To forge closer ties between the public and politics, the Netherlands can draw inspiration from digital citizen engagement tools deployed in other countries at the national level.
We differentiate between tools for:
• informative citizen engagement (e-information);
• agenda-setting citizen engagement (e-consultation);
• direct citizen engagement (e-decision-making).
The various categories of tools can form part of a response to (1) citizens wanting to feel adequately represented by politicians and public administrators in debates and decisions, and (2) politicians and public administrators wanting to understand what is happening in society and to harness the knowledge and skills of the public.
In this report, we highlight how digital tools contribute to democratic legitimacy and under what conditions. Our international comparison of online democracy experiences in Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Taiwan and Scotland revealed a wide range of information systems, interactive online platforms, voting and visualisation tools and ad hoc deliberation processes with digital elements. Some examples were initiated by governments themselves, others are institutionalised private initiatives. They give shape to three forms of online citizen involvement: e-information (chapter 2), e-consultation (chapter 3) and e-decision-making (chapter 4). We are also familiar with such instruments in the Netherlands.
We have found that well-designed digital civic engagement can be an answer to citizens' need to feel more heard. At the same time, digital civic engagement offers opportunities for administrators and politicians to have more contact with citizens between elections at the national level. The foreign examples are rich in insights into the conditions under which digital instruments can contribute to the democratic legitimacy of legislative and decision-making processes. But they also show that it is not easy to fulfil the promise of online democracy. Online platforms and digital tools are no panacea or quick fix. It takes effort and more than technological gadgets to create fruitful, free and safe interaction between politicians and citizens.
With this research, the Rathenau Institute is drawing attention to the question of how technologies can contribute to a future-proof democracy. Previously we published Griffiers en digitalisering (2019), on digitisation in local democracy, Prospects for e-democracy in Europe (2017), on digital citizen participation for the European Parliament and Digital Democracy: Opportunities and Dilemmas (2015), on digital citizen engagement for the Dutch Parliament. 'Knowledge for Democracy' is a spearhead in the work of the Rathenau Instituut. A central question is how citizens can be more involved in democratic decision-making, where scientific insights, interests and different values play a role.