DEEP-Linking Youth was a project co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union in partnership with seven European organizations between 2015 and 2017. The aim was to exploit digital tools to encourage young people to actively participate in democratic life.
Problems and Purpose
In 2017, the Eurobarometer survey found that 52% of European citizens did not feel their voices counted in the European Union (EU), especially at the decision-making level. Citizens feel like they are alienated from the policy-making process and there is growing apathy toward formal politics (Tambouris, Macintosh, Dalakiouridou, Smith, Panopoulou, Tarabanis, & Millard, 2013, p. 2). As such, the European Union (EU) has invested money and time into methods and processes through various projects and models to encourage citizens to engage in politics, exercise their democratic rights, feel that their voices are heard in the EU and embrace the European brand/identity. For instance, in 2006 the White Paper on a European Communication Policy and the European Transparency Initiatives acknowledged that the internet is a means to ensure European citizens are heard and stimulate dialogue (Tambouris et al., 2013, p.5).
The use of information communication technology (ICT) to involve and engage citizens in designing policy, decision-making, and delivery of services is known as e-participation (United Nations, 2016 as cited in Drobiazgiewicz, 2018, p. 55). The adoption of technology in the Western world is creating new opportunities for people, especially young people to participate online in deliberative and civic processes. The idea behind using ICT in participatory processes is to bring citizens closer to democratic life and transform their involvement in democratic processes. Additionally, there is a recognition that ICT can help “to deliver a more open and transparent democratic decision-making process.” (Tambouris et al., 2013, p.2).
When it comes to young people, they are seen as ‘incomplete citizens’ or ‘citizens-in-the-making’ (Collins, 2008 as cited in Cecez-Kecmanovic, Kennan, Hull, & Nagm, 2009, p. 735) and their participation in civic and political affairs is not viewed as a right but a privilege (Cecez-Kecmanovic, Kennan, Hull, & Nagm, 2009, p. 735). Additionally, European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) (2017, p. 5) found that young people, the majority of them, are reluctant to use or understand engage in politics, exercise their democratic rights, and embrace the European brand (p. 5). Some do not even participate in the decision-making process because of various challenges like not understanding how democracy and political structures work, they use different platforms to express different opinions and views, and they are selective listeners when it comes to various issues. However, there is a growing preference of communicating with decision-makers directly using social media or the internet, especially among young people (European Citizen Action Service 2017b). Many young people prefer using digital spaces like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to debate and express their opinions on public issues. This signals a great potential to use social media platforms to get young people engaged and participate in political life. Therefore, e-participation was identified as the path to fostering active participation and empowering young people in democratic life.
Learning from past e-participation projects, the DEEP-Linking Youth Project used an “We go to them” instead of “they come us” (European Citizen Action Services, 2017b, p. 5) approach and exploited existing digital tools instead of creating new tools and platforms to engage young people. The idea behind this approach is for decision-makers to go where young people are mostly active: online on social media (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 5).
Background History and Context
Citizens in European countries have different views and feelings toward the European Union (EU). There is a sense that some European citizens (less than half), especially among young people, trust toward the EU and national institutions is declining (European Commission, 2017). But the lack of trust indicates that distrust has the potential to hinder political participation and threaten the democratic legitimization of the EU (Brosius, van Elsas, & de Vreese, 2019, p. 69).
The DEEP-Linking project referred to a number of surveys to identify topics that are of interest to young people. But support for the project was a result of the responses from young people to surveys in the European Year of Citizens (2013) (European Citizen Active Services, 2017b, p. 5). What was found was that there is potential for young people’s political participation and engagement. (European Citizen Action Service, 2017a, p. 5). However, not a lot of young people are keen on using traditional forms of participation because they prefer using social media or the internet for expressing their opinions on public issues (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 5; Tambouris et al., 2013). As such, the project got support to look into innovative ways to engage the youth.
It is against this background, the project looked into spaces where young people actively engage with each other. The project sought to understand challenges and experiences of youth mobility in the EU and try to engage young people that do not in the decision-making process so that their voices can be considered and heard in policymaking (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 3). Those who “do not” engage refer to young people who do not respond to political calls, engage policymakers in dialogue or are not involved in participatory processes when there is a policy being designed or implemented.
