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Budapest Continued August 1, 2006

Posted by Shane McCracken in Budapest symposium, Commentary.
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shane_mccracken.jpgI’ve now caught up on my sleep from Budapest, but not my thoughts.

I have two over-riding themes left over from the event. Firstly was listening to Etienne Chouard speak about his experience as a blogger gathering support for his view of the European Constitutional Treaty against the combined power and reach of the government and mass-media. It was a very clear demonstration of how e-democracy can work in the real world.

One of the main points I took from his presentation was that it is not acceptable under constitutional law for those in power to write the constitution because inevitably it will result in the entrenchment of those structures of power in an undemocratic way.

The second theme that remains with me from the conference is the lack of inspiration, challenge and direction. We had too many civil servants, NGO’s, insitutions and suppliers speaking and not enough people actually practicing eDemocracy like Etienne and Tom Steinberg. There wasn’t enough passion to drive us forward, to encourage local politicians and officers to take risks. We needed to be reminded of the upsides of eParticipation, and of the downsides of not doing anything. Local authorities find stepping into the unpredictable world of eDemocracy risky. We need to remind them why it is a risk worth taking.

In order to do this we need to reach out beyond those in power to help write the direction for eDemocracy. We need to make sure that the conversations that occured at the reception, at 2am in the bar, are not lost, they should be continued in public and we should try to draw more people into the conversation. Already a start is being made. Cllr Antonia Bance posted some remarks on her blog and a conversation has ensued. I’m sure these conversations are occurring elsewhere. If so please let everyone know by leaving a comment on this blog so we can all contribute.

Shane McCracken

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Budapest – it’s only the beginning August 1, 2006

Posted by dylanjeffrey in Commentary, Reflections.
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dylan_jeffrey.jpgThe event in Budapest is now over – but in a way it is only just beginning.

Buda saw over 300 delegates from nearly 50 countries discussing the issues on e-participation and e-democracy. It joined together local, national and international bodies to present debate and dialogue on what needs to happen in terms of the evolving agenda as well as showcasing some good practice and research. Never before had there been such an international event looking at the complexities of blogging or the future of citizen engagement using ICT.

The hard part is now to keep going this momentum that has been established and to continue the dialogue for the future. Feedback so far received has been extremely positive and informative and I shall be writing to all participants to seek their opinion on how the event could have been made an even better experience for them.

Finally thank you to everyone who made the event what it was, particularly the sponsors and volunteers, without whose support, none of this would have been possible.

Thanks once again to all who have supported this project and hopefully this will be the catalyst for a healthy and democratically engaged society.

Dylan Jeffrey

Reflecting back and projecting forward July 30, 2006

Posted by Mary Reid in Commentary, Reflections.
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mary_reid.jpgBack home in the UK and doing mayoral things, although I nearly didn’t get away from Budapest last night because of intense thunder storms over central Europe.

Some reflections after a stimulating week…

I was very struck with the general understanding of e-participation and the wide knowledge of its tools. This was in marked contrast to two or three years ago when we were having to start from the beginning to explain it at conferences.

Councillor Paul Bettison, the Leader of Bracknell Forest Council in England, ran through all the tools currently available, from online panels, through e-petitions to councillors websites. Paul leads on e-government for the Local Government Association, and is a strong advocate of smart cards, but he has not been directly involved in the Local e-Democracy National Project. So it was a huge pleasure to realise that the National Project has done its job in raising awareness of e-participation and getting councils to think about how to increase democratic interaction with citizens.

The discussions elsewhere on e-voting turned on the need to build the trust of citizens and also of administrators. We heard of many technological solutions – validation and verification, third party testing and evaluation – but I wonder if it is really such a problem. Citizens already trust the National Lottery in the UK, not to mention reality show voting.

For me the key test is whether the candidates trust it. After all, in traditional paper voting they can check the counting of the votes in a very open and straightforward fashion, and can ask for a recount if necessary. If the results are simply posted by the software, no amount of reassurance about independent auditing of the systems will convince them unless they can check with their own eyes.

I’m not against e-voting at all, but it must pass the candidate satisfaction test for me before I would be happy to accept it. Having made these comments in the hall some e-voting suppliers caught me and were keen to explain that once international standards had been adopted it would be possible for political parties to commission their own third party systems which could then interrogate the voting system and verify the results. I’d be very interested in seeing this, though I’m not sure how accessible this would be to independent candidates in small local elections.

