The People’s Assembly Rahvakogu was a platform of crowd-sourcing ideas and proposals to amend Estonia’s electoral laws, political party law, and other issues related to the future of democracy in Estonia. People’s Assembly took place in 2013 as an example process for engaging citizens into policymaking.
The Assembly focused specifically on five questions: the electoral system, political parties, competition between the political parties and their internal democracy, financing of the political parties, strengthening the role of civic society in politics between the elections, and stopping the politicization of public offices.The Assembly combined modern communication tools with traditional face-to-face discussions. Below is a short overview of the structure of the People’s Assembly.
January 2013 proposals and comments were gathered and supported or criticized online at rahvakogu.ee. Every proposal had to fall under one of the fixed topics: the electoral system, the functioning of political parties, the financing of political parties, public participation in political decision-making, and the politicization of public offices. Those topics that did not fit into one of the categories were placed under the “varia” category and were left out from the further discussion. The online platform also provided an opportunity to comment, support or criticize the submitted proposals. This step of the Assembly process was open to everybody.
February 2013 analysts grouped the proposals and comments into 59 bundles of different possible scenarios and provided them with impact analysis. Each of the five main topics was divided into a number of subtopics. Around 30 experts contributed with their professional knowledge by giving an impact assessment of citizens’ policy porposals regarding what implementation of the proposals would bring.
March 2013 five thematic seminars on five mentioned topics were held to chose which proposals to submit to the “deliberation day”. During the five seminars that were held, political representatives, experts, and citizens who had contributed to the original proposals in the crowdsourcing process deliberated upon the submitted ideas. The overall aim of the thematic seminars was to single out which of the ideas put forward on the online platform could best solve the problems that led to the creation of the Assembly initiative. As a result, 18 most important issues were selected for the deliberation day
April 2013: “The Citizen Assembly Day”-held on 6 April, 2013. A stratified random sample from different subsets of the population were selected to participate in the deliberation day. The selection took into account characterization such as place of residence, age and sex to have a representative body of Estonian society. Of the 550 people who were invited, 314 citizens actually chose to participate. The 18 proposals were discussed in the tables of approximately 10 people. Every table was hosted by a moderator to assist the deliberation process. The participants were handed briefing materials regarding each proposal, including the assessments of the experts. Every table’s preferences were eventually aggregated into a group preference via voting. As a result, 15 out of 18 proposals were selected to be sent to the Estonian parlament, the Riigikogu, for legislative amendments.
The proposals were then presented to the Estonian parliament, Riigikogu, by the President of the Republic, Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
By summer 2014, three proposals out of the 15 that were sent to the parliament have actually become laws. In addition, four proposals have been partly implemented or redefined as commitments in the government coalition programme. Read more here.
The People’s Assembly was organized by volunteers from various non-governmental organizations, such as the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, the Praxis Centre for Policy Studies, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations, the e-Governance Academy, the Open Estonia Foundation, as well as political parties, IT and communications professionals, and others.
Overviews of the process and impact of the People’s Assembly:
- Summary of the People’s Assembly process: “People’s Assembly in Estonia – crowdsourcing solutions for problems in political legitimacy. Case description of deliberative process” (pdf), Praxis Centre for Policy Research, 2014
- Estonia set up an online ‘People’s Assembly’ to make proposals for government reform – Open Government Guide, 2013
- Enhancing Estonia’s democracy through Rahvakogu – interview with Olari Koppel from the Estonian Cooperation Assembly (14.8.2013, blog Re:Imagining Democracy, Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS, Latvia)
- People’s Assembly page on Participedia
- People´s Assembly on Joinup
Some reflections and opinions about the People’s Assembly process:
- NGOs Launch Crowd-Sourcing Project to Repair Democracy (07.01.2013)
- People’s Assembly Seeks 500 to Debate Proposals (21.01.2013, ERR News)
- Organizer Happy with Quality of Proposals in People’s Assembly (01.02.2013, ERR News)
- Estonia’s Praxis to work out People’s Assembly proposals by end of February (05.02.2013, Postimees)
- Rahvakogu: Estonian policy idea crowdsourcing site, (07.02.2013, blog Re:Imagining Democracy, Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS, Latvia)
- People’s Assembly Results: Lower Election Threshold, But ‘No’ to Direct Presidential Elections (06.04.2013, ERR News)
- Rahvakogu, Estonia – From ideas to laws (blog of the Citizens Foundation, Iceland, 2013)
- Sociologists: Parliament Must Listen to People’s Assembly (08.04.2013, ERR News)
- People’s Assembly Results Conflict With Initial Goals, Says PR Executive (10.04.2013, ERR News)
- ‘People’s Bills’ Heading to Parliament in Fall (14.05.2013, ERR News)
- Sweeping Political Financing and Oversight Bill to Take the Floor (23.05.2013, ERR News)
- Constitutional Committee Sends Political Parties Act to Parliament (24.09.2913, ERR News)
- Bill Introduced to Allow Citizens to Send Petitions to Parliamentary Committees (23.10.2013, ERR News)
- Three proposals of People’s Assembly became laws in a year (06.04.2014, Hea Kodanik portal)
Watch Urmo Kübar, the head of the Network of Estonian Non-government Organisations, presenting People´s Assembly as part of the Bright Spot competition organised at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London at 31st of October and 1st of November 2013: