Digital technologies present a strong opportunity for governments in Europe to better engage with citizens. But lack of funding, security and quality standards are slowing down the development of new forms of democratic processes.
Discover the latest insights on online participation, deliberation, and voting in Europe in this report published jointly by The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and The Innovation in Politics Institute.
See what’s inside
- Effects of democracy technologies on democracy
- Current market size and projected future trends in Europe
- Most pressing challenges in the industry, including security, ease of access and verification
- Key considerations regarding quality standards, regulation and know-how transfer
Based on a series of in-depth interviews with 53 politicians, experts and representatives of companies across Europe, the following key findings on the state of democracy technologies can be drawn:
A growing demand
- As a growing number of political professionals in Europe is trying to find ways to increase democracy’s representativeness and effectiveness, participatory and deliberative forms of democracy are on the rise.
- In addition to already established formats such as participatory budgeting, new promising growth areas emerge, such as citizen participation in reducing carbon emissions and other policy areas.
- Mature democracy technology implementations show that demand increases where citizens get a sense of real impact, but also that innovation is needed where this sense is missing.
- These technologies constitute a new democratic infrastructure, and to date, this is often unnoticed by legislative bodies and policymakers.
- This infrastructure has shown to become particularly useful in times of crisis, including during the Covid pandemic that turned out to be an accelerator for democracy technologies.
- As end-to-end verifiable voting systems are available, online voting is increasingly applied by institutions, parties and other organisations in the political sphere.
A growing supply
- There are more than 100 vendors in Europe in the field of online participation, deliberation and voting. The vast majority of interviewed company representatives report a strong increase in demand for their services.
- The estimates by companies in this field suggest that the European market volume for participation and deliberation technologies in the public sector is estimated by interviewed industry representatives to be below 100 million Euros in 2022 and expected to grow to 300 million euros in the next five years.
- The market volume for online voting (referenda, elections, government-type organisations, party primaries, unions and associations) is estimated by interviewed industry representatives to be below 100 million euros in 2022 and expected to grow to 500 million euros within the next five years.
- There is a window of opportunity for European providers of democracy technologies to expand beyond Europe, as their products and services receive positive reception in other regions of the world.
- Industry and government representatives stressed a lack of funding to adequately expand the development and implementation of democracy technologies as they see them as vital pillars of the democratic infrastructure.
Quality standards for online participation, deliberation and voting
- Technologies and processes applied by governments vary in quality and security.
- Politicians and public officials often lack experience on how to identify, select and apply the appropriate technologies for citizen participation initiatives.
- The interview results suggest that the introduction of a Europe-wide quality trustmark for core processes of democracy technologies would be welcomed in the political sphere and contribute to the growth of citizen participation, as it would increase confidence of users and buyers of such technologies.
- Balancing ease of access and secure authentication of citizens remains an area of development and potential risk of democracy technologies.
- In a high number of participatory budgets, it’s possible to propose projects and vote on the city budget without being an eligible citizen.
- Some players have started to apply more secure authentication processes, but reducing the risk of potential manipulation on a large scale should be addressed on the respective national levels.
- As end-to-end verifiable systems become available for online voting, vendors state that security standards for end-to-end verifiable voting are needed.
National agencies for online participation, deliberation and voting
- Statements made by representatives of local governments suggest that municipalities across Europe need more support from their national governments to introduce and improve online participation, deliberation and voting.
- Local governments’ needs range from providing tools and processes, handling data and security issues to providing knowhow and best practice exchange.
- Also, in some countries, the legal framework for participatory and deliberative democracy and online voting lags behind the reality in the field, e.g. when it comes to inclusiveness, data usage, accountability or transparency.
- To support local governments in their needs and ensure the consistent quality of participation processes, national agencies for online participation and voting should be established. These agencies should provide know-how and offer advice on security-checked tools to local governments, as well as develop recommendations to lawmakers and evaluate the impact of participatory processes.