Introduction of Petition System to Tbilisi City Hall, Electronic Petition (TBI0002)
Issue to be Addressed: There is no such mechanism established for Tbilisi City Hall. Pursuant to the Georgian legislation, system of petition is established for Tbilisi City Council. It does not have an electronic format or a special function for a feedback. Primary Objective: Creation of participatory mechanism additionally strengthened with accountability before the public. Electronic format ensures its user-friendliness and effectiveness. Main aim is to enable citizens through electronic format to raise a problem, easily find people with a similar position and involve them in the process. Overall, governance process should be expedited and public-oriented decision-making process and potential of beneficial effect should be increased.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
2. Introduction of a mechanism for electronic petitions to Tbilisi City Hall
Application for Tbilisi Municipality [to make petitions] to the Mayor integrated to the City Portal. It will be possible to request it [make petitions] from “Smart map” (particularly when there is a territorial connection) as well as from a separate column. The application will enable Tbilisi residents to create petition on important issues for them and invite other people to be a signatory.
There will be a legal basis established related to number of signatories for petitions and subsequent obligations of the Tbilisi City Hall to satisfy request and provide an explanatory and documented feedback.
1. Elaboration of terms of reference to create [an] integrated application in the Tbilisi City Hall portal (by March 2017)
2. Development of electronic petition’s web application and integration with other systems as well as with Smart Map (final integration depends on electronic systems completion dates) (by September 2017)
3. Development of electronic petition’s mobile application and integration with systems (Final integration depends on electronic systems completion dates) (by October 2017)
4. System testing and putting it in to force (by December 2017)
5. Training of relevant personnel to process petitions (by November 2017)
6. Making one video clip covering portal and other OGP commitments and its dissemination through social media, mass media or municipal entities (by December 2017)
7. Legal consultancy, development of system supports legislative acts, approval (by December 2017)
Editorial Note: The commitment text above is an excerpt from the Tbilisi 2017 action plan. The complete text provides detailed and technical information on how the milestones will be carried out, assigns responsibility to specific actors and provides concrete deadlines for its implementation.
Overall Objective & Relevance
Tbilisi City Hall did not have a direct e-communication tool with residents. Citizens can make petitions to the legislative body of the city, the Tbilisi City Council, only in print form, but not to City Hall, which constitutes the city’s administrative body (including the Mayor’s office, municipal departments and the City Council). The commitment aims to increase public participation and engagement through an electronic petitions platform that will allow residents to start initiatives, gather signatures and petition any institution within City Hall to act on identified priorities.
This commitment was proposed by the IDFI, a CSO that focuses on freedom of information issues, and was agreed within the multi-stakeholder working group. It calls for the establishment of a legal framework to regulate the e-petition system and procedures (i.e. number of signatures for petitions and subsequent obligations of City Hall to satisfy requests and provide well documented explanatory feedback). According to the action plan, e-petitions were to be integrated in the Smart Map portal tool created as part of the first commitment of the action plan.
The commitment is relevant to the OGP value of civic participation and technology and innovation for transparency and accountability. E-petitions could allow citizen mobilization and active participation in raising issues of public concern for setting priorities for government decision making. The legal requirement for the government to respond to citizens’ petitions aims to ensure public accountability. However, the commitment text does not specify if this legal requirement would oblige the government to justify their actions, act upon criticisms or requirements made of citizens, and accept responsibility for failure to perform with respect to laws or commitments; it is therefore not relevant to public accountability.
Specificity and Potential Impact
The commitment contains detailed and verifiable milestones, including technical steps for elaboration of the electronic platform, system testing, training of relevant government personnel and a public dissemination strategy. However, the commitment text does not specify how the petition system would work, who would form the technical taskforce, which personnel would be trained, what the taskforce will consider when introducing the regulatory acts, what would be considered a satisfactory response to citizen petitions, which would be permissible subject areas for petitions, etc.
However, despite its lack of specificity on measurable outcomes, the commitment could have a moderate potential impact, considering there is no formal mechanism in place for citizens to make requests to City Hall and the Mayor’s Office. An e-petition system could become an important tool for strengthening participatory mechanisms in city government. Given the lack of sufficient citizen participation and accountability mechanisms in city governance, the electronic petitions systems have the potential to increase and strengthen civic participation. IDFI highlighted the importance of expanding the petitions system currently in place for the City Council and upgrading it from a paper-based mechanism to an electronic system. According to IDFI, the current paper-based system is not transparent. There are no tools to observe the process itself and it could be used by politicians or interest groups to legitimize their political objectives by introducing ideas as citizen petitions without an appropriate control mechanism that validates the system. Additionally, the requirement to respond to petitions represents a significant commitment that can change the way city government responds to citizens’ concerns. In addition, the petitions system could also enhance the transparency of government activities and decisions to further stimulate interactions between City Hall and residents of Tbilisi. However, the potential impact that can be attributed to this commitment as written is affected by its lack of specificity, especially as it does not provide details on how the mechanism would work and the legal obligations that would be developed for processing, responding and considering petitions.
The commitment has been completed. Implementation encountered delays due to the municipality elections and the process of changing the Government of Tbilisi and the commitment was also modified during the implementation period.
A technical taskforce was formed for the creation of an electronic platform and developed a mobile application integrated in the Smart Map tool within the Tbilisi City Hall portal. In the beginning, it was planned to integrate the e-petition portal as one of the portals in the Smart Map application. However, during the implementation process it was decided to create one single web-portal, my.tbilisi.gov.ge, to consolidate all the planned portals under this action plan, including e-petitions. Khasia, February 2018. After development of the application, the system was tested and its pilot version has been presented to stakeholders during the working group meeting. Later, relevant personnel from MSDA were trained to process the electronic petitions.
