How Finland’s Open Ministry Is Crowdsourcing Legislation

By | June 5, 2013

When citizens are given power they need hackers to help them change the government

I am at Crowdsourcing Week in Singapore, where I gave the opening keynote and have been moderating several panels, including this afternoon on Open Government and Citizen Empowerment.

I was fascinated by the story of Finland’s Open Ministry. At Crowdsourcing Week founder Aleksi Rossi described how Open Ministry is helping citizens to impact their government.

Home page of Open Ministry, showing the successful marriage equality proposal in the center

Crowds changing legislation in Finland

On 1 March 2012 the Finnish government amended the national constitution so any proposed legislation supported by at least 50,000 signatures (1.7% of the voting population) must be put to a vote in the parliament.

Open Ministry is a non-profit, non-aligned organization that supports proposals getting through to the parliament. It has so far been funded with just EUR30,000 of public funds, plus plenty of volunteer work by developers.

Stages in the process

There are three major stages to get an initial proposal through to a vote.

– Ideation and Development. An initial concept needs to be refined into a clear proposition, including robust discussion between interested parties and lawyers helping to frame language in a way that will be acceptable to parliament.

– Campaigning. To gain 50,000 votes broad campaigning on social media and beyond is required, needing directed energy from many people.

– Lobbying. Once a proposal goes to parliament individual lobbying of politicians needs experience and structure to shape thinking and voting.

Successful proposals

The first proposal that reached 50,000 votes, is now being debated in parliament, while a proposal for marriage equality reached over double the threshold number of votes in the first day.

Discussion and comments

The platform on which proposals are voted on allows authenticated comments. The authentication used is the same one used by Finnish banks, so it is considered to be secure.

During the panel following Aleksi’s presentation there was a great discussion with Eleanor Saitta of Open Internet Tools Project, who had spoken earlier in the day, on this issue.

Eleanor contended that anonymous comments is required for robust and fear-free discussion. Aleksi’s view is that these discussions can happen in other venues than the Open Ministry platform. This issue of identified or anonymous discussion is in fact a very important one in creating the future of participatory democracy.

Heading for broader impact

Open Ministry is looking to expand in a number of directions from here. It will take its federal model and apply it to Finnish municipalities with Open Council.

Open Ministry is planned to open in Slovakia and Italy, which both have existing laws for petition-supported proposals for legislation, but do not have the infrastructure to support discussion, campaigning and lobbying.

There is also a possibility of Open Commission which will use similar approaches at the European Commission level.

Open Ministry is a fascinating case study of making the most of more open legislation so that crowds can genuinely have an impact. It illustrates directions for how participatory democracy may evolve.

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