The description of the 22 cases is based on an evaluation framework for assessing the digital tools. The selection of the key elements of the framework has been made according to the project’s central aim: To identify and analyse best practices with digital tools for participatory and direct democracy at different political and governmental levels (local, national, European) that in the future can be used at EU level to encourage citizen engagement and countervail the European democratic deficit.
In view of the current crisis of representative democracy, the disengagement from the democratic processes and the distance of citizens from EU institutions, restoration and enhancement of democratic legitimacy at the European level is needed. Therefore, we put legitimacy and its key dimensions (Schmidt 2013) centre stage in the evaluation framework and use it as the basis for differentiating further, more specific evaluation aspects. In this we follow the Council of Europe in its recommendation on e-democracy as referred to in the Introduction: “E-democracy, as the support and enhancement of democracy, democratic institutions and democratic processes by means of ICT, is above all about democracy. Its main objective is the electronic support of democracy” (Council of Europe 2009: 1).
In order to investigate how digital tools can contribute to stronger connections between EU citizens and EU politics, we distinguish between five types of citizen involvement: (1) monitoring, (2) formal agenda setting (invited space, i.e. initiated by government), (3) informal agenda setting (invented space, i.e. initiated by citizens), (4) non-binding decision-making and (5) binding decision-making (see Table 5.1) (Kersting 2014). In combination with the focus of the research on democratic legitimacy, this leads to an evaluation model along the lines of the input, throughput and output legitimacy of political decision-making processes (Schmidt 2013; Scharpf 1999).
Fritz W. Scharpf (1999) divided democratic legitimisation into input legitimacy, judged in terms of the EU’s responsiveness to citizen concerns as a result of participation by the people and output legitimacy, judged in terms of the effectiveness of the EU’s policy outcomes for the people. Vivien Schmidt (2013) has added to this theorisation of democratic legitimacy, a third criterion for evaluation of EU governance processes: throughput legitimacy, judging legitimacy in terms of their inclusiveness and openness to consultation with the people.
The distinction between the three criteria for democratic legitimacy helps to understand the particular relevance of the democratic deficit in times of the recent and current EU crisis. Due to the transnational character, EU institutions’ legitimisation has difficulties to be rooted in strong channels of information by citizens (input legitimacy) and consultation with citizens (throughput legitimacy) and thus must rely on legitimising its policies by the quality of its output, that is its decisions and regulations being in the best interest of, and thus being supported by, the citizenry (output legitimacy). The fact that in the latter respect the means of the EU institutions are restricted as well has a special bearing in times of crisis. The missing input legitimacy becomes the more problematic, the weaker output legitimacy is getting, entailing apparent difficulties to establish consensus on a, for example, joint European policy to solve the refugee problem. In a situation where strong decisions have to be taken at the EU level (beyond national interests), input but also throughput legitimacy is urgently needed.
The three types of legitimacy pose different demands on digital tools for citizen involvement. In the following paragraphs we will address these different demands.
Regarding the input legitimacy, the use of digital tools will be assessed for how it enhances the voice of citizens in the political decision-making process. “Voice” concerns the way in which affected citizens are able to influence the political agenda (Manin 1987). To what extent are citizens enabled to express their wishes and interests in political decision-making? How can citizens get an issue on to the political agenda? Is there equal opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns? Are citizens supported enough in their efforts to voice themselves in the process (i.e. interaction support)? Is the tool user-friendly (i.e. tool usability)?
Regarding the throughput legitimacy, an evaluation will be made of how digital tools contribute to the quality of the deliberation process, in terms of an inclusive dialogue and a careful consideration of options (Cohen 1989). Relevant questions are: to what extent do the views of the citizens expressed by the digital tool represent the views of the general population (i.e. representation)? How is the diversity of views within the population (including minority views) reflected in the process? Are the different policy options carefully considered in the deliberation process? Do the citizens have access to all the relevant information about the decision-making process to which the results of the digital citizen involvement should contribute?
Concerning the output legitimacy, responsiveness to the arguments and proposals of citizens (Cohen 1989) and effectiveness (Scharpf 1999) will be evaluated, along with the accountability of decisions made. To what extent do the tools substantially contribute to the political decisions made (i.e. democratic impact)? How do the digital tools contribute to feedback? Is information provided about the decision-making process and its outcomes (i.e. accountability)?
The cases are described based on the questions mentioned in Table 5.2 on the evaluation framework. Each case description has at least four sections: an introductory section (i.e. short description of the digital tool), one on the participants, one on the participatory process and one on the results of the digital tool.