Part 7 of the summary of Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019: In Whom We Trust. Scroll down for the links to other parts of the summary.

In Technology We Trust. Is GovTech the Answer?


Justyna Orłowska, GovTech Polska

Pablo Aragón, Universitat Pompeu Fabra / Eurecat

Teele Pehk, Democracy Artist, Changemaker, Urbanist

Natalie Vyniarcuk, Transparency International Ukraine

Moderator:  Marek Tejchman, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019 || IN WHOM WE TRUST || April 4-5, 2019 Gdańsk, Poland || Photo by Dawid Linkowski, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


In this panel we used of – an interactive online platform for the audience to pose questions to the panelists and this way join the discussion held on stage. The audience was also asked to take part in two polls:

How do we insure the inclusivity of GovTech?

Should we use open source tools in Gov Tech?

[Marek Tejchman] What important is happening right now where technology meets administration/public sphere/government/local government/business? What to expect in the future?

[Teele Pehk] In Estonia, we see the need to take care of the institutions first, technologies coming to help later. Why? Technology was supposed to increase civic participation, eg. the e-voting system which has functioned in Estonia for the last 10 years, has proved to increase the number of e-voters but not the general turnout which has not increased during that period staying on the same level of slightly over 60%. Jumping out of representative democracy might be the solution. We should create not tools but processes. Technology is just serving a goal of renewing democracy. Maybe we could focus on deliberative democracy now or somehow re-invent our current processes.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019 || IN WHOM WE TRUST || April 4-5, 2019 Gdańsk, Poland || Photo by Dawid Linkowski, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

[Mare Tejchman] The threat is that groups that have better access to technologies, also have more rights and opportunities. It is increasing exclusivity instead of equality.

[Natalie Vyniarcuk] In Ukraine, civic tech seems to reach larger impact than Gov Tech. The first Ukraine’s e-procurement system – ProZorro – was created by the civil society and transferred to the government. The TI activists operated in the low trust environment – both mistrust of business to the (allegedly corrupted) procurement system and of citizens to the government and business too. Civic tech is tailored to give the citizens more power, to engage them, influence the decision-making process. The ProZorro principle was, therefore, to overcome bureaucracy and take advantage of change agents – the new generation in public administration, the essential role also played by the vibrant civic community. Transparency, however, meaning that everybody sees everything has not necessarily decreased corruption. Another function has been added: monitoring of how the procurement is done in the country as originally the initiators of the platform could observe not enough capacity or insufficient skills to navigate the system. Revolution was brought by making the system open source and using API for the data – all citizens could now see all the metadata. This apparently caused the spillover of trust. 75% businesses now say corruption cases dropped. The challenge remained – how to close the feedback loop. After ProZorro was deployed, Transparency International started DoZorro platform, open for everybody to leave their comments, as well as people, were trained to monitor the procurement. after 2 years, the processes are all automized and set standards of benchmarking for the business. That’s what won the trust.  

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019 || IN WHOM WE TRUST || April 4-5, 2019 Gdańsk, Poland || Photo by Dawid Linkowski, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

[Marek Tejchman] What are the limits of the Gov Tech tools? Civic tech cannot substitute governmental actions, the capacity within the government in the context of deploying technology. Additionally, there need to be trainings in exercising transparency in local governments.

[Justyna Orłowska] In Poland, Gov Tech team’s aim was to build bridges between business and public sector. It’s easy to say: it’s impossible. The procurement law is the key when you want to combine business and government. Most of the processes are rules (internal) and not the law. There is flexibility but quite often is it not uptaken in practice. We hear “that can’t be done” and we withdraw. It’s all about the mindset to be brave enough to ask questions like that – is this a rule or a law? [Moderator] We need the change of the paradigm, approach, way of thinking – how to ensure inclusivity of Gov Tech tools? By making sure that public sector opens up. Certain things don’t change because there are no procedures. Opening up the tools and talking about public sector challenges is something to start with.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019 || IN WHOM WE TRUST || April 4-5, 2019 Gdańsk, Poland || Photo by Dawid Linkowski, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

[Marek Tejchman] Can we name tech tools to promote civic participation? More offline gov interaction?

