Which canton offers the most digital political participation?
Digitalisation is impacting everything, including democracy. Young people live in an ever more digitalised world. Democracy, therefore, is adjusting to this digital age by introducing digital tools wherever this might be possible, safe and beneficial. There is a big variety of different tools for digital political participation but no systematic overview. For this reason, the DigiPartIndex (see Hofmann et al. 2022; Serdült et al. 2021, 2022; Serdült and Hofmann 2022) was launched to evaluate digital political participation in the Swiss cantons and creates a baseline for debate.
There are two reasons why democracy has to adapt to the digital age: First, as digitalisation moves forward it increasingly affects democratic processes – whether we want it or not, and secondly, younger generations live in an ever more digitalised world. With the political participation rates of young people being typically low, there may be other ways to motivate them into participating, and that most probably includes digital options. Increasingly, therefore, society will consider which aspects of democracy can be digitised, which aspects should be digitised, and which aspects should remain in the analogue world (see for example Ammann and Schnell 2019; Fichter 2017; Gfeller et al. 2019; Graf and Stern 2018; Kersting 2019; Vayenas 2017).
However, to be able to lead this societal debate we need information on current practices, innovations and visions. For the Swiss case, this is further complicated by federalism and an important part of democratic processes taking place at the cantonal level. This is why we introduced the DigiPartIndex: With the DigiPartIndex we can measure possibilities for digital political participation in a systematic way and make comparisons. This, in turn, allows the identification of best practices and shows where each canton has the potential to improve digital political participation.
What is digital political participation and how can it be measured?
“digital political participation is a process that involves citizens in the design, decision-making and implementation of policies with the help of information and communication technologies, with the aim of making this process participatory, inclusive and deliberative” (UNDESA) 2020)
The DigiPartIndex captures digital tools that are geared towards a political process and weighs them by the degree of added value they create in comparison to analogues forms of participation. While simple websites with information on the political system only obtain a low score, vote advice applications (VAA) such as smartvote score high because they create additional insights by combining user input and available political knowledge. The DigiPartIndex covers three dimensions: opinion formation (eDeliberation, eCivic Eduction and eTransparency), co-creation (eConsultation and eDemand) and decision making (eID and eVoting). Each canton is assessed on a scale between 0 and 100 points.
How are the cantons faring?
There is a big variance and very low to medium scores:
- The two Appenzell cantons and Glarus, small cantons with long traditions of direct and even assembly democracy, have the lowest scores for the digital world.
- Geneva, St. Gallen, Zurich and Aargau are currently at the top of the index. These are cantons with either big cities or a large population.
- The difference between cantons at the top and the bottom of the index is relatively big.
- No canton currently obtains more than 55 points, which is considered only a medium score, relative to what is possible. There is, therefore, a lot of room for development.
- We note slightly increased scores between 2021 and 2022.
- Some cantons faced a massive drop in their score (mostly because eConsultation software was not being used in 2022 anymore)
Figure 1: Cantonal scores for the DigiPartIndex (DPI) for the years 2021 and 2022 (source: Hofmann et al. 2022)
What are some best practices?
The canton of Geneva runs an open-source participation platform. This platform can be used for eDeliberation, eConsultation and eventually also eDemands. In other words, citizens can use this platform to talk about political issues and thereby form their opinion, they can give feedback on planned legislations and eventually they can also start their own policy projects and thereby provide input into the political system. In our view, this is an important tool as it offers broad access to the political debate. As it is online, participation is not bound to a time and place, allowing citizens to participate when and wherever they want. However, while the tool offers a lot of potential, there is not a lot of active engagement at the moment. Our index penalises such a lack of use: there is little value in measuring something that few use.
For eCivic Education, several interesting initiatives are worth mentioning. For example, the law-maker simulates the legislative process of the canton of Zurich with the image of a pinball machine. This interactive and (almost) gamified model of the legislative process manages to make a very technical issue attractive to young people. In the area of VAAs, the CH+ project also provides a more gamified version of smartvote, again making political issues more attractive for younger citizens. Finally, in many cantons, there are initiatives to make important information about the political system available in either simplified language or in many different languages that are not official languages (e.g. hallo-glarus.ch).
For eTransparency, the “politischer Themenmonitor” by the cantons of Basel-Stadt is an important tool for monitoring the cantonal parliament. It processes all motions that are debated and categorises them by origin, subject and other factors.
For eConsultation, there are several best practices worth mentioning. In addition to the above-mentioned participation platform by the canton of Geneva, several cantons use proprietary software that allows for elaborate civic feedback. Also, the canton of Aargau uses its own tool with standardised surveys for all its consultations
In the area of eID, the cantons of Schaffhausen and Zug are leading. They implemented a proper eID system that allows a secure online identification which can be used for interaction with the administration and eventually also for eVoting or eCollecting. Many other cantons use the solution provided by SwissID.
All in all, our index has revealed an enormous degree of piloting and experimentation with digital democracy tools on the cantonal level in Switzerland.
- Ammann, P. und M. Schnell (2019). Digitale direkte demokratie. Avenir Suisse, Avenir Debatte
- Economic, D. of und U. N. Social Affairs (UNDESA) (2020). United Nations e-government survey 2020: Digital governance in the decade of action for sustainable development
- Fichter, A. (2017). Smartphone-demokratie. Zürich: NZZ Libro
- Gfeller, K., N. Braun Binder, und U. Serdült (2019). Demokratie im digitalen zeitalter: Das beispiel von initiative und referendum in der schweiz. In Kübler, D. et al. (Hrsg.), Brennpunkt demokratie: 10 jahre zentrum für demokratie aarau. Baden: hier+jetzt (48–65)
- Graf, D. und M. Stern (2018). Agenda für eine digitale demokratie. Zürich: NZZ Libro
- Hofmann, G. et al. (2022). DigiPartIndex Schweiz 2022. Jahresberichte. Aarau, Zürich, Lugano: Zentrum für Demokratie Aarau, pro civis Think Tank, Università della Svizzera Italiana
- Kersting, N. (2019). Online partizipation: Evaluation und entwicklung – status quo und zukunft. In Hofmann, J. et al. (Hrsg.), Politik in der digitalen Gesellschaft. Bielefeld: Transcript (105–22)
- Serdült, U. und G. Hofmann (2022). Möglichkeiten digitaler politischer Partizipation in den Kantonen der Schweiz – Wie erklären sich die grossen Unterschiede? Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Verwaltungswissenschaften 13(1): 95–110
- Serdült, U., G. Hofmann, und C. Vayenas (2022). Introducing the DigiPart-Index: Mapping and explaining digital political participation on the subnational level in Switzerland. Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance, ICEGOV ’22. New York, NY, USA, Association for Computing Machinery
- Serdült, U., C. Vayenas, H. Du Clary, und G. Hofmann (2021). DigiPartIndex Schweiz 2021. Serdült, Uwe; Vayenas, Costa; Du Clary, Herveline; Hofmann, Gabriel (2021). DigiPartIndex Schweiz 2021. Aarau, Zürich: DigiPartIndex. Aarau, Zürich: DigiPartIndex
- Vayenas, C. (2017). Democracy in the digital age. Arena Books
- Gabriel Hofmann is a research assistant at the Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau (ZDA) at the University of Zurich. He studies political science with a focus on Swiss politics at the Institute of Political Science at the University Zurich, where he is also a research assistant at the Chair of Policy Analysis & Evaluation. During his studies, he intensively studied civic competencies and decision-making processes.
- OrcID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7376-1511
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