Robert Bjarnason: Citizen participation in Iceland through the web Better Reykjavík

Notes from the Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet. From the Global Spring to the Net Democracy, organized by the Communication and Civil Society programme of the IN3 in Barcelona, Spain, in October 24-25, 2012. More notes on this event: comsc.

Keynote: Robert Bjarnason (Icelandic non-profit “Citizens Foundation”)
Citizen participation in Iceland through the web Better Reykjavík (European eDemocracy Awards 2011)

The economic crisis made trust on politicians a difficult issue. The idea of Better Reykjavík was to use technology to get politics closer to the citizens, to improve participation, to boost public debate. The initial website gathered more than 100 initiatives that only Best Party (the party that ended up winning the local election) used and applied. And not only proposals were made, but there also was discussion and quality debate.

Better Reykjavík opened in collaboration with the city of Reykjavík on the 19 October 2011, with a strong collaboration with the city council. It has been a success because there has been an active collaboration with the city government: 13 out of top 17 ideas are being processed by the city every month. People in the city have been made aware of the website through PR and marketing and feel that they are being listened to. The website is heavily connected to social media, which helped in providing lots of feedback. Most of the visits to the website come through Facebook.

Better Reykjavík succeeded in inviting people to provide pros and cons for each issue discussed, a thing that was easy to do as points were separated so that discussions did not become too complex. And its the very same community the one that filters content and prioritises the proposals. Transparency is a total priority.

The website also includes a secure voting system that worked both online and offline, with electronic ID or with username/password identification.

A project recently included is participatory budgeting, but this is a very specific issue in participation with its own “rules”: people participate less, it requires more time, more information, more understanding of what is at stake, etc.

Everything has contributed in settling the Better Reykjavík site as a structural tool in decision-making in the cityh. It has been used for financial planning, online debates, referendums, etc. at different levels of the local administration. The strongest asset is that helps people in making up their minds.

All the software is open source and can be found at GitHub as Social Innovation. On the other hand, the software also operates as an online service as Your Priorities now serving the whole world and supported by the Citizens Foundation.

Crowdsourced Constitution

A constitutional assembly of 20 was elected amongst 1000 candidates that presented themselves to the elections. All the meetings and proposals and documents (including drafts) of the assembly have been published online and, at last, the Constitution is being voted.


Q: were there proposals that were not accepted by the administration? in case that happened, why was that so? what was the reaction of the citizens? Robert Bjarnason: when that happened, the government would explain why a specific proposal was not possible (usually lack of funds). A good thing about the platform is that people were treated by adults by the government, so the dialogue was serious, constructive and, above all, honest.

Q: was the success the tool’s or the fact that the government was listening? How does one make that the government listens? Bjarnason: it worked both ways. Of course the government was willing to listen and to get people to participate, but also the open and transparent process contributed in making the tool much more binding.

Q: when proposals get to the top, is all the population aware of that? Will they vote? Bjarnason: the website is widely used and everyone interested in local politics are aware. Voters range from 500 to 2000 citizens, which stands for 20-30% of active users of the site. But it has to be taken into account the people only vote for the things they care, and the website gathers all types of proposals.


Digital culture, networks and distributed politics in the age of the Internet (2012)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2012) “Robert Bjarnason: Citizen participation in Iceland through the web Better Reykjavík” In ICTlogy, #109, October 2012. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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2 Comments to “Robert Bjarnason: Citizen participation in Iceland through the web Better Reykjavík” »

  1. Hey this is a wonderful looking blog, is wordpress? Forgive me for the foolish question but if so, what theme is? Thanks!

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