The organizers of the project note that in creating this participatory process they needed to be mindful of the fact that young people are reluctant to engage in politics generally, exercise their democratic rights, use European Jargon and are reluctant to embrace the European brand (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 5). Therefore, it was important to engage them in spaces where they are already active: Social media.
The project ran two parallel activities to identify the challenges of learning mobility programmes in Europe. The project used existing tools like social media to reach the youth with the aim of getting them to provide quality input into decision-making that will have a sustainable impact (European Citizen Action Service, 2017). These activities will be outlined in later sections of this entry.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The DEEP-Linking Youth project was co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union. The European Commission’s Erasmus+ Programme was in partnership and coordinated the project with six other organizations. The project was carried out in various European countries with different objectives. The organizations that were responsible for coordinating the project include:
- European Citizen Action Service (ECAS)
The European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) was the organization leading the DEEP-Linking project. ECAS was supported by the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Programme (Key Action 3: Support for Policy Reform). The ECAS is an international non-profit organization. Their mission is to enable citizens and civil society to exercise their rights, empower them, promote civic participation in the EU decision-making process and provide legal advice, advocacy, and research to enable inclusive and open decision-making.
- Citizens.is – Citizens Foundation
The Citizens.is a non-profit organization founded in 2008 in Iceland. Their mission is to encourage citizens' participation in governance and help get their voices heard. The Citizen’s Foundation has helped connect governments and citizens “by creating open state-of-the-art engagement platforms and offering consultation on how to best plan & execute successful citizen engagement projects” (Citizens Foundation, 2021 as cited in Holzegger, 2021, p. 50). According to their website, they have implemented projects in 45 countries, reached over 70,000 people and have had over 10,000 ideas submitted to their platform (Citizens Foundation, 2021; Holzegger, 2021, p. 50). Their aim is to use technology to restore faith and build trust in democratic deliberation and institutions.
- Civil College Foundation (CCF)
The Civil College Foundation was established in 1944 in Hungary and is a leading civil society development organization (CKA, n.d.). The foundation focuses on citizen studies, community work and community development (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 24). The CCF is a member of various international Networks such as the European Community Organizing Network, the Central and Eastern European Citizens Network, the Pan-European eParticipation Network and a Strategic partner of the European Community Development Network.
- Erasmus Student Network (ESN)
The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) was founded in 1989 with the aim of representing international students, advocating for their rights, and working to “improve the conditions of their mobility period, ensuring social cohesion and reintegration, and by enhancing intercultural awareness as well as active citizenship and participation in Europe” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 24). It is the biggest non-profit organization working in the internationalization of higher education and student mobility.
GONG is a human rights, non-governmental, non-partisan and independent organization founded in 1997 in Croatia (Holzegger, 2021, p. 51). The organization aims to encourage active citizen participation in the political process and decision-making (Holzegger, 2021, p. 51). GONG is the most influential civil society organization in the field of public policy advocacy, and policy monitoring and is strong in carrying out research for public advocacy. The goal of the organization is to enhance the develop a democratic political culture, enhance democratic institutions and processes, ensure high standards of political accountability and governance, high democratic standards in the electoral system and ensure responsible participation of civil society organizations and citizens in the decision-making processes at all levels of the EU (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 24; Holzegger, 2017, p. 51).
- ProInfo Foundation
The ProInfo Foundation was founded in 2005 in Bulgaria. The non-governmental organization aims to promote effective citizen participation by improving the information environment at the national, cross-border and European levels (ProInfo, 2021; European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 24). Additionally, the foundation assists with the “process of civic capacity building for effective participation in the European policy-making process and the strengthening of the European identity of Bulgarian citizens.” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 24). They have experience in creating media content for online distribution and TV.
- The Consultation Institute (TCI)
The Consultation Institute (TCI) is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 2002. The UK-based organization provides stakeholder consultations in the “public, private and voluntary sector” (Consultation Institute, 2022). The organization’s main focus is to promote high standards in employee, public and stakeholder consultation. They have an interest in digital dialogues and social media for policymakers (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 24).
