OP@LL Conference (V): Online and Offline Participation

Notes from the OP@LL Conference: Online participation on the local level – a comparative perspective, organized by Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and held in Dússeldorf, Germany, on 13-15 December 2017. More notes on this event: opll.

Online and Offline Participation

Herbert Kubicek | University of Bremen (Germany)
How to combine online and offline forms of participation?

Abstract: Expectations have been high that offering online, i.e. electronic or “e‑“communication channels in public participation will improve its outreach and quality. However, so far there is no empirical evidence that confirm these hopes. Applying a variety of research methods thea European Cooperation Project e2democracy presents empirical findings on the advantages and disadvantages of online communication compared to face-to-face communication in six consultation processes and seven collaborative citizen panels. To control for contextual differences, one of the consultation processes has been set up paralleling online and face-to-face meetings. In this case organizers showed a preference for face-to-face meetings as regards the content of contributions and the style of discussion. For the citizen panels collaborating with local governments to achieve climate targets, impacts in terms of CO2e savings and dropout rates have been compared for parallel processes online and via telephone. These comparisons, however, do not deliver clear performance profiles of the communication channels or a generalizable assessment of their appropriateness for particular objectives. The factors influencing the choice of communication channels are complex and the analysis shows that assessments depend on the type of participation and the role of an actor in the process as well as on time frames and contexts in which the assessments are made. Showing that none of the channels offers clear advantages over the other, we conclude that practitioners are well advised to follow a multi-channel strategy and offer a media mix of online and traditional modes of participation.

ECRP project: comparative assessment of e-participation in the context of sustainable development and climate change.

When we evaluate offline vs. online participation, we have to look at outputs, outcomes and impacts.

To be able to do this, a quasi-experimental project was created so to be able to compare participation processes with the same subject and target audience online and offline.

A public consultation was initiated on SDP’s programme in the state parliament election campaign in Bremen.

People said that online takes less effort, but that the quality of deliberation is better offline and that local meetings create better community building. Regarding to content analysis and participation observation, we see that local meetings promote more reasoned arguments and that online forums are more biased towards expression of opinion.

No big differences between civility (trolling) or innovativeness (new ideas) between local meetings and online forums. Online consultation did not attract significantly more voters, but it did provide higher legitimation, as there was full approval of the programme on the assembly without a single dissenting vote for the first time.

When comparing the 7 cities of the project on CO2 savings, and how they compare in their results, there is no clear conclusion. There is no evidence for the assumed advantages of online participation. But there is no evidence either on why in some cases online seems to be better or even much better than offline. What seems clear is that the combination of offline and online participation seems to be, so far, the best bet.


Paolo Spada: how did you communicate/invite the citizens to register to the online platform? Kubicek & Royo: there were several channels used to invite citizens to participate, offline, telephone and online.

Ismael Peña-López: how did you facilitate the deliberation? how was the platform designed for such deliberation? Or was only a simple online forum? Kubicek: there was no analysis on how facilitation was similar or different in offline and onine platforms.

Sonia Royo | University of Zaragoza (Spain)
How to Keep Citizens Engaged? Advantages and Disadvantages of Online and Offline Citizen Participation

Abstract: The objective is to help governments foster citizen participation. Therefore, it addresses the following issues: How can citizens be motivated to participate? What can be done to reduce abandonment rates? Are there any differences between offline and online participation regarding enrolment and abandonment? In order to answer these questions and provide policy recommendations, the authors rely on two case studies of Spanish cities allowing both online and offline participation.

Objectives: to determine why and when do citizens abandon citizen participation projects that require long-term collaboration between citizens and administration; and to ascertain whether differences exist between online and offline citizen participation projects (especially in enrolment and drop-out rates.

Internet facilitates weak ties and contributes to maintain strong ties. But is also true that network participants are more individualistic and shift their attention more quickly than offline.

An initiative to reduce one’s own CO2 emissions was deployed in Zaragoza and Pamplona (two Spanish cities). People enrolled online or offline. Online participants were younger and had much higher educational levels. People enrolled in the project and more of them said they would participate online. At the end, there were more people participating offline rather than online: there were much more dropouts online rather than offline.

In this case, the design of the participatory process was very simple and there does not seem to be a reason in differences of facilitation between the online and the offline versions.

Most of the people offline were retired people, and would not dropout because of time reasons; on the other hand, more than half of the online participants that had dropped-out stated that it was due to lack of time.

Most people will abandon in the very beginning of the initiative and will do that for the amount of time required to participate. There are other reasons for drop out, but they seem [personal opinion here] to be very related to the devotion of time: engaging in interaction, reading complementary resources, etc.


