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Using e-participation to define Europe

Well, sort of.

This may be old news to people interested in e-particpation, but I just came across a relatively recent initiative by the Center for European Studies called “tellBarroso.eu“. As the name implies, it’s an attempt to glean the ideas and priorities of Europeans through a classic method: first, visitors are asked for their demographic data, then for the areas affecting their lives in which the EU should concentrate effort. Then they’re asked to rate the proposals (one assumes that those are the proposals previously received). Then they’re asked for the areas affecting their lives in which… wait, hadn’t we been here already?

In fact, yes. The poll, operated by Survette.com, is a good idea turned into an execution blunder. There’s hardly an e-participation (or crowdsourcing) website out there with their number of mistakes:

Why start with a hurdle?. Asking for the demographic first deters people who don’t want to give that data, and it makes for a boring start. Ask for it afterwards, maybe as part of the raffle, and assume that some people (who can give you very good ideas) are just not prepared to give their age and sex.

Where’s the community? Not letting the user see the ideas already proposed, nor comment them. There’s no feeling of participation in an European debate, just of form-filling.

How about making it simple? The rating system (you get to put the ideas closer or further from the center of a bulls-eye) is plain misconceived. It’s complicated, it’s time-consuming, it’s confusing (what should you position? the center or the start of the phrase?), and it’s just plain inadequate: proposals don’t fit inside the graphic used for this, and are mutilated.

Why the loop? After being asked once, you get asked again. With no explanation.

Frankly the only thing that’s straightforward is the last: a raffle to visit Brussels and Cardoso… “in May”. Now that’s detailed.

You can do better than that

This kind of participation schemes are almost old hat, and there is a serious body of best practices. The EU’s sponsored so many e-participation projects (and some software for building them) that it’s plain incredible that they can bungle it so badly. The CES is launching a number of initiatives (some as good as the EUprofiler) , and hopefully someone will wonder the reason this one’s working so badly. Hopefully, because this sort of initiative could really put a bit of reality in Brussels, and a bit of Brussels in the public eye. If Barroso gets a new term, let’s hope they can make a better try.

If only to show that the UE can come slightly close to the recently-closed online town-hall meeting at the White House. Now that’s using social media for fostering participation.

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