Role of The European Commission
The DEEP-Linking was co-funded by the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Programme (Key Action 3: Support for Policy Reform). The Key Action 3: Support for Policy Reform provides support in stimulating actions that contribute to the reform of policy, development, and implementation of new policies in the field of sport, education, and youth training (IKY, 2015; Erasmus, n.d). Key Action 3 provides grants to projects run by the European Commission's Executive Agency that aims to trigger reform and modernisation of the EU (IKY, 2015; Erasmus, n.d).
The European Commission is the EU's politically independent executive arm. The Commission is made up of 27 commissioners (1 from each EU country) with its own President that must be approved by the European Parliament (Citizens Information, 2021). The European Commission aims to promote “the general interest of the EU by proposing and enforcing legislation” and “implementing policies and the EU budget” (European Union, n.d.). It was established in 1958 and is located in Brussels (Belgium). The role of the commission is to initiate legislation, uphold EU law, represent the EU in negotiations with other countries or organizations, and manage policies and draft budgets (European Commission, n.d.).
While the European Commission co-funded the DEEP-Linking project, it was mostly led and coordinated by non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations. Additionally, the aim of the project was to stimulate and facilitate interaction between young people and EU policymakers (European Citizen Action Service, 2017) to discuss learning mobility programmes, empower the youth and encourage active participation in the EU’s democratic life.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The DEEP-Linking Project targeted a specific group of people: Young people who do not engage in the decision-making process. The recruitment and selection of participants for the project started with a research phase. The research phase identified specific groups of young people based on age, gender, social environment, and education (European Citizen Action Service, 2016).
This phase aimed to identify where young people naturally are in the digital space (platforms). The research phase was initiated by the partners of the project. These partners (outlined in the previous section) undertook a “stakeholders mapping” to identify digital influencers in the learning mobility and youth policy field (European Citizen Action Service, 2016). To attract young people and get their reactions, the partners were responsible for creating and producing pieces of digital content in digital spaces identified during the research phase (European Citizen Action Service, 2016).
Additionally, the project targeted European Union policymakers to engage with young people and their concerns. For example, the project had a live question and answer with Lloyd Huitson and Brando Benifei MEP (Head of the PD delegation to the European Parliament) on Facebook. To communicate the opportunity to potential participants, the ECAS hosted a kick-off launch event for the project on the 20th of January 2016 and shared posts on their social media pages, and ECAS website.
Methods and Tools Used
The aim of the project was to investigate how it can use an e-participation approach to promote and stimulate active participation in democratic life. This was done through a ‘social listening’ exercise and monitoring relevant social media data. The concept of E-participation (electronic participation) refers to the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in the participatory process (Türken & Eyuboğlu, 2021, p. 169). ICT in the process of participation is argued to bring about “increased citizen participation at all stages of the democratic decision-making process” (Märker, 2009 as cited in Drobiazgiewicz , 2018, p. 55). Social Listening, on the other hand, is “a way of answering a series of research questions relating to the right people and right methods according to your research objective” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 9). It’s a way of analysing data from various social media platforms like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Wiki, websites, etc. relating to a particular topic or brand.
The main objective of the project was to conduct a ‘social listening’ exercise by monitoring posts on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to “display the views of youth that are not directly involved in the policy- and decision-making process.” (Holzegger, 2021, p. 52). This method was used to provide decision-makers on EU policies with key insights from the Digital Dashboard in order to understand the disengaged youth. The Digital Dashboard is built on Active Citizen Dashboard, which is an Open-Source Technology that uses commercial social media listening tools like Coosto. Open-Source Technology is a source of code that is freely available to use, redistribution, and modification. The Active Citizen platform was developed by the Citizens Foundation. The aim of the platform is to use Artificial Intelligence (Al) to encourage participation, build trust and improve the quality of debate and cooperation. Active Citizen provides a manual on how to classify any subject and conduct a listening exercise on social media. The Dashboard listens to social media messages using keywords. The deep learning AI technology used on the platform filters all the relevant information. Social Media platforms used for the ‘social listening’ exercise were mostly Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Image 1: GitHub Active Citizen Dashboard Offline Environment
Image 2: GitHub Active Citizen Dashboard Offline Environment
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The DEEP-Linking project sought to answer two research questions: “How can we foster young people’s involvement in policymaking through digital strategies?” and “How can we understand the ‘disengaged’ and take their voices into consideration in decision-making processes?”
To answer the research questions, the project conducted two parallel activities:
Activity 1: Using digital strategies to foster young people’s involvement in policymaking.
