Empowering citizens through technology

Located only a short walking distance from the historical Acropolis – the cradle of democracy – the Greek NGO SciFY is hard at work in strengthening citizen participation in modern-day Greek politics.     

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Public consultations on draft laws have been available in Greece since 2010. Yet, participation is low and the numbers keep dropping.

“We’ve found that people want to participate in public consultations,” explains Vassilis Giannakopoulos, SciFY’s Marketing Manager. “However, the current system only allows the public to make unstructured comments.  This not only makes it difficult to contribute in an organised manner or create any kind of dialogue – it also causes people to have little faith in their input actually being implemented in the final law.”

User-friendly system

With support from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the Greek ‘NGO programme’, the SciFY team is developing a new, more user-friendly system which will facilitate and strengthen the public consultation process. 

With the new system, DemocracIT, users will be able to leave more detailed feedback on draft law than before. Instead of being limited to stand-alone comments, users can systematically point out issues such as problematic references to law, legal discrepancies or abstract concepts. Furthermore, users can leave comments for, or against, specific provisions in a more structured manner. This way, the public can engage in a dialogue where they respond to each other’s comments and express their agreement or disagreement, as well as continue the discussion after the formal closure of the consultation round.

Actionable information and accountability 

DemocracIT does not stop at facilitating feedback from the public. The system will also turn the comments into actionable information for lawmakers, and will allow for measuring the impact of the consultation, contributing to increased accountability.

“With the current system it is difficult to see whether the comments received during the consultation process have actually been taken on board,” explains Giannakopoulos. “With DemocracIT citizens will have a crowdsourcing tool to compare the draft law to the final version, so it becomes easier to measure the impact of the consultations.”

When designing the system, the SciFY team places a large emphasis on making the large amount of data generated through the consultations available to the lawmakers in a clear and user-friendly way. Using intelligent (AI) analyses and graphic presentation of the comments, data will turn into actionable information.

The system will, for example, detect topics covered in the comments and group them together highlighting main themes and concerns expressed by the public, detect references to specific laws, as well as create automatic summaries of the comments.

Vast potential

The system is a collaborative open-source effort, meaning that anyone can contribute to it and expand on it for free. The use of the system will likewise be offered free of charge. DemocracIT therefore holds great potential for future development. 

“This is not only a system for legal consultations. It can be adopted for all kinds of consultations, anyone can use it” explains Vassilis Salapatas, SciFY’s Executive Manager.

Giannakopoulos agrees, noting that the project will be an excellent tool for policy making and that its potential is not limited to Greece. In fact, the system can be adapted to work with any language and any political system.

“We’re bringing the power to the citizens.” he says, “and we’re offering it to the world.”

Read more about the Greek ‘NGO programme’

Read more about the EEA Grants to Greece