Finally, the symposium was enlivened by the presence of several young people, most of them members of the UK Youth Parliament. They contributed to all the sessions but particularly to the one on ‘Engaging Young People’, where we heard from Shane McCracken from Gallomanor about ‘I’m a councillor, get me out of here’.

Conference Engagement July 27, 2006

Posted by dylanjeffrey in Commentary, Reflections.
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dylan_jeffrey.jpgWell so far everything seems to be going very smoothly. We lost two speakers at the last minute who have been replaced with another two very late but incredibly able substitutions. The conference organising team is working really hard and full credit goes to Susie Ruston for organising them all so well. The team is Alice Chicken, Kerry Westwood, Justin Lee, Fraser henderson, Maria Pryor and Alan Winchcombe – if you bump into any of them over the next few days, they are the ones helping to make the event such a great success.

Everyone appears to be enjoying the event, catching up with old friends and making lots of new ones. The sessions too have been some of the most informative and stimulating of any event I have attended in many years. On the social side, much food has been eaten and much wine and beer has been drunk to accompany long debates on the political e-universe and where we need to be steering the Great Ship H.M.S. e-Participation and Local Democracy. I think I was one of the last to bed managing to make it into bed at well after 3 a.m. – so congrats to anybody who made it afterwards and also attended the first session the next morning at 8:45 a.m. when Mayor Jules Pipe from Hackney was nothing less than brilliant as a speaker.

By the way, check the photos out on this page done taken by storming Wriggly Wigley to check out who’s here and spot the sad person attending (so far I have not found a single one!)

Dylan Jeffrey

Democratic challenges July 27, 2006

Posted by Mary Reid in Commentary, Reflections.
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mary_reid.jpgI promised to add my own comments from time to time – can’t possibly match Griff’s mega-contributions.

By 2.30pm yesterday the reception was filling up with familiar faces. When we finally began Dylan Jeffrey, the symposium director, welcomed us all, told us where the toilets were (not the plant pots apparently) and how to get a drink after the event.

The highlight of the afternoon for me was a passionate account of the democratic deficit in Arab countries by Najat Rochdi, the United Nations representative in the Arab World, and a previous Minister in Morocco.

She asserted that citizenship and participation are both weak in most Arab countries, and that this deficit in democracy contributes to the other deficits of gender, freedom of expression, poverty and education. ICT offers transparency and can be an enabler for change, but the challenge is to decide which model of citizenship to adopt.

It rather put some of our arcane debates inthe UK into some perspective.

The Bell Tolls July 22, 2006

Posted by dylanjeffrey in Commentary, Reflections.
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dylan_jeffrey.jpgWell it’s now late on Saturday (22:43 GMT) at the Department for Communities and Local Government and the only people left are the security personnel and the Emergency Planning Team sleeping somewhere close by – just in case!

The candles are still burning at the Conference Office at 21c as Susie puts the finishing touches to what looks like being two great events and the communications are still hot over the telephone lines between the Conference Office, the Department and our associates in the USA, Belgium and the UK even at this time of night. Tiredness has been and gone and like a good meal it is all about the preparation before one is allowed to enjoy the fruits following a toast to celebrate.

My flight to Budapest is tomorrow and the overall feeling is that things are almost there and it is really looking good. The banners have been produced, the bags have been organised, the programmes (40+ pages) have been printed, speakers have been informed, delegates have registered and the mass exodus from around the world is about to begin.

I was thinking about what would make a good theme tune for the event (in real terms, the only theme will e-participation and local democracy) – should it be something classical like Holst’s the Four Planets or maybe something from Elgar or Mahler, or maybe something poptastic like Celebrate from Kool and the Gang or Copa du Monde from Ricky Martin, maybe something instrumental like Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. However for me I would like it to be One Love by Bob Marley and the Wailers – a real feel good tune.

The only music you will hear in Budapest is the up (beat) words of the speakers and delegates as we get to grips with the issues. It promises to be exciting, interesting and stimulating and should provide some answers about the future direction of this work on an individual, local, regional, national, continental and global basis. The other music in Budapest will be at the gala reception on Thursday night when there will be music from an indigenous Hungarian gypsy band who will be accompanied by folk dancers.

I am looking forward to meeting many old hands and lots of new faces. Roll on Wednesday!

Dylan Jeffrey