The first activity of the project looked at how to exploit existing digital tools to reach young people. To do that, the first objective of the activity was to understand the types of digital tools used by young people, why they are online, and what types of content they mostly react to (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b). The project aimed to reach young people and ask for their contributions on current issues. To empower and motivate young people, various sub-activities were implemented to promote active e-participation of both young people and policymakers. The project had two Boot Camps in Croatia and Hungary where young people were given the chance to create digital content for policymakers. It also had a Digital Competition that allowed young people in Europe to “submit their own online content and engage with other online users” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 6). Lastly, it had two Live Chats with Lloyd Huitson and Brando Benifei MEP (Head of the PD delegation to the European Parliament) to stimulate interactions between young people and decision-makers on EU policymaking. The first activity has sub-activities. In the sub-activities, digital content was created and monitored to provide recommendations on strategies on how to engage young people and how to best utilize digital marketing techniques. Three steps took place in this activity:
- Step 1: Content Creation
The content creation step included the creation of online content, particularly for the project. The content created was in the form of infographics, posts, videos, and animations. The themes for the content were on youth mobility from the perspective of young people. As such the content was sourced from the Boot Camps where young people were provided with training on how to produce effective digital content and taught the concept of youth mobility (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 7). During the Boot Camps, expert mentors assisted young people to create storyboards which were turned into clips. The content was also sourced from ProInfo, a partner organization on the project, which got media students in Bulgaria to assist in the creation of digital content for the project. Additionally, the participants of the Digital competition created and distributed content.
- Step 2: Content Distribution
Between January and June 2017, a select number of digital content (nine videos in total) were published on Instagram and Twitter. Each post had a unique hashtag for tracking purposes and a short narrative included. Hashtags that were trending on the day were searched and included in the description of social media posts. Additionally, influencers that were identified in the initial mapping were copied in the posts for the purpose of getting a lot of traction. However, some posts had to be re-edited in order to adhere to copyright laws and meet the video limitations set on social media platforms (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 7).
- Step 3: Content Monitoring
To enhance its reach, the project used trackable hashtags and mentioned influencers on posts. The project’s content attracted around 10,000 views (direct and indirect views), which mostly was because of the influencers tagged. Additionally, the project's Instagram profile had 340 content views in total and 88 followers during the testing period. On the other hand, the project’s Twitter profile had “created 350 content views, resulting in 110 minutes (almost 2 hours) of content viewed.” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 7).
Activity 2: Including the voices of the disengaged
The main objective of the second activity was to “understand how to include the voices of the young people who do not engage in decision-making processes.” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 6). As such, the project created the Digital Dashboard to monitor and capture insights from young people. This online platform was created to help policymakers to get insights, particularly insights from those who have not actively submitted their opinions and concerns for policy purposes. The dashboard was tested on topics like ‘youth mobility' and ‘learning mobility programmers’ in the EU.
Activity two was implemented through a six steps process: Mapping exercise, Content Creation and Digital Dashboard initial phase; Distribution and Monitoring; Empowerment of young people to create digital content from youth to youth; Engagement of policymakers and launch of Digital Dashboard; and Analysis and report of the experiences (European Citizen Action Service, 2017a). The six stages are as follows:
- Stage 1: A mapping exercise
The mapping exercise involved identifying actors and influencers in the field of youth policy and learning mobility. The key actors identified were mapped.
- Stage 2: Content Creation and Digital Dashboard initial phase
This step involved the creation and production of digital content. A beta version of the ‘Digital Dashboard’ was launched (Holzegger, 2021, p. 52). The beta version aimed to show content identified, test digital content and show discussions on youth-related topics in real-time, specifically on Erasmus and learning mobility.
- Stage 3: Distribution and Monitoring
Existing content on digital platforms and networks identified in the first stage were distributed and monitored. The networks and platforms were named the “digital ecosystem” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017). This part involved the development and implementation of the Dissemination and Communication Strategy of the project.
- Stage 4: Create digital content for youth to youth to empower young people.
Through the Boot Camps in Croatia and Hungary, the project engaged the youth in debate about their view of mobility, their experience, and the future of the Erasmus + program. At the Boot Camps, they were trained and taught how to create digital content on the topic (European Citizen Action Service, 2017).