Ismael Peña-López: it seems to me that the problem in dropping-out was not that people prefer offline to online, but the very different profile of he participants: elderly retired people offline, young working people online. When asked for the reasons for dropping out, more than 50% of the later stated that they had issues with the time they had to devote to the project; only 2% of the offline participants said it was because of time.

OP@LL Conference (IV): Actors in the Field of Online Participation

Notes from the OP@LL Conference: Online participation on the local level – a comparative perspective, organized by Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and held in Dússeldorf, Germany, on 13-15 December 2017. More notes on this event: opll.

Actors in the Field of Online Participation

Mary K. Feeney | Arizona State University (USA)
What does e-participation mean for managers in small to medium sized cities? US trends and research challenges

Abstract: Since 2000, our team at the Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Studies at ASU has been collecting data on 500 small and medium sized U.S. cities to understand the adoption and management of technology in local government. Drawing from four surveys (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016), website content data (2010 & 2014), and Twitter data (2017), I present some technology adoption trends in small to medium sized US cities and managerial responses to those efforts. These data provide insights into the organizational, technological, and socio-technical factors that shape local government online participation efforts in the American context. I then outline the challenges facing managers who seek to engage internal and external stakeholders via online mechanisms – including financial limitations, technical capacity, legal issues, and perceptual barriers – and discuss next steps for advancing research in this area.

The research surveyed during 7 years the most common departments in small cities (700-900 small cities surveyed) in the US: community development, finance, mayor’s office, parks & recreation, police. There are consistent predictors of ICT usage and participation: city population, form of government, department type, technical capacity, resources, management.

What is the role of management of participation? Manager views affect e-participation.

Small cities are increasingly using technology, and using it better. But most of the times it is because they externalized the website to a firm that is using a market solution that has all the features one would expect.

Municipalities are entering the social media arena. But they are having quite hard times. Sometimes these tools clash with the laws and norms, and have to be used with wisdom.

Thus why management of ICTs, for communication and participation, is crucial. Most municipalities do not have the resources to run these tools, but they do have the pressure to adopt all of them.

Karen Mossberger | Arizona State University (USA)
Emerging Platforms for Online Engagement in US Local Governments – Who is innovating and how?

Abstract: While the use of social media is widespread in local government, more structured forms of online participation are also beginning to appear at the local level, using a variety of commercial platforms that have become available in recent years. Examples include Peak Democracy’s cloud-based platform for online town hall meetings, MindMixer’s community engagement platform, Budget Allocator’s participatory budgeting software, and Balancing Act’s online budget simulator designed to encourage citizen participation. A recent survey of cities and counties in the US revealed that local governments who use such tools are still very much in the minority, as only 17% of respondents reported using these platforms. Still, such tools are becoming more prevalent, compared with earlier studies of online engagement in larger (and generally more innovative) local governments (Mossberger and Wu 2012); and a closer look may help to predict how such platforms will affect citizen engagement in the future. Using a 2016 national survey of Innovations and Emerging Practices in local government that was conducted by the International City/County Management Association and Arizona State University, we explore the use of online engagement platforms, in comparison with social media and with a number of offline forms of engagement. What characteristics predict use of such platforms, in terms of city size, demographics, metropolitan status, fiscal capacity and form of government, among other factors? Are such cities more likely to report use of many forms of public engagement, to be early adopters for other emerging practices, or both? What are their goals for citizen engagement? And, how successful do they feel the experience was? This paper will consist primarily of analysis of the survey data, but will also propose a design for further qualitative research. Several cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area have used these platforms, and Arizona State University is also part of a national partnership with local governments called the Alliance for Innovation. Based on findings from the survey data, further research will be proposed to explore the types of questions cities have addressed through these platforms, how they conducted outreach and participation, and how effective they were in terms of representativeness and deliberation, among other critera.

How are local governments in the US using new online tools? Large cities are innovators, and in general social media has grown rapidly. It usually has to do with city managers wanting to experiment with whatever comes new, see if it works and what for.

Importance of public participation goals: provide the public with objective information, obtain feedback, work directly with the public, partner with the public, hear input/ideas from the public, place dedcision-making in the hands of the public.

Usage of citizen engagement tools: town hall meetings, city-appointed committee assignments, social media.

What predicts use of emerging online platforms? The size of the population is very important. It is also important pre-existing offline engagement actitivities, even more important than social media use.

OP@LL Conference (III): Case studies II

Notes from the OP@LL Conference: Online participation on the local level – a comparative perspective, organized by Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and held in Dússeldorf, Germany, on 13-15 December 2017. More notes on this event: opll.

