDEM 15 will be granted free entrance to the SharePSI public meetings and presentations. For more information about SharePSI see the projects website http://www.w3.org/2013/share-psi/

Hope to see you in Hong Kong, Krems,online here or follow our CeDEM updates on Facebook!

This was CeDEM14: An Overview and Summary

The  CeDEM14 was held May 21 to May 23 2014 at the Danube University Krems. We blogged live from the conference and collected nearly all the presentations, reports, and other web media in this post. Please share this with friends and colleagues (and if you notice that your presentation is missing – do send it to us so that we can include it here!)

This was CeDEM14, thank you for joining us!

So What happened at CeDEM14?

Othmar Karas, MEP sent the CeDEM14 participants his greetings: videomessage!

 CeDEM14 in numbers

See the number of submissions, the acceptance rate, where participants come from and more!

CeDEM14 Best Paper Award

The following papers were nominated for the CeDEM14 Best Paper Award:

  • Alois Paulin: “Through Liquid Democracy to Sustainable Non-Bureaucratic Government”
  • Damien Mac Namara, J Paul Gibson and Ken Oakley: “Just Like Paper – a Baseline for Classifying E-Voting Usability”
  • Maximilian Heimstädt, Fredric Saunderson and Tom Heath: Conceptualzing Open Data Ecosystems: A Timeline Analysis of Open Data Development in the UK
  • Micha Germann, Flurin Conradin, Christoph Wellig and Uwe Serdült: “Five Years of Internet Voting for Swiss Expatriates”
  • Raimondo Iemma, Michele Osella and Federico Morando: “Breaking Public Administrations’ Data silos: The Case of Open-DAI and a comparison between open data platforms –

And the winner is…..

CeDEM14 Keynotes

We were pleased  to have Alexander Gerber, Philipp Müller, Jeanne Holme and Mohamed El-Sioufi with us! Interested in the summaries of their presentations? Find them here: “CeDEM14 Keynotes”.

CeDEM14 Workshops

A total of 6 workshops were held during the conference. Find the summaries here: “CeDEM14 Workshops”

CeDEM14 Sessions

The CeDEM14 included 7 sessions on a broad range of topics such as e-democracy, a-participation, Open Data, social and mobile media, design, technology and information visualization. 33 presentations allowed the participants to present their research results, ideas, projects, etc. Read the summaries and the presentations here: “CeDEM14 sessions”.

One of the sessions was the energetic Reflections session. Presenters have 5 minutes to present their work, and the nearly 20 presentations generate interesting discussions. We have collected the presentations here: “CeDEM14 Reflections”.

CeDEM14 allowed participants to watch the film “Blueberry Soup”  and engage in a Skype discussion with the filmmaker Eileen Jerrett, as well as participate in the Open Space, an opportunity for participants to organise their own presentations, sessions, events, workshops, birds of a feather, networking, etc.

CeDEM14 on the the Austrian Radio Channel Ö1 (mix English&German)

Peter Parycek (Head of the Centre for E-Governance) und Johnstone Baguma (Toro Development Network, Uganda) discuss E-Government, E-Voting and E-participation in Africa.


Join Us Again in Hong Kong or in 2015!


 Contributors to the CeDEM14 Summary & Overview: Bettina Rinnerbauer, Johann Höchtl, Noella Edelmann, Michael Sachs, Ralph Schöllhammer.