The Estonian website, OSALE, allows government agencies to publish policy plans, legislation, and provisions for public consultation in order to improve transparency and citizen participation in decision-making.
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Problems and Purpose
Launched in 2007, the OSALE website acts as a common platform for all government agencies of Estonia. The aim is to achieve more transparency and openness in decision making which will (hopefully) lead to better quality public decisions, policy and legislation. The intent of site developers was for all government agencies to publish their draft policy papers, development plans, laws or provisions on the public consultation website. Submission is voluntary, however, and not regulated by administrative procedures.
Background History and Context
The OSALE website is an update of the 'Today I Decide' (TID) portal for citizens initiatives and petitions that has been functioning since 2001. The experience gained from launching and developing the central participation tool was used to create an international product TID, an open-source software that can be used by any institution. A specific development project was carried out in partnership with the e-Governance Academy (based in Estonia) and European University Institute (based in Florence, Italy). The project was co-financed by the European Union under the eParticipation preparatory action. As a result of the project, a working prototype of the software for participation portal was made accessible. The project web site contained project resources and news items, and supported the dissemination efforts.
Another goal of OSALE was to facilitate government consultations with Civil Society Organizations - an action stipulated by a 1999 decree which states that the explanatory letters of draft laws should include the opinions of NGOs and interest groups. In 2005, a “Code of Good Practice on Involvement” was developed, elaborating the key principles that support active and meaningful participation of CSOs and wider public. The Code is in the form of recommendations and aims to be applied by government in the preparation of policy documents that are important to the country’s development.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
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Participant Recruitment and Selection
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Methods and Tools Used
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Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The Osale integrated electronic environment has three functions.
Firstly, it functions for deliberation. Citizens and interest groups can launch initiatives for new legislative proposals, present ideas and critique to government and submit petitions. Any such proposal undergoes voting and commenting by other users. Then the proposal is forwarded to the relevant government department, which then posts an official response explaining what action was or was not taken and why.
Secondly, participation is a function since citizens can participate in public consultations/hearings. Citizens and Civil Society Organizations can publicly give their opinion about draft legislation prepared by government agencies. All government agencies have been advised how to publish their draft policy papers, development plans, laws or provisions on the consultation website. Submission is however voluntary and is not regulated by administrative procedures.
Thirdly, information is its final function. Government agencies publish information about forthcoming policy decisions and relevant public consultations. There is also a search function for legal acts according to their stage of preparation (i.e. since policy proposal to adoption in the parliament).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
During its first two years of use, over 70 public consultations have been carried out, initiated by all line ministries (the structure of government includes 11), the National Audit Office and the State Chancellery. Interest in the consultations is quite significant. The website has 5 000 visits per consultation on average. It has over 2 500 registered users. Among them are individual citizens, but also representatives of organizations, e.g. business organizations, CSOs or associations who issue a statement on behalf of their members.
Feedback by users and stakeholders indicates that the consultation site presents opportunities for dialogue between policy-makers and civil sector. The main impact arises from enhancing transparency of government decision-making and involving citizens as stakeholders, besides already established groups such as CSO umbrella organisations, employers' associations and trade unions.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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The original version of this case study first appeared on Vitalizing Democracy in 2010 and was a contestant for the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize. It was originally submitted by Francesco Molinari.
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