29 Jan 2013

Parliament Watch: a New Platform Empowers Citizens to Participate in Politics

Civil society initiatives to monitor government have been on the increase in the past years, especially with the rapid development and application of new ICTs to this field. One of such examples is Parliament Watch, originally implemented in Germany. Not only has the project successfully engaged German citizens to monitor their representatives regularly, it has also inspired similar projects in other countries.

One of the main features of Parliament Watch (abgeordnetenwatch.de) is that it offers a platform for accessing up-to-date information on the performance of representatives at European, Federal and, to some extent, even state and communal level in Germany. Users can find information on representatives’ voting records, participation in committees and other activities that they engage in next to their mandate. Before elections, Parliament Watch additionally provides information about all candidates running for election to legislative bodies at all levels.

But more than a platform with valuable information, the project has also become the main channel for communication between voters and representatives. Citizens can register and send direct questions to representatives on various topics. Comments are moderated, and users have to respect a code of conduct. This function of the project has been very successful in better connecting politicians and their constituency: about 90% of all representatives listed on the website answer questions from users, and all questions and answers are recorded and remain available to other users.  Since the project began in 2006, more than 123.000 questions have been submitted and over 100.000 received replies.

The website is visited by 10.000 users daily and has about three million page impressions monthly. On average around 2.000 questions are addressed through Parliament Watch every month. The founders of the platform argue that such an initiative was necessary in a “representative democracy with only a few elements of direct participation” such as Germany. The project is mainly financed through small, regular donations by members, sponsorships and one-off donations by representatives that wish to include some additional information to their profiles.

The project has definitely made an important contribution to empowering citizens to actively participate in politics in Germany. Now the founders also collaborate with organisations in other countries to support the implementation of similar initiatives. One such initiative is the Irish website candidatewatch.ie,  which has had 150,000 visitors during the latest Irish elections to the European Parliament. Similar projects have been initiated in Austria, Luxemburg, and lately the model has also been successfully implemented in Malaysia.

The picture featured above is from telegraph.co.uk and is credited to Getty Images.