Local Digital Democracy (NL0028)
Action Plan: Netherlands Action Plan 2018-2020
Action Plan Cycle: 2018
Lead Institution: Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK)
Support Institution(s): Municipalities, ICTU, Netwerk Democratie, Waag Society, VNG
Policy AreasE-Government, Gender, Local Commitments, Marginalized Communities, Public Participation, Sustainable Development Goals
Starred: Pending IRM Review
Early Results: Major
Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Civic Participation , Technology
Local digital democracy
Start and end dates of the action point: 1 July 2018 - 31 December 2019
Main action owner (organisation) Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK)
Description of the action point
Which social issue does the action point seek to address? Studies by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) and others have revealed that there is dissatisfaction with the responsiveness of authorities and politicians and that there is an urgent need for more direct involvement in policy-making and decision-making. Progress in digital technology is creating more and more opportunities to shape the desired influence using digital means. The Rathenau Instituut and other parties have concluded that, so far, governments have only made scant use of digital applications.
An international comparative study ‘Democracy at Dusk? (2017)’ also revealed Dutch public administration to still be insufficiently open to public consultation and participation and forms of direct democracy. The Netherlands is in 43rd position overall (out of 170) when it comes to participation options (including direct forms of democracy). This study compared national, regional and local levels.
The development of platforms such as digital deliberative forums which enable the easy exchange of ideas and opinions has several advantages, including:
- Enhanced legitimacy of decisions;
- Shifting the focus to the general interest;
- Mutual respect among actors;
- Better quality of decision-making processes.
This development can be designated as ‘Digital Democracy’ which focuses on supporting current democratic processes by means of digital tools as well as on the challenges surrounding the implementation of such tools. (B. Mulder and M. Hartog, Applied e-democracy: the need for an information framework to support development, 2013).
What is the action point? The action point will lead to a testing ground for ‘Digital Democracy’ being implemented, serving the following objectives:
• To vitalise democracy by demonstrably increasing the responsiveness of local authorities.
• To explore the question of how to effectively add a digital channel to the existing participation approach.
• To study which criteria successful participation tools should comply with.
• To increase awareness among authorities of the risks and opportunities of digital democracy. To promote open source as the programming standard.
How will the action point contribute to remedying the social issue? The use of participation tools within the testing ground will contribute to the strengthening of local representative democracy with participative elements. Support will take shape in a group setting – with all the members of the testing ground – wherever possible, so that various layers of government can work on the social task.
Why is this action point relevant to OGP values? The use of digital applications enables government organisations and residents to quickly exchange large volumes of information and to consult with each other without having to meet physically. The government's service provision can be optimised further by means of these digital applications. This leads to the conclusion that the action point will contribute to more information being released and also that the action point is relevant as regards transparency.
The action point will also create wide-ranging opportunities for participation in public matters. This makes this action point relevant as regards social participation. Aspects which demonstrate this include: opportunities for citizens to contribute to policy-making, decision-making and implementation at local level, through the use of innovative digital instruments.
The action point offers democratically legitimised actors an extra channel for involving citizens in, and informing them about, the different aspects of public accountability – information phase, debate phase and evaluation phase. This justifies the conclusion that the action point is also relevant for public accountability.
Additional information The testing ground for digital democracy is part of the Democracy Agenda of the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) and also intersects with the following government programmes:
- Digital agenda 2020;
- e-Government action plan;
One of the goals of this programme is to reduce inequality in and between countries. By 2030, social, economic and political inclusion should be made possible and promoted for everyone, regardless of age, gender, handicap, race, ethnicity, country of origin, religion, economic or any other status. The digital participation tools in the testing ground are also intended to promote the inclusiveness of democracy. Regardless of the above aspects, all citizens will be entitled to political inclusion in connection with policy-making and decision-making. This leads to the conclusion that there are intersections with the goal of the Sustainable Development programme referred to above.
