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Beggars and Netizens: Crowdsourcing policy-making in Armenia

Aram Asatryan|

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In ancient times, people were privileged with several chances to meet their king in the streets, who would be dressed as a beggar to talk to his citizens. “Are you happy with your king, my friend? Can you make your living with the taxes you have to pay, my friend?” This collected intelligence would then be used to make smarter and more citizen-centric decisions.

For the last few centuries, as we’ve made than transition from direct to representational democracy, we‘ve managed to polish and institutionalize those traditions by creating agencies and roles. A whole caste of mediators, called civil society, is ready to translate messages between governors and users. But did we get any closer to our users? Do we know if they are happy with their king or if they can make their living with the taxes we collect?  

Netizens

In Armenia, mobile technologies have been rapidly evolving throughout the last decade. Internet penetration has grown from 29% to 75% over the last five years. As many as 960 000 Armenian users (1/3 of the population) are registered on Facebook’s social network. The rise of social media creates new opportunities for online “beggar promenades” and immediate feedback from netizens, the active online population of the country. Internet has become the new Agora of our days, creating a liberal meeting-place for all.

How does this new situation change the dialogue between government and citizens? With the launch of the OGP initiative in Armenia, citizen-centric design has become more institutionalized. Armenia joined the initiative back in 2011. Since that time, more than 27 national commitments have been implemented towards transparency, participation and accountability. We’ve registered prominent success, reflected in national and international awards.

Designing our third Action Plan, we started with a round of reflections on the lessons learnt along the way. While OGP has helped to create a lively forum between CSOs and the Government, it’s now time to expand the dialogue – engaging not only institutions but also individual citizens. The question to be tackled is: how can we design citizen-centric policies if we get their insights through mediators? Don’t those insights sometimes get lost in translation?

Crowdsourcing

The OGP team, with technical support from UNDP’s Kolba Innovations Lab, has designed a crowdsourcing campaign to nudge citizen ideas into the next Action Plan. The modern “beggars” of the OGP working group surfed the regions of Armenia to spread the word about an online call for ideas. More than 130 users were engaged through these kind of outreach meetings. Their voice was multiplied further through OGP’s signature TV program.  For the very first time, the Armenian Government has outsourced its policy-making to citizens, hacking the traditional design procedures.

Eighteen program suggestions were submitted through the online tool, ranging from environmental solutions to municipal management tools.               

Co-Design Lab      

The call for ideas brought overall 80 submissions from CSOs, experts, netizens and government agencies. How do we squeeze the quintessence of such intelligence and turn it into a practical action plan for the Government? We used a co-design methodology to bring the insights of all parties together. High-level government officials came together with CSO counterparts, experts and private sector partners for a two-day workshop to discuss and elaborate the suggested commitments. The methodology implied both cluster discussions within CSO and Government groups and a final joint session to come up with a consensual decision on the Action Plan.

Road Map   

The new Action Plan is concise as ever. It has only 8 commitments, three out of which are coming through crowdsourcing and CSO channels and the rest are redesigned Government suggestions. We will set open data standards, design smarter solutions in social protection and offer more human-centric services on subnational and national level.             

This new partnership between state and citizens represents the first step on a brand new road map. Will life ever be the same again? Watch this space!

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