Notes from the 9th World e-Democracy Forum

Back from the 9th World e-Democracy Forum (organized by the City of Issy-les-Moulineaux in Paris).

I had the honour of being a panelist in the e-participation session organized by Politech Institute where I presented the case of e-dialogos, the first and only full scale e-deliberation project in Greece, deployed by the City of Trikala. Our project was received well and I think that we Greeks need to do a better job in disseminating our projects. They may be few but nevertheless some of them are best practices and deserve wider recognition. Rolf Lührs of Tutech, the coordinator of Pep-Net (a prominent network of e-participation practitioners and a blog that stands out from the usual dryness of the sector), offered some insightful comments and noted that they have done something similar to ours with their DEMOS project. We agreed that commitment from political actors and good marketing communications are paramount to these projects. A few more notes from the event:

     ♦ Obama, Obama, Obama! His campaign took the International & Politics Online Award of the conference. Europe is impressed by what is termed as the “first campaign of the 21st century” and Phil Noble of Politics Online was invited to chair a session but unfortunately was not able to make it. However, Obama’s impressive internet campaign has already changed people’s perceptions and many people told me that political parties and politicians already show a strong interest in deploying similar platforms. One problem I can see here is blind copying of methods and tools, something that will inevitably lead to disappointments. There are discreet differences in culture, in the political environment etc between the USA and Europe and there are no ready made recipes or quick wins here. Let’s ponder for a second the obvious differences in volunteering mentality (traditionally strong in the US) or the electoral system itself.

   ♦ Andrew RASIEJ, Founder and President of TechPresident.com received an award by the Mayor Andre Santini and gave a short but engaging speech (the Americans seem to be good at that). TechPresident -one of my favourites – is a daily blog and email digest of how candidates are using the web and how the web is using them, covering all the different online campaign methods and activities. He has also founded the “Personal Democracy Forum“, a really top-notch yearly conference assembling political and technology leaders. He also belongs to the social entrepreneur breed through his MOUSE project (Making Opportunities for and Education) a nonprofit organization that creates technology-based opportunities that motivate underserved students in New York to succeed in today’s information society.

     ♦ Another worthy award was given to Firoze Manji, Founder and Director of Fahamu Networks for Social Justice which publishes Pambazuka News the prize-winning weekly electronic news and information forum for social justice in Africa. It is produced by a pan-African community of some 1,000 citizens and organisations (Pambazuka by the way means the “new dawn”). I had the pleasure of talking to Firoze, an open-minded intellectual, with a strong dedication to his mission and a subversive humour.

     ♦ On the e-government front, Japan seems to live in another planet than the rest of us. Tax breaks, grants, debt guarantees and other instruments aimed at local authorities and telecom operators are in force to minimize the digital divide, although they already boast an amazing infrastructure and a very high internet penetration rate of around 74%. They still call that a “digital divide” and have a concrete strategy to eliminate it completely!

     ♦ Estonia after the world’s first successful deployment of e-voting at municipal and national elections is also moving ahead with various innovations e.g. a state of the art security cross border digital signature solution to be launched together with Portugal, to be expanded to Belgium and France. Their strategy is towards the public provision of secure electronic infrastructure which nevertheless can be used for other solutions like internet banking and notaries.

     ♦ Australia also deserved a special mention for its e-Government Resource Center which has been aggregating the world’s e-Government strategies. Worth bookmarking.

Next in the agenda is the Global Forum 2008 a high-level event on ICTs which takes place in a different city every year and promises to be very interesting. I had some involvement in persuading the organizers to bring this international forum in Athens this year (21st & 22nd October), so I am really glad that this is now a reality. I hope it will be successful.

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