Tools for digital democracy are available in every shape and size. Below are a number that we have observed being used in the Netherlands and abroad:
1. First of all, there are digital citizen initiatives. In Finland, members of the public have the right to submit bills to the Finnish Parliament. If they collect 50,000 signatures in support of the bill, Parliament treats it like any other piece of draft legislation.
2. Another example concerns online public consultations, such as the internetconsultatie used in the Netherlands. Individuals and organisations can retrieve information about draft legislation in this way and make suggestions on how to improve the quality and practical feasibility of the legislation.
3. The third example involves inviting the public to help write policy documents online through a wiki-based website. The City of Melbourne organised a participation process aimed at developing a shared strategic planning agenda. Local residents and other stakeholders were able to work on the municipal strategic planning document online. They could also discuss their ideas at meetings with policymakers, who added them to the online document later.
4. The final example is participatory budgeting. In this case, the public is asked to share their thoughts on how to spend part of the government budget. The Netherlands is certainly not in the lead in this regard (Hofman, 2011), but a few local authorities are experimenting with participatory budgeting online, for example the City of Breda and the Town of Oss. Rotterdam used to have a basic version in which local residents were asked to vote (online) on a series of initiatives, with the city’s new skating rink being one of the winning proposals. Much more progress has been made in online participatory budgeting in other countries, including Brazil, Germany and France.
There are also experiments under way with online elections or online opinion-formation and opinion polls (for example through Argu. It is important to examine needs and requirements and phase of decision-making when choosing a digital tool to ensure the best match.