- Stage 5: Launch of Digital Dashboard and engagement of policymakers
There were two online consultations with policymakers where they could interact with youth through a live question and answer on Facebook. The live chats happened through something called the ‘digital champions. The final version of the ‘Digital Dashboard’ was launched in Brussels (European Citizen Action Service, 2017). The official launch was in 2016.
- Stage 6: Analysis and report of the experiences
Based on the two-year experience of the project, a document on e-participation guidelines for policymakers, recommendations on learning mobility and a final Social Intelligence were published (European Citizen Action Service, 2017).
The Method: Creation of an Automated System - Digital Dashboard
The Digital Dashboard was created to provide a “real-time summary of monitored, relevant conversations ‘at a glance’ (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 9). It is based on the concept of ‘‘social listening’’ (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 9). The main purpose of this innovative tool was to help present content on youth mobility in a format that can be easily digested by decision-makers. The Dashboard included qualitative and quantitative data (trends and statistical information). The Digital Dashboard is accessible using any web browser, which can filter posts by topic using keyword searches and it updates automatically over time. In this project, ‘social listening’ was the basis of creating the digital strategy to manage online conversations and recognise influencers.
The creation of the Digital Dashboard followed five steps:
- STEP 1: Identification of the subject and subject influencers
Key stakeholders (young people, policymakers, and subject influencers) were identified. The topic for the project was also identified in this first step. In this project, youth mobility in the EU was chosen because of the focus of the project. The Digital Dashboard was created to identify what “challenges young people face in learning mobility programmes.” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 10). The topic for the Dashboard was categorized into key themes: finance (Cost and affordability), housing (accommodation issues), university (administration and bureaucracy, classes, credits, etc.), and other (general problems not classified by the above, such as social issues (family, language barriers, etc.) and cultural issues (religion, lifestyle, and legal issues)) (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 10). A range of online tools was used to achieve this purpose. The project used a free online tool called “Followerwonk”.
- STEP 2: Scraping the data
This step involved the collection of raw data from various social networks. While there are a number of tools used by companies to do this, the DEEP-Linking Youth project enlisted the help of Coosto, a Dutch Social Media Management Software to capture masses of social media data because it had an API for the purpose of running interfaces directly and providing analytical capabilities (European Citizen Active Services, 2017b). Coosto was instructed to do a large scape of social media data based on the topics identified in step 1 (relating to youth mobility).
- STEP 3: Discovery and Ethical Guidelines for Social Listening
Trial searches were created on Coosto to help examine the digital landscape across the data set. The tool was used to filter and refine search terms based on false positives. Thereafter, they “ring-fenced the collection of data to those originating from the countries where Erasmus+ exchanges can take place”. Data was sourced from Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, YouTube, 4Chan, news, Vkontakte, Google+, forums and blogs.
A Code of Conduct was created to provide guidelines on how to conduct a ‘‘social listening’’ exercise ethically. The project had an Ethics Officer to verify the application of the Code of Conduct that was established and ensure rules safeguard the data in the project (European Citizen Active Services, 2017c). However, ethical guidelines might have been altered after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect.
- STEP 4: The Categorization Process
A Classifier tool was created to help prioritize and rank data from Coosto. It is embedded in the Digital Dashboard. The aim of the classifier was to filter the noise from Coosto to help the Dashboard sort relevant data for display. Irrelevant information is discarded from the systems or skipped. Using Google Translate, the classifier translates messages into English. Additionally, the classifier takes data collected from queries constructed in Coosto “and captures patterns in the way that humans rank each comment in terms of relevance.” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 12).
- STEP 5: The Dashboard
The Digital Dashboard was created. It used a machine learning algorithm, and the pages were arranged based on themes. The Dashboard listed live content which was also searchable. Conete could be “inspected for a link to the original source” (European Citizen Action Service, 2017b, p. 13).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The project had two main outcomes: The creation of the Digital Dashboard and a document on Recommendations to Policy-Makers on Learning Mobility drawing on insights from the Digital Dashboard.
- Digital Dashboard
The Digital Dashboard was created to draw in relevant content from social media platforms to conduct a ‘social listening’ exercise based on sub-topics mentioned earlier in the entry. The Dashboard was meant to help policymakers understand what concerns young people have and consider their voices in the policy and decision-making process.