Legal acts necessary for the operation of the e-petition system were developed and approved by City Hall. The draft legal acts were presented during the eighth working group meeting on 10 October 2017. Minutes of the Meeting N8, http://ogp.tbilisi.gov.ge/img/original/2017/10/25/Record_of_Meeting_N8.pdf During the implementation, representatives of the Government of Tbilisi and members of the working group had active exchanges about the development and implementation of the e-petitions. The working group discussed aspects, such as the number of petition voters, age thresholds for petitioners, legal basis behind declining of “petition” and its subsequent results, procedural issues related to “petition” and the period of its consideration. Minutes of the Meeting N6, http://ogp.tbilisi.gov.ge/img/original/2017/4/12/document2017-04-12-132943.pdf City Hall presented the pilot versions of electronic petitions to the members of the working group. CSOs that are part of the working group were actively engaged in the process and prepared several recommendations. Moreover, as part of the public dissemination strategy, a video clip was prepared covering information about the portal.
While most of the milestones were completed within the timeline, the final product, the portal, was not launched by the end of December 2017, as foreseen by the action plan. Instead it was launched on 12 February 2018 by the Mayor of Tbilisi. Web portal – “Your Idea for the City Mayor” is avaliable now, http://www.tbilisi.gov.ge/news/4804?lang=en The electronic petition portal has been initiated on the same legal basis and according to the technical tasks formulated under the OGP working group, but with a different name and on a different web-portal, which is not integrated in the my.tbilisi.gov.ge portal. The petitions portal is called Your Idea for the City Mayor and is accessible through the newly created web-portal idea.tbilisi.gov.ge. The electronic portal presents systemized ideas and allows voting online. After receiving the necessary number of votes, the idea passed to City Hall for further deliberation. The portal includes 13 categories. Currently, out of a total of 620 registered ideas (petitions), 103 ideas are registered under road infrastructure and 126 ideas under the transportation infrastructure category. However, there are 120 ideas which are considered as relevant for City Hall competencies. After selecting each category, citizens would have an opportunity to submit an idea and to vote for specific projects. Currently, there are 415 ideas published through the web-portal. Two ideas which gathered the required votes moved to the next phase. These two ideas are a) “Bottle Swallowing” Recycling Containers “Bottle Swallowing” Recycling Containers, https://idea.tbilisi.gov.ge/idea-details/309 , and b) “Culture Feeds Animals”, “Culture Feeds Animals”, https://idea.tbilisi.gov.ge/idea-details/102 which allows citizens to feed homeless animals through recycled waste. The next phase provides information if the author of the petition and the government agreed on the main content of the petition. It also provides information about ideas that have been rejected, providing additional information from City Hall explaining the reasons for the rejection of the idea. Currently, 286 ideas are registered which have not gathered the required votes, and 131 are blocked due to having inappropriate content or considered not relevant under City Hall competencies.
During the interviews, CSOs stated that although the commitment is completed, they have had limited information on its development since November as they have not received any response from the government on the recommendations they had submitted electronically. Tsintsabadze, February 2018. CSOs were not invited to the presentation of the portal, idea.tbilisi.gov.ge, and were not aware that this was the electronic petition platform that they had been jointly developing with City Hall. Topuria, February 2017.
Early results: did it open government?
Civic Participation: Major
Since its launch in February 2018 the e-petitions portal is actively used by residents of Tbilisi. After launching the portal, 415 ideas were submitted in a month, and two ideas gathered the required minimum number of signatures to be considered by the city government. City Hall has the subsequent obligation to satisfy requests and provide explanatory feedback. There are also 100 ideas that were rejected and determined as irrelevant for the petition based on the criteria of ethical considerations or the idea deemed not being under the jurisdiction of City Hall. After registering on the portal, the IRM researcher considers that the registration, as well as the submission process, is easy and user-friendly.
Overall the CSOs are positive about the petitions portal and consider it to be very user friendly. Darchiashvili & Gorgadze, February 2017. They believe the electronic petition could be used as a major tool for citizens’ mobilization and active participation in setting priorities for government decision making. Avalishvili, November 2017.
OSGF considers that it has to be seen how these topics are addressed, especially when the issues submitted as petitions are not included in the competencies of any other governmental agency. Moreover, OSGF perceives the number of signatures defined for petitions, 2500, too high to be easily gathered. Tsintsabadze, February 2017.
CSOs that are part of the working group recommend these follow-up steps:
· Create a robust awareness-raising strategy and ensure that the residents of Tbilisi are familiar with the existence of the electronic petitions portal. During the awareness-raising campaign ensure information is provided about the main aims of the “Your Idea for the City Mayor”;
· Provide clear understanding of the procedures starting from the creation of the petitions to the final stages. Provide detailed information about the procedures and publish them on the website. For example, what are timelines of the petitions? Who, and in what timeframe, will review it? What are the main reasons behind accepting or rejecting submitted ideas? Ensure that the above-mentioned information is expressed in simple and easy to understand language;
· The government should have a legal obligation to provide a clear response along with the arguments that determined the decision of acceptance of petition or non-acceptance, as well as time limits for responses and follow-up actions;
· Make the web-portal available at least in Azeri and Armenian languages as the largest ethnic minority groups.
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