There are also intersections with goal 16 of the programme: promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The major intersection of the testing ground for digital democracy is covered by sub-goal 16.7: ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. This goal will be achieved by using the digital participation tools. Although the tools will be tested at municipal level first, implementation at provincial and national levels should also be possible at a more advanced stage.
Milestone with a verifiable result (please note: SMART) Start date: End date:
5 to 10 municipalities have progressed through at least three digital participation paths using open source tools. April / May 2018 December 2019
5 to 10 municipalities have progressed through at least three digital participation paths using a closed source tool. April / May 2018 December 2019
Signing of the ‘digital democracy manifesto’ by participating municipalities, BZK and VNG in order to record their commitment and vision regarding the promotion of digital democracy. April 2018 September 2018
Establishing, in conjunction with VNG and ICTU, how the tools will be managed in future, including their technical management. September 2019 December 2019
Adopting a joint approach to further scaling up, based on experiences. July 2019 December 2019
Preparing a final report that presents different impact measurements June 2019 December 2019
Name of the responsible person representing the main action owner Koos Steenbergen (BZK)
Position, organisational unit Project leader
Email and phone number Koos.email@example.com
Other actors involved Authorities involved Municipalities
Other organisations or bodies (such as community organisations or the private sector) ICTU, Netwerk Democratie, Waag Society, VNG
IRM Midterm Status Summary
11. Local digital democracy
Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan: 
The action point will lead to a testing ground for ‘Digital Democracy’ being implemented, serving the following objectives:
- To vitalise democracy by demonstrably increasing the responsiveness of local authorities.
- To explore the question of how to effectively add a digital channel to the existing participation approach.
- To study which criteria successful participation tools should comply with.
- To increase awareness among authorities of the risks and opportunities of digital democracy. To promote open source as the programming standard.
11.1. 5 to 10 municipalities have progressed through at least three digital participation paths using open source tools.
11.2. 5 to 10 municipalities have progressed through at least three digital participation paths using a closed source tool.
11.3. Signing of the ‘digital democracy manifesto’ by participating municipalities, BZK and VNG in order to record their commitment and vision regarding the promotion of digital democracy.
11.4 Establishing, in conjunction with VNG and ICTU, how the tools will be managed in future, including their technical management.
11.5 Adopting a joint approach to further scaling up, based on experiences
Start Date: April 2018
End Date: December 2019
Context and Objectives
As stated in the action plan, the Netherlands aspires to implement more models of direct citizen participation in decision-making and (local) democracy. The University of Gothenburg’s V-Dem Institute ranked the country 43rd (out of 170 countries) in terms of participatory democracy in 2017.  In addition, national research conducted by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, a government agency, also highlights the need for increased direct citizen participation in public policy and decision-making.  Citing a backdrop of decreased trust in political systems, and the desire to safeguard democratic representation and stability, this commitment aims to provide opportunities for new technologies and digital tools to strengthen transparency and responsivity of local authorities. In turn, this could improve the quality of local government and trust in government in general.
The commitment has clear and verifiable objectives and activities. Considering that the commitment will promote new technology and digital opportunities for public participation and collaboration in decision-making, it is relevant to the OGP values of civic participation, and technology and innovation for openness and accountability. Furthermore, given that specific information is needed when deliberating over policy making and such work may generally promote transparency of government decision-making, it is also relevant to access to information.
Overall, the commitment is considered to have a moderate impact on the values and practices mentioned above. Due to the limited size of the commitment, it has by design limitations in terms of potential impact. It may, however, create significant positive experiences in boosting citizen participation in local democracy provided that the commitment tools are effective and reliable. These tools, though not set in stone, may include digital platforms to host petitions and discussions, set local political agendas, or facilitate participatory budgeting. Such experiences may function as instigators for further pilots and drive an incremental, but important, norm-setting of digital participatory tools for (local) democracy.
The IRM researcher recommends the following:
- Perform a more detailed plan for roll-out and consider targeting specific areas at the local level that have different denominators in terms of voter turnout, demographics, income distribution, etc.