- Recommendation to Policy-Makers
A publication to policymakers was published providing recommendations on how to engage young people in future and how to ensure the voices of those who do not engage are considered in the decision-making process. This document was meant to also help civil society organizations and other actors with the benefits of e-participation.
- Feedback for Policymakers
While the online opinions of young people were not recommendations, the Dashboard was able to generate a list of topics that were converted into feedback and questions for policymakers. Questions ranged from asking about the impact of Brexit on the Erasmus program, high travel costs, mental health, the burden of the Erasmus application process and how to best use the Erasmus experience (European Citizen Active Service, 2017c, p. 13).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
According to Diamond and Morlino (2005), the quality of a democracy can be assessed through eight dimensions namely rule of law; participation; responsiveness; vertical and horizontal accountability; freedom; competition; and equality. The authors argue that a good democracy can be measured by a level to which citizens can exercise their right to protest, assemble, organize and influence decision-making (Diamond and Morlino, 2005, p. 23). This highlights that participation is an important component of democracy. The DEEP-Linking project seeks to create a society where young people's voices are heard and makes efforts to engage those who are disengaged. This has been done by actively identifying a group in society that is disengaged and finding strategies to get them to actively participate in the decision-making process. While the project aimed to engage the youth that does not engage in the decision-making process to participate, there is still a potential of getting those who usually participate to dominate the discussion. The main objective was to use e-participation to foster active participation and empower young people. However, due to the nature of participation (through comments and posts on social media), participants were participating passively. The approach enabled the listening of public posts made by citizens, not fostering active citizen engagement (Holzegger, 2021, p. 54).
Another point to highlight is the emerging field of e-democracy (electronic democracy). E-democracy refers to the use of ICT to strengthen representative democracy, engage citizens and support democratic decision-making processes (Tambouris et al., 2013, p. 2). The DEEP-Linking project tapped into using ICT like Open-Source Technology, Social Media, and Artificial Intelligence as a tool to stimulate participation. Drobiazgiewicz (2018) argues that ICT holds the potential to bring democratic life closer to the citizens. What can be learned from the DEEP-Linking project approach is that instead of rushing to build new tools and platforms, e-participation projects ought to look at how they can innovatively use existing technologies and tools. Existing tools can be used in an innovative way to attract mass participation and those who are disengaged but also sort through huge amounts of information, identify relevant information and formulate ideas for policymakers. But what should be also noted is that various digital tools also have the potential to exclude citizens from the digital decision-making process (e-participation).
This leads to the idea of e-participation. According to the United Nations (2016), e-participation has three characteristics: e-decision-making, e-consultation, and e-information. Various tools can be used for e-participation. The tools used in this project were Al, Open-Source Technology, Social Media, Coosto and the Digital Dashboard. Such tools can be important if accessing public information if the information is presented in a systematic way (Drobiazgiewicz, 2018, p. 56). These tools were used to create, distribute, and monitor content assisted with that can encourage transparency of public activities (Drobiazgiewicz, 2018, p. 56). What the project has shown is that in order for e-participation to work citizens need to have enough and relevant information to make comments and deliberate on public policies (e-consultation) to being directly involved in the decision-making process by feeling empowered to co-design policies (e-decision-making) (United Nations, 2014, p. 63). The project had some limitations in terms of that slang and abbreviations are commonly used by young people when posting on social media. Therefore, it would be easy to dismiss a comment as irrelevant. Additionally, the topic was too broad to provide deep policy insights. Therefore, the success of e-participation will require access to accurate information and a level of literacy to understand the information to ensure transparency. Information in this project was automatically (Google Translate) translated into English if participants posted in their home language.
When using a digital ecosystem to engage citizens, it is important that it is a safe environment for people to participate. Moreover, there should be safeguards on how those who implement e-participation projects should behave. Clear ethical considerations on how the technology will be used should be known to citizens and ensure that they have adequate rights that protect them when engaging on digital platforms. As an implementer of a project, it is important to be aware of potential bias that might occur when using certain technologies and ensure that the people’s voices are equally heard and there is fairness to maximize engagement. What can be learned from the DEEP-Linking project is that it is important to have a Code of Conduct that ensures e-participation activities are conducted with integrity, in a responsible manner and respects the personal data and privacy of citizens. The project created a Code of Conduct; however, ethical guidelines might have been altered after the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect. As such, alterations need to be communicated to the participants if the data and findings from the project will be used for future research and analysis. It is important in building trust, transparency, and protection of the rights of citizens.
