24th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 19-21 March 2013)
Debate on “E-democracy and smart cities” - E-democracy in Malmö
The future of local democracy depends on the development of e-forms of government
20 March 2013
Strasbourg, 20.03.2013 - On Wednesday the 20th March, the Chamber of Local regions concluded its morning session with a debate entitled Smart Cities: new technologies serving democracy. The key points for debate were the power of social media in shaping the way in which local issues are dealt with and the electronic and mobile tools which enable people to interact with local government.
In Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, the local government has been working with the “proactive information and communication technology sector” to develop means of involving the general population in the local decision making process. One such example, given by Mr Raymond TAMM, the city’s Deputy-Mayor, involves citizens sending text messages to their local government to alert them to issues such as, broken benches or blown street lights. These initiatives even extend to the entertainment sector; Mr TAMM told the Chamber of one, which reactivates the lights at the public sports park, for those who want to visit after hours. These initiatives have been largely influenced by the high penetration of mobiles in Estonia. According to Mr TAMM there are currently 139 mobile phone contracts for every 100 people in the country. In this way he is able to reach a varied cross-section of the inhabitants: around 1%, according to his estimations.
The second point for debate was social media, which according to Mr Raimond TAMM “gives people remarkably more power”. Social media is being used in many cities to help keep citizens involved; in Europe the use of social media has contributed to more citizen participation and increased service delivery as well as reducing administration costs. In the Netherlands, there are even guidelines in place and trained individuals who deal with Social media networks.
The morning’s Second speaker, Mr Ilmar REEPALU, Mayor of the town Malmö, Sweden, also expressed the usefulness of online platforms when it came to citizen involvement. His city developed two innovative programs to help get people involved at the local level of politics. First, the Malmö initiative gives the city’s inhabitants a platform on which to voice ideas and pose policies. “An important thing about the initiative”, said Mr REEPALU, “is that you can support the initiatives of others and show that there are more people who think the same way when it comes to a particular issue”. The second idea involves an anonymous vote taken by roughly 1600 people about twice a year. The aim is to get a general feeling of the community’s opinion. In this way the local government can see what policies and plans have been well received and which need reconsidering.
MR REEPALU opened his speech by saying that his main aim when launching these initiatives was to include more young people in the democratic process. In Europe, “between 25 and more than 50% of young people feel that democracy is not the right way of running a society.” Given the Session’s theme of “the crisis in Europe and the challenges of local and regional democracy”, the idea of citizen involvement in local politics is very important. The statistics given by Mr REEPALU show that young people feel excluded by democratic society. This disenchantment is largely driven by high unemployment rates. Social, media, the internet and mobile phones are one way of including these young people in the decision making process and thus making them feel that they can have an influence, even in these troubled times. However it was expressed by both speakers and members of the debate that it is important that these methods of communication do not replace traditional forms of media such as the press, radio, television and even face-to-face meetings to avoid excluding the less technologically abled and those without access to the internet.