Representatives of the groups involved in D-CENT met in London to share their experiences. Robert Bjarnason of Iceland’s Citizens Foundation talked about how he thought D-CENT could boost democracy in Europe.
We’re a non-profit that started after the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008, and we aim to increasing people’s influence in policy and government. All the banks went bankrupt, and there was a big decrease in trust in the political process and parliament. Parliament went from a 70-something percent trust rating down to six or seven per cent. It’s now recovered to 14%.
I started Iceland’s first internet service provider in 1993, and I thought we could use the internet to empower people and give them a stronger voice. Our Your Priorities tool was written into the original proposal, and I think D-CENT could really help us.
On a basic level, it’s channelling resources into volunteer-driven projects. One benefit is being able to meet people and network, and there are a lot of interesting ideas, such as strenghtening open standard and federation of different open source e-democracy solutions. Things are moving very fast in this space. Podemos didn’t even exist when we started, and it’s excellent to work with them.
We integrate online and offline participation. We run a participatory budget each year in Reykjavik, and we set up computers in libraries and city service centres which help people contribute. That’s one thing you can do. You have to support any platform by giving people real world opportunities to participate too.
Success will be if D-CENT manages to push the limits a bit further in participation tools, and runs three successful pilots across Europe that engage real citizens. That’s the main thing. There’s no specific end point apart from the money running out - you could do this for 10 years and keep doing interesting and good stuff. It’s a research and innovation project and we’re doing experiments, so it can only fail if there are no results! It’ll all work out.
We are running participatory budgeting in Reykjavik for the fourth time. It’s become a bit of a routine, which is good, and we’ve got a new version of the software, and I’m sure something exciting will happen with citizens proposing useful projects with social impact.