Additionally, the intent was to ensure that the content can be consumed and processed easily. Information was distributed in a digestible way (60 seconds video and short description on posts). While the content was short, the content on the Dashboard was live therefore making it hard to consume content of the most important insights. Furthermore, the platform has no filter to flag offensive content or fake news thus impacting the amount of noise on the platform and the accuracy of the insights.
The V-Dem Institute (2021) Participatory Index highlights that representation, civil society, participation, and mechanisms of direct democracy are important aspects of citizen participation (p. 54). Although intended to get the voices of the youth that do not engage in the decision-making process, representatives of social media profiles do not represent the larger population wholly. Additionally, the project was unable to social listen to content posted on the “Dark Social”. This is data that cannot be sourced easily on a Google search or social network.
Civil society organizations were partners in this project. The project seems to want to promote the European identity and culture of belonging. While this is not a bad thing, it can dominate the agenda and undermine the purpose of the exercise. But civil society implementing the projects is important in ensuring that the citizens (young people in this case) are heard and included in the process.
Lastly, what can be learned from the DEEP-Linking project is the importance of accountability. Accountability is about being answerable to constitutional bodies or voters (Diamond and Morlino, 2005, p. 25; Heywood, 2013, p. 97). The project had two Live Chats: one with Lloyd Huitson and another with Brando Benifei MEP (Head of the PD delegation to the European Parliament). The live chats provided the young people with a chance to post their questions and get a response from Huitson and Benifei on what is being done regarding their issues.
Íbúar.is Citizens: https://participedia.net/organization/350
Better Reykjavik: Iceland's Online Participation Platform: https://participedia.net/case/5320
My Neighborhood: Online Participatory Budgeting in Reykjavik, Iceland: https://participedia.net/case/4225
Artificial Intelligence: https://participedia.net/method/4682
Brosius, A., van Elsas, E. J., & de Vreese, C. H. (2019). Trust in the European Union: Effects of the information environment. European Journal of Communication, 34(1), 57–73. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267323118810843
Cecez-Kecmanovic, D., Kennan, M.A., Hull, D., & Nagm, F. (2009). Youth participation in a government program: challenges in e-democracy. https://researchoutput.csu.edu.au/ws/portalfiles/portal/9678761/Proceedings&%2320;version072.pdf
Citizens Foundation Iceland. (2016). DEEP-Linking Youth. https://www.citizens.is/2016/12/02/deep-linking-youth/
Civil College Foundation (CCF). (n.d). About. www.cka.hu
Consultation Institute (tCI). About the Consultation Institute. https://www.consultationinstitute.org/about/
Diamond, L. & Morlino, L. (2005). “Introduction”. In Diamond, Larry and Morlino, Leonardo (eds.) Assessing the Quality of Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ix-xiii.
Drobiazgiewicz, J. (2018). “The Role of E-participation–citizen Engagement in Public Service Delivery.” European Journal of Service Management, 26(2): 53–60. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-role-of-e-participation-%E2%80%93-citizen-engagement-in-Drobiazgiewicz/9cf62360c7bb81eb185ecc995bd36bb7efc2a132
European Citizen Action Service (ECAS). (2017a). DEEP-Linking Youth. https://ecas.org/projects/projectspast/deep-linking-youth/
European Citizen Action Service (ECAS). (2017b). E-Participation Guidelines for Decision-Makers: Social Listening Through the Digital Dashboard. https://www.citizensforeurope.eu/learn/e-participation-guidelines-decision-makers-social-listening-digital-dashboard
European Citizen Action Service (ECAS). (2017c). Recommendations On Learning Mobility: Insights From The Digital Dashboard. https://ecas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Recommendations-to-policy-makers-on-learning-mobility.pdf
European Citizen Action Service (ECAS). (2016). Launch of the DEEP-Linking Youth Project. https://ecas.org/deep-linking-youth/
European Union (EU). (2017). Standard Eurobarometer 87 - Spring 2017. https://europa.eu/eurobarometer/surveys/detail/2142
European Union (EU). (n.d.). EU Institution: European Commission Overview. https://european-union.europa.eu/institutions-law-budget/institutions-and-bodies/institutions-and-bodies-profiles/european-commission_en
Erasmus+ Programme. (n.d). Key action 3: Support to policy development and cooperation. https://erasmus-plus.ec.europa.eu/programme-guide/part-b/key-action-3#:~:text=Key%20Action%203%20provides%20support,education%2C%20training%20youth%20and%20sport.
