Opinion Factsheet  

Renforcer la gouvernance locale et la démocratie représentative grâce aux nouveaux instruments des technologies numériques

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Opinion Number: CDR 830/2020
Rapporteur: PIHELGAS Rait
Commission: CIVEX
Status: Adopted
Date: 10/12/2020
 
In recent years, the widespread use of IT has fundamentally changed people's lives. Developments in technology have also transformed the governance process and created a new digital political arena. The new digital world we live in entails changes at local and regional level, the successful implementation of which depends to a great extent on LRAs' ability to grasp the opportunities associated with new digital technology and ICT tools and benefit from their potential to reinforce the quality of decision-making, and improve local governance.
The opinion highlights the role of digital technology for strengthening local democracy. It points out that the use of digital technology instruments and IT tools in local governance is an opportunity to provide people with high-quality public services, create a new environment for consultation and participation, provide high quality information, analyse public response, extend efforts to remote areas, reach out to the most disadvantaged citizens, incorporate the knowledge and expertise of citizens, and "co-create" policies according to their needs and expectations, and ultimately – enhance the legitimacy of our democratic system.
The opinion calls on all levels of government to make full use of available ‘civic tech’ digital tools; devote adequate financial, human and training resources; ensure affordable and high-speed digital infrastructure; prioritise the introduction of digital tools in all funds and programmes and use digital channels of their own to communicate with the public, with a view to ensuring that the information provided is reliable and relevant to local and regional needs
The opinion proposes revising the eligibility criteria for access to the Software as a Service (SaaS) Platforms which are now subscription-based so that the local and regional authorities have an easy access to ‘civic tech’ digital tools, including through EU funding for SaaS platforms. It is also suggested to the CoR to come up with measures to motivate and reward local and regional authorities so that they stiffen their commitment to the principles of open and inclusive administration which could create a new quality criterion in the future to measure the degree of democracy in local communities and allow for pooling best practices.
19 May 2020 **- webinar on the role of digital technology for incresing citizens' participation, organised by the Association Civic Tech Europe (ACTE)
**On 19 May 2020, the rapporteur Rait Pihelgas participated in a webinar on the role of digital technology for incresing citizens' participation, organised by the Association Civic Tech Europe (ACTE), and presnted the main conclusions and messages of the opinion at the round table on the topic: Keep the democracy alive on a continuous basis: how digital tools can increase the citizens’ participation andhelp public authorities to strengthen their relationship with the Europeans?
Other participants in the round table were:
MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield,Vice-Chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, Member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs;**
Lucrezia Busa, Member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Didier Reynders;
Mattia de' Grassi, Member of the Cabinet of Commissionner Dubravka Šuica.
The webinar was attended by more than 100 participants

15 October 2020 - Workshop on Innovating citizens' participation, EWRC.
The rapporteur Rait Pihelgas presented the main findings of the opinion in a workshop on Innovating citizens' participation which took place on 15 October 2020 in the framework of the European Week of Regions and Cities. He spoke about the emerging digital political arena where digital technologies can help us find new solutions to challenges and argued that new digital technologies and tools have the potential to improve the quality of decision-making; promote communication and dialogue – such as in using apps to participate in the decision-making – foster active citizenship and engagement in political life, and improve transparency and accountability; extend efforts to remote areas and reach out to the most disadvantaged citizens; incorporate the skills, knowledge and expertise of citizens, and "co-create" policies according to their needs and expectations, and ultimately enhance the legitimacy of our democratic system.The workshop was attended by more than 120 participants - individuals and representatives of LRAs, EU MS and civil society organisations.

22 June 2021 - webinar on Supporting democratic Union and active citizenship in digital era, organised by the European Association for Local Democracy – ALDA
On 22 June 2021 the rapporteur Rait Pihelgas spoke in a webinar on Supporting democratic Union and active citizenship in digital era, organised by the European Association for Local Democracy – ALDA.
The event was linked to the Conference on the Future of Europe and focused on the issues of digitalisation and the impact of new technologies on democracy. Discussions touched upon the challenges raised by digitalisation and digital transformation, on one side, and on the other - the positive impact of new technologies on society and democratic processes.
Mr Pihelgas discussed the main findings of the Opinion on Strengthening local governance and representative democracy via new digital technology instruments and emphasised that the democratic processes should evolve and adapt to the changes, and benefit from the potential of new digital technology and ICT tools to improve governance and the quality of decision-making, and reinforce citizens' participation and engagement. He shared the experience of the Järva Rural Municipality, Estonia in introducing new digital tools and the benefits of it, and spoke about the challenges raised by digitalisation and the responsibility of public authorities and decision makers to invest adequate financial and human resources in digitalisation, and to ensure equal and unhampered access to digital services, and provide digital infrastructure that it is accessible to all. The workshop was attended by more than 100 participants - individuals and representatives of LRAs, governmental organisations and NGOs.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

- Notes that a new digital political arena is emerging; points out that the democratic processes should evolve and adapt to the changes, grasp the opportunities associated with new digital technology and ICT tools and benefit from their potential to reinforce the quality of decision-making, improve local governance, and enhance the legitimacy of our democratic system;

- Considers that local and regional tiers of government are the natural areas for applying "digital transformation"; going digital in local and regional authorities is an excellent opportunity to provide people with high-quality public services, create a new environment for consultation and participation, provide high quality information, analyse public response, extend efforts to remote areas, reach out to the most disadvantaged citizens, incorporate the skills, knowledge and expertise of citizens, and "co-create" policies according to their needs and expectations;

- Considers it important that local and regional authorities use digital channels of their own to communicate with the public, with a view to ensuring that the information provided is reliable and relevant to local and regional needs;

- Emphasises that citizens' participation should be founded on non-discriminatory access to information and knowledge, and equal and unhampered access to digital services; points out the need to narrow the digital divide through education and training, with a special focus on vulnerable or marginalised groups, and reaching out to rural and remote areas;

- Calls on all levels of government to devote adequate financial, human and training resources and ensure affordable and high-speed digital infrastructure, and to guarantee that it is accessible to all. Calls for funding to be made available to improve people's digital and media literacy through educational and training programmes in schools, as well as for local and regional authority staff and office-holders; recommends that local and regional authorities prioritise the introduction of digital tools in all funds and programmes;

- Expects that the introduction of various digital practices by local and regional authorities, which could entail a need for significant, one-off investment, will be part of the overall considerations of the new EU budget within the framework of the digital transformation;

- Shares the concern that local and regional authorities do not always have easy access to "civic tech" digital tools as they are often developed Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms, which are subscription-based; recommends, if necessary, revising the eligibility criteria so that local and regional authorities can bring in new digital solutions and platforms in a simpler and more economical way, including access to EU funding for SaaS platforms.

- Proposes that the CoR come up with measures to motivate and reward local and regional authorities so that they stiffen their commitment to the principles of open and inclusive administration. This could create a new quality criterion in the future so that the degree of democracy in local communities can be measured and best practice pooled;

- Reiterates its call for strong cooperation and sharing of best practices between all levels of government to achieve better use and further upscaling of digital transformation of cities and communities; acknowledges that many national, regional and local cases can be taken as good examples of how digital technology tools can be used for the benefit of participatory democracy.
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