Case studies II

Jonathan Mellon | University of Oxford / World Bank
Digital Citizen Engagement by the World Bank

Abstract: Citizens are increasingly being offered the opportunity to participate in their government online. But who participates when digital participation is offered and who benefits from the outcomes of the process? We argue that the design of the platform constitutes a political institution which structures the way in which citizen inputs translate into policy outputs. We analyze three examples of digital citizen participation which offer different ways for citizens to interact with their local governments. First, we analyze participatory budgeting in both Brazilian municipalities and Paris both of which offer an online and offline component. We find that while the online process brings in a younger and more economically advantaged electorate, the policy outcomes do not seem to change compared with offline voting. This may be because the proposal selection tends to limit the extent to which different options differentially benefit groups in society. Second, we analyze the Fix My Street platform in the United Kingdom, which allows citizens to report local problems such as potholes. We find that the platform overrepresents economically advantaged and older citizens. These input inequalities map directly onto output inequalities as local governments largely deal with the reports without attempting to account for the input inequalities. Finally, we consider the change.org platform, which has been used to pressure decision makers at all levels. We find that the inequalities in terms of petition creation do not translate into inequalities in the outcomes because the signers largely hold the power in the system. Additionally, we find petitions targeted at local actors are more successful, probably because of the lower level of mobilization required to effect change and the greater likelihood that a single decision maker will have sole power to make the requested change.

Unequal participant profiles imply unequal demands and thus unequal impact on citizens.

Three case studies: participatory budgeting in Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), Fix my Street (UK) and Change.org (UK).

Participatory budgetig in Rio Grande do Sul

People that use more the Internet participate more online. But there is not much difference between what people vote online or what they vote offline. Is it because the topics are transversal? Or too difficult and people vote randomly?

Fix My Street

Users are mainly male white men, educated, proficient online. Positive relationship with number of young people, no ethnical divide.

Government mainly replicates unequal demands, as they are responsive to who reports, and who reports is biased by socio-economic status.


Petitions are more successful at the local level, even if they get much less signatures supporting it.

57.3% of users are female, but only 44% of petitions are created by women. But female created petitions succeed at higher rates than male, up to 1.4 times the chance to succeed vs. male created petitions. Women mobilize more signatures than men, almost double in mean. Reason: the topics of interest are different between women and men. When women create a petition, it is more likely that it is of the interest of other women, as and because they are majority in the platform, they are more likely to support it and make it successful.

Julia Drozdova | Volgograd Academy of Public Administration (Russia)
E-government potential in management of migration risks.

Abstract: Migration risks are an inevitable consequence of current social processes in Russia (uneven economic development, armed conflicts, and social transformations); these risks are constantly reproduced in conditions of social instability and inequality. The author considers migration risks as a measure of uncertainty and possible positive / negative after-effects that occur due to migration and are affected by the quality of their management and the technologies employed including information and communication technology that ensure accumulation of information, analytical effort and planning, organization of interaction between the population and the authorities. E-government is a necessary form of organizing the activity of government bodies including those regulating the migration processes. Its purpose is to provide, by means of information technologies, a new qualitative level of efficiency and convenience in retrieving information by the stakeholders of migration processes (the receiving and arriving population), to enhance the quality and accessibility of state services, to facilitate the procedure and to reduce the expectation period (obtaining international passports, residence permits, work permits, paying state duties, etc.), which can provide equal access to these resources, a uniform standard of service irrespective of the applicant status, and can clear administrative hurdles. The author working within the framework of RFFI 16-13-34011 grant Migration Risks in a Multiethnic Region: sociological and managerial analysis developed a pattern for organizing a management of migration risks which can be only implemented under an e-government. Considering the specifics of running migration processes, the structure of its organization is a multistage process including five steps: defining the goal, risk identification, data acquisition, counseling, monitoring and controlling the implementation of adaptation and integration programs that minimize the migration risks and imply electronic participation, a higher order of government / society interaction under e-government. In the author’s opinion, e-government should underlie the management of social risks since it has the required resources and opportunities. Identification of migration risks, establishing a feedback with the population, electronic participation of citizens in the development of practical guidelines on the management and minimization of the risks is an important issue within the framework of ensuring all-nation and regional security, creating a uniform social medium in the multiethnic space of Russian regions and the world.

How can one manage migration risks (for the migrant, for the hosting community, etc.) with the help of e-government and online participation?

e-Government should be able to enhance the interaction between people and the government.

Citizens value differently the several categories of government information. Some categories are found to be very closed in delivering information, which can lead to uneven treatment of different citizens.

Open information is needed to determine the migration risk management plan: goal, design, monitoring, etc. Social media can be a valuable source of information, but the data harvested should be used accordingly to data protection principles.

43% visiting population never visit the official website for migrants, 40% of them do it 1-2 times a month.

Half of the people use the official website to access open data while the other half do a poor use of the website.

General problems with online participation at the local level: digital inequality, unequal access to information on government activities, inadequate educational outreach activity, different approach to the issues of e-government development, mentality of public employees and people.

OP@LL Conference (II): Case Studies I

Notes from the OP@LL Conference: Online participation on the local level – a comparative perspective, organized by Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and held in Dússeldorf, Germany, on 13-15 December 2017. More notes on this event: opll.

Case Studies I

Soraya Vargas Cortes | Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)
E-participation in municipal governments in Brazil

Abstract: One of the characteristics of the current crisis of liberal democracies is the challenge the fragmented civil society placed before traditional forms of participation, while many regard that organizations, such as political parties or trade unions, dot not represent their views and interests. Moreover, there are new forms of civil society mobilization and individual active participation through social media. Governments, in Brazil and elsewhere, have developed new mechanisms to reach collective actors and individuals taken advantage of the information technology and computer services (ITCS) there available. In Brazil, a federation with three levels of government, there is a growing interest in the subject of ‘e-participation’. However, most studies address federal and state level of government even considering that, since the 1990s, municipal administration has grown in importance, in terms of revenue, spending and functions. The paper will analyse the online participation of organizations and individuals in the decision-making at the municipal level of government in the country. The main source of data is available in the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística – IBGE) under the annualized database Research on Basic Municipal Information (Pesquisa de Informações Básicas Municipais – MUNIC).

With new ICTs, government decision-making process is more disperse and transparent. And civil society demands for more participation. Governments can improve efficiency, increase accountability, respond to demands for more participation.

But the digital divide can have a possible effect on participation, especially in lesser developed countries. Regional inequalities persist in the conditions offered by municipal governments to e-participation.

This research uses a database of the 5,570 Brazilian municipalities (MUNIC).

The development level of a given municipality and/or Brazilian state will determine the intensiveness of ICT usage for government and democracy: municipal websites, online transactions capacity, section to assure the right to information, information on expenditures, information on monitoring of government actions, etc. There is a regional digital divide reproducing the socioeconomic inequalities found among great Regions of Brazil. Digital exclusion and lesser possibilities of e-participation can further widen the historical socioeconomic gap between Northern and Southern regions of Brazil.

Governments should be aware of this digital divide and design policies to reduce this new type of inequality.

Ismael Peña-López | Open University of Catalonia (Spain)
decidim.barcelona, from e-participation to the devolution of sovereignty

Abstract: In September 2015, Madrid – the capital of Spain – initiated a participatory democracy project, Decide Madrid (Madrid decides), to enable participatory strategic planning for the municipality. Less than half a year after, in February 2016, Barcelona – the second largest city in Spain and capital of Catalonia – issued their own participatory democracy project: decidim.barcelona (Barcelona we decide). Both cities use the same free software platform as a base, and are guided by the same political vision. The Barcelona model is based on ubiquitous deliberation, openness, absolute transparency and accountability and pervasive participation to increase quantity and quality of proposals. In many ways, the model is the institutionalized version of the technopolitics ethos that emerged from the 15M Spanish Indignados Movement, was embedded in the political parties that came after them and ended up entering the governments of many Spanish municipalities. The initiative has implied important shifts in meaning, in legitimacy and in power and has a strong potential of becoming the needed bridge between new citizen movements and new ways of doing politics. It can also achieve an interesting stage if its evolution in several municipalities – autonomous but somewhat synchronized by common ethics and technology – leads to a network of local governments that can end up challenging the powers of the state.

OP@LL Conference (I): Online Participation – stock taking

Notes from the OP@LL Conference: Online participation on the local level – a comparative perspective, organized by Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and held in Dússeldorf, Germany, on 13-15 December 2017. More notes on this event: opll.

Online Participation – stock taking

Paolo Spada | University of Coimbra (Portugal)
The Untapped Potential of Participatory Systems

Abstract: Participatory systems that combine multiple engagement processes have moved from being an isolated case in the Brazilian city of Canoas and the state of Rio Grande do Sul to a global trend. Many European cities in the last two years have begun to build prototype participatory systems in the form of web-containers that describe the variety of participatory processes implemented by the city and available to citizens. To date these participatory systems are still not fully developed and are not much more than a directory of participatory processes. However, some experiments have shown the great potential of these systems to allow for new and innovative engagement strategies coupled with advanced monitoring and research capabilities. In this presentation I will overview the emerging body of knowledge on participatory systems and I will highlight some of the untapped potential of participatory system, together with the risk that these new participatory technologies face. The presentation will leverage a vast array of case studies and practical examples from my own work in Brazil, UK, US, Canada, UK and Europe and will use research conducted over the course of the EMPATIA project in collaboration with the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy (IODP) and the Participedia Project.

