Earlier this month Estonia hosted an Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit bringing together over 1 000 government representatives, members of civil society, and experts in the field of democratic innovation including public participation and civic tech. So, what happened there?
The focus of the summit was on preservation of democracy since it is currently facing various threats internally and externally including the rise of populism and constant intervention avert and open from authoritarian regimes like Russia and China. Given Estonian track record in creating a digital society, the Summit also encouraged participants to consider open governance in relations with digitalisations and the challenges, needs, and opportunities stemming from the inevitable advancement of technology.
In all of these discussions citizen participation was front and center from the opening plenary where our colleague from the field of participation and a fellow member of People Powered network Diana Dajer from Fundación Corona (Colombia) called participants to actively cooperate in order to establish sustainable participation mechanisms and infrastructure.
This theme was carried into a session on systematic participation “From One-Off Engagement to System Change: How do we Embed Public Participation in Government?” Our international director Katya Petrikevich presented our approach to institutionalization of public participation through establishing an internal governmental role of Participation Coordinator as seen in our experiences with Prague city districts and Slovak regional government. This focal point of needing a dedicated internal expert or team of experts to implement the participation agenda and continue to foster it was mirrored by the case of Taiwan presented by a Deputy Minister of the National Development Council in Taiwan Kao Shien-Quey. Other experts and the audience were also in strong agreement that in order to successfully launch a participation agenda you first need to carefully assess institutional preparedness and try to first infuse participation in already planned projects rather than start from creating completely new ones overloading capacities and resources of the institution.
The discussion about systematic participation was not limited to the session. It was coming up during coffee breaks and other sessions where speakers and presenters were pointing out an acute need for including participatory methods in the DNA of governments on all levels while the audience challenged them and each other to also consider a need for creating sustainable participatory systems rather than options for one-off types of engagement. And imagine having all these discussions while also having a chance to learn some Estonian life wisdom like how to pickle cucumbers and stack wood!
It seems evident that participation is here to stay. It is becoming the core of democracy innovation efforts and is now seen as a powerful tool for its strengthening and reinvention. There are its own challenges, obstacles, and needs that come with it, of course, as we need to secure inclusion and diversity, solidify digital participation methods and standards, expand the menu of methods, grow spaces for deliberative and empowering practices, and continue create the environment favorable for all levels of government to engage in participatory practices.
We will continue to talk about the digital participation topic on the needs and best practices in Central Eastern Europe and Western Balkans as discussed during an OGP Summit side event. So stay tuned! In the meantime, do not hesitate to reach out to us if you’d like to learn more about our participation diagnostics and the systematic participation approaches at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We want to extend our special gratitude to the Open Society Foundation for sponsoring the “From One-Off Engagement to System Change: How do we Embed Public Participation in Government?” session and making this discussion possible and ensuring a diverse panel of practitioners and experts presenting their case studies.