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Wednesday 20 September 2017

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When the Web makes us better citizens

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par Elsa Sidawy | 06.11.10


The Internet is a great source of communication, and users are still finding news ways to exploit its potential. Look at the many French towns that are using the web to boost the political participation of their citizens.

A virtual platform for listening to the voice of the people

In Bordeaux, sustainable development is a collective issue. So what better way to encourage concerned citizens to contribute to its construction? This is essentially the creative initiative of the Workshop 21. A step towards greater dialogue, Studio 21 is a site whose goal is to collect all contributions from civil society and community partners in the service of a greener city. It is therefore a sort of online suggestion box as a means to encourage greater cooperation.

The idea is not new per say. At Cergy and Issy-les-Moulineaux, the sites cergydé and have also arisen as places of debate, with hope for the latter to become a local social network where Issiens can foster community outreach.

The town of Grigny has taken to the web to stimulate civic life. In addition, the town shrinks the digital divide by providing ICT training to its inhabitants. According to the mayor of Grigny, René Balme, the idea goes even further: “we do not simply envision ICT as a communication tool but as a major means of encouraging democratic participation”. Thus, the Mayor’s fellow citizens can keep themselves informed, make suggestions and enter into discussions on forums dedicated to subjects that affect the life of the town, in order to facilitate the preparation of the budget. On the site Grignerots have a direct influence on the municipal budget, amounting to 400,000 euros.

A council that moves into your living room

The mayor of Bras-sur-Meuse, has opened a digital media hub that users can both consult and contribute to. Julien Didry is convinced that “the Internet is a supplementary media for sustaining democracy.

More importantly the mayor has established a veritable democracy online. Observing a meagre presence at council meetings, he uses the Internet to integrate his fellow citizens into local politics. They receive the agenda and may ask questions online to which his advisers respond, at the same time participating in decision making. A voicemail is available even for those without access to the web. Although they do not all give their opinion, people are “informed and interested in the life of the city” according to the Mayor.

Voting is just one click away

The size of the city does not change the stakes: it’s about, in all cases, “offering constituents a means to achieve, through their actions as citizens, civic engagement”, in the words of Daniel Nouaille, Mayor of Aixe-sur-Vienne. The idea is to encourage citizens as much as possible to take part in the democratic process. It is in that spirit that this Limousine city decided to allow its residents to register to vote on the Internet, thereby avoiding a trip to the  Town Hall. The pilot experiment carried out by Aixe last year has been so successful it will be extended to all communes of France from July 2010.

Learn more about the communities and information technology on the sites Paroles d’élus and Artesi

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Translated by Genny Cortinovis

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