How to reach several types of citizens, or communities, or targets in a participatory process? Depending on how you design the process, you might leave outside some citizens. Multi-channel democratic innovations come to fix this. And then you have, as a step forward, participatory systems to integrate multiple democratic innovations each with its own domain.

Of all the projects so far in Participedia (135), most cities have more than one project and in different platforms. And the majority are hybrid or face to face, diminishing the share of online only processes.

There is a growing number of integrated systems. This is the real challenge, to integrate all the tools that come together in a participatory process.

But integration comes with strings attached: who will be in charge of the management? who will control the controllers? Other problems of integration: complexity, transparency, accountability, autonomy, negative interactions…

Advantages: diversification, differentiation, data, cross selling, efficiency, resilience, some other democratic goods, inclusion, etc.


We need to define the “Lego blocks” of participation to be able to compare different initiatives, to design them better, to tell the core blocks from the complementary ones, etc.

Panos Panagiotopoulos | Queen Mary University of London (UK)
‘eParticipation research: from government platforms to new forms of interaction’. A Review.

Abstract: Originally focusing on formal engagement on government platforms, eParticipation research now includes many new types of digital interactions such as social media and crowdsourcing applications. The presentation will review main developments based on accumulated experiences from the 9 years of the eParticipation track, IFIP 8.5 International Conference on eGovernment.

We have gone from government platforms to new forms of interaction. Ubiquitous participation is moving people out from institutional platforms. The definition of e-Participation has been changing since the last ten years.

Social media has gone from being something for youngsters, or to address young ones, to be arguably the most important part of any e-participation initiative, including regular government communication practices. Now social media is fully integrated into workflows, especially in:

  • Event-based communications like emergencies,
  • Questions, complaint management and engagement with representatives
  • crowdsourcing capabilities starting from basic social media monitoring.

Article. Digital platforms: consumption groups and cooperatives vs. The Food Assembly in the case of Barcelona

Article cover of "Consumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona"
Consumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona (article)

Ricard Espelt, Núria Vega and I have just published an article at on consumption cooperatives: Plataformas digitales: grupos y cooperativas de consumo versus La Colmena que dice sí, el caso de Barcelona (Digital platforms: consumption groups and cooperatives vs. The Food Assembly in the case of Barcelona).

The article compares the emergence of agroconsumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona since the mid 1990s with the most recent appearance of (presumably) platform cooperativism-based initiatives such as The Food Assembly.

The main conclusions are that while agroconsumption groups and cooperatives are deeply rooted in the social and solidarity economy, and most of the times in the sharing economy, some platform-based initiatives not only do not share this principles but, as it is the case of The Food Assembly, they do not even match in what we understand by platform cooperativism.

The article is in Spanish. An abstract in English follows and then the link for downloading the full paper.


The cooperative tradition around the consumption of agro-food products has a strong historical background in the city of Barcelona. Even if we refer to the first modern consumer cooperatives, we realize that their task has twenty-five years of permanence (Espelt et al, 2015). More recently —in July 2014— appears in the city another initiative of consumption to facilitate direct sales between local producers and communities of consumers, called food assemblies. Although the origins and differences between models are evident, they both share some common aspects in their approaches —willingness to self-manage, disintermediation of production and building a community—, articulated as part of the so-called “Collaborative Economy”. For their part, both types of initiatives, although with a very different approach, have in technology an important backbone for their activity. In this article, we analyze the points of encounter and discrepancy between the two actors as a model, placing the research framework in the city of Barcelona, where —in March 2017— we located some sixty groups and consumer cooperatives (Espelt et al., 2015) And thirteen food assemblies, six in operation and seven under construction. Emphasizing as differential factors, economic, technical, legal aspects, type of governance, values associated with the model or linked to the relationship between people, producers, final product or space.


logo of PDF file
Espelt, R., Peña-López, I. & Vega Rodríguez, N. (2017). “Plataformas digitales: grupos y cooperativas de consumo versus La Colmena que dice sí, el caso de Barcelona”. In Redes.com, 15, 145-174. Revista de estudios para el desarrollo social de la comunicación. Sevilla: NMI/Compolíticas.