- Integrate risk-mitigation more actively, both in terms of managing expectations as well as related to computer literacy and the ageing of the population.
- Link the pilot where possible with academic scholars and ongoing research in the area. This could help to further shape understanding on the extent that such initiatives can deliver on (re)building trust and democracy, as well as answer questions on whether these tools lend themselves to high-political themes.
 The complete text of this commitment, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Netherlands_Action-Plan_2018-2020_EN.pdf
 V-Dem Institute, Democracy at dusk, https://www.v-dem.net/media/filer_public/b0/79/b079aa5a-eb3b-4e27-abdb-604b11ecd3db/v-dem_annualreport2017_v2.pdf
 The Netherlands Institute for Social Research, More democracy, less politics?, https://www.scp.nl/english/Publications/Summaries_by_year/Summaries_2015/More_democracy_less_politics
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Commitment 11. Local digital democracy
For details regarding the implementation and early results of this commitment, see Section 2.3.
Aim of the commitment
This commitment aimed to pilot new open-source, digital tools for civic participation in local government decision making to enhance the responsiveness of local authorities and the quality of (local) government. It primarily called for five to 10 municipalities to carry out at least three digital participation initiatives using open-source tools and for the same number of municipalities to carry out at least three digital participation initiatives using a closed source tool.
Did it open government?
During the action plan period, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations developed new open-source tools in several municipalities to facilitate interaction with residents and enhance civic participation. Among these tools were Consul,  Open Stad,  and Pol.is  (the latter was piloted in the municipalities of Amsterdam and Groningen). In addition, the ministry helped municipal governments collaborate on open-source participation tools with so-called ‘province deals’. With support from Democratie in Actie and provincial project leaders, Groningen (Consul) and South Holland (Open Stad) began utilizing its own open-source participation platform in municipalities and provincial water authorities. In total, the ministry helped at least 14 municipalities in the country to utilize the tools. The ministry is currently exploring with North Holland (Open Stad) and Friesland (Consul) if they will also enter into a similar collaboration with municipal governments.
Several campaigns were carried out during the action plan period using the Open Stad tool. For example, in 2020, residents in the Bezuidenhout district of The Hague used Open Stad to submit plans to improve the livability of the district and to divide the allocated budget over the plans they would like to see implemented.  In the autumn of 2019, EUR 500,000 was made available on Open Stad for plans by entrepreneurs and residents of Slotermeer Noordoost in Amsterdam to improve the social and cultural sustainability of the neighborhood. Residents used the tool to divide the neighborhood budget among the plans they preferred to see implemented. 
The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations met its goal of having five to 10 municipalities utilize at least three open-source participation tools, as explained above. However, there is no information available to suggest that the ministry actively encouraged the use of any closed-source tools. Therefore, the IRM considers this commitment to have been substantially completed, rather than fully completed.
By deploying tools such as ‘Consul’, and implementing online participatory budgeting solutions,  this commitment has clearly improved transparency of local government processes, and therefore brought a major impact to open government at the local level. It has become clearer how debates proceeded and how decisions were made. In addition, the three above-mentioned tools involving participation and consultation have allowed residents not only to participate in actual decision making about policy and budget in their neighborhood, thereby gaining a certain ownership of their living environment. The latter initiative also spilled over to academia, where it has been the subject of a case study to draw up lessons learned.  Stakeholders also developed an extensive toolkit for interested municipalities to use. 
In addition, a guide to digital democracy was created, which offers local governments a guideline and inspiration for getting started with existing tools. Finally, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, this work gained momentum as the demand for digital tools in local governance increased dramatically. In response to that, stakeholders launched a helpdesk to assist local governments with implementing the temporary law ‘Digital consultation and decision-making’,  and provided guidance on how to organize digital local democracy. These lessons learned will be valuable for the future and further add to the impact of the commitment.