[Pablo Aragón] In Spain, we need to keep the critical approach to technology when it meets politics and be aware of its transformative powers (eg. in 2011 movements). Since 2016 Decidim, which was started in Barcelona, has spread around the world. What is crucial to make civic tech work is to build both online and offline connection. Treating them as two separate channels is a mistake as there should be a loop of online and offline work. Decidim became an example of such online-offline collaboration as proposals were submitted online and discussed offline. The way to build trust is to actually show the results – supported proposals would turn into projects, be implemented and reported on. The status of this implementation is visible online.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019 || IN WHOM WE TRUST || April 4-5, 2019 Gdańsk, Poland || Photo by Dawid Linkowski, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

[Marek Tejchman] How to keep people’s engagement and how to include those who don’t have the knowledge or awareness yet? The answer is: to allow everyone to audit the implementation of what has been collectively decided on. Not only building technologies for civic participation but also letting everyone to monitor the results of those decisions. For the new audiences, the focus is on documentation of every step and process, also training different sectors how to gain social profit from this participation. Every “tech” decision has social and political consequence, therefore not only developers or other narrow groups decide on what participation should look like. Metadecidim community serves the purpose of deciding how to decide, facing challenges and placing Decidim in different perspectives to increase the inclusivity and legitimacy of the tool.

[Marek Tejchman] Slido poll results: 83% of the audience thinks tech solutions should be open source. If a tech solution is not open source, it’s not transparent. If it’s not transparent, it’s not democratic. Practices of technology have to be politically democratic – respecting human rights, etc.

Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019 || IN WHOM WE TRUST || April 4-5, 2019 Gdańsk, Poland || Photo by Dawid Linkowski, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

[Marek Tejchman] How e-voters changed within the 10 years of the system functioning in Estonia?

[Teele Pehk] What changed in the structure of e-voters is the profile – it is getting more diverse. What is the role of the public sector nowadays? Enabling civil society is the key. The government’s responsibility for supporting democratic values and accountability for their actions. In Estonia there is no understanding for the public sector. It is, therefore, crucial to create the enabling environment. The late Mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz seemed to be the role model for this enabling civil servant.

[Marek Tejchman] We need to glue back broken circles of trust, build solid collaborations and change authentic individual and collective experience into meaningful solutions.  Should we trust technology?

[Natalie Vyniarchuk] We should trust technology in a wise and meaningful way. We should remain critical. To regain trust (and it’s a process) the governments should show readiness not only to deploy technology but also to be subject to civic tech impact. The question is how to convert transparency to accountability?

There is a MIT promoted concept of the monitorial citizenship stating that people should be able to have information to make meaningful choices. Following this thought, TI is targeting business and eg. parents of school children to deliver adequate knowledge. There is no silver bullet here that we should trust all Gov Tech solutions but we definitely should debate on the integrity of people who decide – they particularly should be chosen in an accountable way. Let’s not let the technology with certain bias to be deployed.

[Teele Pehk] Processes are essential. General policy making should shift from: the decide-announce-defend model into the discuss-deliberate-decide one. If we change the existing mechanism and back it up with technology, there is hope. The civic initiative’s platform to target the Parliament of Estonia with is basically civic tech funded by public money.

[Justyna Orłowska] Technology can be the common language for society and public servants who are also part of the society. Unfortunately, both public administration and business, eg. start-ups have lots of stereotypes about each other. We should all be going hand in hand to solve common challenges society faces. Public servants are not politicians, they should serve the society.

[Pablo Aragón:] technology should open and free (not like in “free vodka” but like in “freedom of speech”) – transparent, auditable, accountable. We need to examine the moral, ethical and political values of technology, its appliance, and make sure it is producing democratic processes. This is how we can build trust.

Let’s go offline now!


Personal Democracy Forum CEE 2019: In Whom We Trust

April 4-5, 2019, Gdańsk, Poland



*to be continued

Check also:

PDF CEE 2019 – Introduction
Broken Feedback Circle
Citizen Fake-Xperience
Good Collaboration Hurts

Text by: Matylda Szyrle & Marta Skotnicka