Erasmus Student Network (ESN). (n.d.). DEEP-Linking Youth. https://www.esn.org/deep-linking-youth
European Mobile Youth. (2021). Deliverable D3.1. https://europeanmobileyouth.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/EMY_Deliverable_D3.1_final.pdf
European Commission (n.d.) About. https://ec.europa.eu/info/index_en
Heywood, A. (2013). Politics (4th edition). London: Palgrave Macmillan
Holzegger, I. E. (2021). Artificial Intelligence and Citizen Participation in EU Policy Making. https://digikogu.taltech.ee/et/Download/c8e8fe1f-8689-4c47-a8b2-e721d3b91449/TehisintellektjakodanikeosalemineEuroopaLiidu.pdf
State Scholarships Foundation (IKY). (2015). Key Action 3: Support for Policy Reform. https://www.iky.gr/en/erasmus-plus-ka3eng
Tambouris, E., Macintosh, A., Dalakiouridou, E., Smith, E., Panopoulou, E., Tarabanis, K., & Millard, J. (2013) eParticipation in Europe: Current State and Practical Recommendations. In J. R. Gil-Garcia (Ed.): E-Government Success Around the World: Cases, Empirical Studies, and Practical Recommendations, IGI Global, USA, DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4173-0.ch017
Türken, A. O., & Eyuboğlu, E. E. (2021). E-participatory Approaches in Urban Design. Journal of Contemporary Urban Affairs, 5(2), 169-182. https://doi.org/10.25034/ijcua.2021.v5n2-2
United Nations (2016). United Nations E-Government Survey 2016. E-Government in Support of Sustainable Development. New York: United Nations.
Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem). (2021). DEMOCRACY REPORT 2022: Autocratization Changing Nature? https://www.v-dem.net/
- GitHub Active Citizen AI Dashboard [English]: https://github.com/CitizensFoundation/active-citizen-dashboard
- Event Report: Digital Democracy Day 2017 Presentations [English]: Fraser Henderson; Roslyn Fuller; Isabelle Dochy
- Event Report: Digital Democracy Day 2017 Watch videos here, here and here
- Youth Mobility and Erasmus+ – Live Chat with Lloyd Huitson [English]: https://www.facebook.com/events/129489467770026/?active_tab=discussion
- Questions and Answers of the Live Chat with Lloyd Huitson [English]: https://www.facebook.com/events/129489467770026/?active_tab=discussion
- Live Chat with Brando Benifei MEP [English]: https://twitter.com/ESN_Int/status/885107201135845376
- Live Chat video with Brando Benifei MEP [English]: https://twitter.com/ESN_Int/status/885107201135845376
- Questions and Answers of the Live Chat with Brando Benifei MEP [English]: https://www.facebook.com/events/1522767294456481/?active_tab=discussion&__xt__=33.%7B%22logging_data%22%3A%7B%22profile_id%22%3A1522767294456481%2C%22event_type%22%3A%22clicked_view_event_posts%22%2C%22impression_info%22%3A%22eyJmIjp7Iml0ZW1fY291bnQiOiIwIn19%22%2C%22surface%22%3A%22www_events_permalink%22%2C%22interacted_story_type%22%3A%221058178634193603%22%2C%22session_id%22%3A%221ebb73b147e67ed06ea7f14b4799e954%22%7D%7D
- The first edition of this entry was written by Babongile Bidla from the University of the Western Cape.
- Lead image: DEEP-Linking Youth Logo - https://ecas.org/projects/projectspast/deep-linking-youth/
- Image 2: DEEP-Linking Youth Digital Dashboard https://ecas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Eparticipation-Guidelines.pdf
- Image 3: Live Chat Event with Lloyd Huitson - https://www.facebook.com/events/129489467770026/?active_tab=discussion