EDEN - Electronic Democracy European Network
The rationale for the EDEN project was tied to that of the EU applied research programme in Information Society Technologies, IST, and to the view that online information on decision-making leads to greater transparency in governance, as a pre-requisite for online consultation and participation.
EDEN deployed capabilities in computational linguistics, expressed in Natural Language Processing (NLP) modules that provided the building blocks of a web-based 'toolkit'. Integrated into the existing technical and social infrastructure represented by the participating city administrations' websites, its purpose was to address certain techno-political issues that are commonly used as the basis of 'e-democracy' experiments. Citizens in most European states are often seen as disconnected from the administrations that govern them, or participate in the politics of planning decisions only when 'options' have already become 'facts'. This may be partly attributed to the remoteness and opacity of decision-making and the incomprehensibility of related planning documents.
The assumed infrastructure for e-democracy on the other hand is one in which public investment in city-wide Intranets or civic networks holds the promise of near ubiquitous access from home, public terminals or mobile handsets. Access, it is hoped, for purposes that include making enquiries, having these responded to competently, and engaging in conversations on issues identified by others interested in planning. So in broad terms the needs for EDEN were articulated in terms of improvements in access, comprehension, and navigation of decision-making procedures that allow citizens to influence planning. These were thought to lead to greater participation in planning and acceptance of the process by the 'ordinary citizen'. Evaluating the toolkit involved investigating whether and how these benefits were realised.
You can find more general information about ITC's role in EDEN from the evaluation summary here in PDF format (610 Kb, opens in a new window).
How were user requirements investigated?
ITC collaborated with the research partners in each city to establish what was wanted from the EDEN toolkit. We used a hybrid of Soft Systems Methodology and Scenario-based methods to answer these questions:
- What communication activities relating to urban planning could the EDEN toolkit support?
- How are those activities currently carried out, by which 'actors' and groups of citizens, and using what media?
- Why should those activities be enhanced using EDEN technology, in terms of the PA's objectives for their urban planning activities and e-democracy generally?
- What are the perceptions of the toolkit's intended users regarding what it can do that is practical and desirable, given these broader goals?
- What are the PA's priorities for developing the toolkit, given our increased knowledge of the intended users' perceptions?
- What organisational or cultural issues may affect deployment and require training or awareness-raising?
- What key success criteria should the toolkit prototype be evaluated against?
The User Requirements report EDEN Deliverable 2.2 can be downloaded here in PDF format (543kb)
So what will the tools do?
The modules that will be most visible to users are as follows:
- Finding people to contact: Address Guesser
When people are not sure which office listed on the City website is the best one to contact, Address Guesser provides a web-form. Completed forms are emailed to the appropriate office based on a comparison between the text in the message, and a set of documents describing what each office does.
- Getting notified about news: Notification Handler
People who give details of their interests in a user profile on the city website may then be notified when any of a range of events occurs. Examples of these events include the publication of new documents, or new consultations opening and closing.
- Finding answers to common questions: Answer Tree
This EDEN tool will help officials to manage a tree of common questions and answers about city planning, which can then be browsed on the city website. A 'natural language' search facility allowed users to search for relevant FAQs without needing to know key words or Boolean search functions.
- Getting easier-to-understand documents: Style Enhancer
Planning documents often include technical language that may discourage people from making an informed judgement. This tool enables officers in the Administration to check that documents make sense in 'plain language', and to replace jargon with terms from an organisation-wide glossary.
- Getting help with translating difficult phrases: Multi-language Helper
For people whose first language was not Dutch/German/Italian, this tool provided translations of technical terms included in planning documents, drawn from the Administration's glossary (i.e. as an enhancement of 'Style Enhancer' above).
- Visualising changes planned in your area: Natural Language Map
Urban planning information is of course highly geographic. This tool aimed to improve on the available search facilities for finding maps and documents that are relevant to a specific location, helping increase awareness among local people of plans that may affect them so they may express their views.
- Expressing your views about local planning: Guided Fora & Polling.
The above tools are generally intended to help people make an informed judgement about whether or not to express their views about planning proposals. This tool provides a forum for those that do want to express a view, augmented with links to background information, and feedback on how the Administration responds.
How was the toolkit evaluated?
User panels were recruited early in 2002, comprising ordinary citizens, members of interest groups, administration officials, and planning professionals such as architects. The user panels in each of the 4 pilot sites (Antwerp, Bologna, Bremen and Vienna) helped us to refine the evaluation criteria and better understand the scope of the problems that the EDEN toolkit is meant to address.
As the tools became available the panels gave their views on how well they met the criteria, as did users of the tools in online questionnaires. The pilots provided samples of communication between citizens and administration that were used to assess how well the needs of each were met.
EDEN was a collaborative project with local authorities: Bologna, Antwerp, Bremen, Nisko, Vienna, along with the Osvaldo Piacentini Archive in Bologna. Our research partners were: Omega Generation, Public Voice Lab (PVL), Telepolis Antwerpen, TZI - the Center for Computing Technology at the University of Bremen, and Yana Research.
Links on this website
- Municipality of Bologna
- Bremen City Council
- City Hall of Nisko, Poland
- Vienna City Administration
- Osvaldo Piacentini Archive (Bologna)
- Omega Generation
- Public Voice Lab (PVL)
- Telepolis Antwerpen
- TZI - the Center for Computing Technology at the University of Bremen
- Yana Research
Each publication is linked to its reference
- EDEN Project D6.2 Summary: Final Tool Validation and E-Democracy Evaluation Report
- Evaluating EDEN's Impact on Participation in Local e-Government
- Representational Politics in Virtual Urban Places
- Analysis and Evaluation of e-Consultations
- Can e-consultations be evaluated?
- HANDS, elected eTEN Project of the year 2007, 24/01/2008
- HANDS is eTen Project of the Month, 17/01/2007