A survey of Scandinavian Techpolitics

Why aren’t there more techpolitic attempts in Scandinavia? Why isn’t there a Sunlight Foundation in Denmark, a MySociety in Sweden, a FarmSubsidy in Norway? (This blog post was also posted at Personal Democracy Forum’s European blog)

That’s something I’ve been wondering about, since the Scandinavian countries have among the highest internet usage in the world (in Finland, it will even become a legal right to have a one megabit broadband connection), high degree of openness in politics (ex, all municipalities and ministries in Norway have electronic mail journals that are available for the public. Margot Wallström, the Swedish Vice President in the European Commission, has a similar service, mail register) as well as populations with fairly high educational levels. In addition, we also know that social networks, such as Facebook, are extremely popular.

Some would argue that the more open a country’s own government and political culture is, the less likely you are to see bottom up efforts like MySociety or Sunlight. Is the distance between power-holders and the people so short and the possibilities for influence so many that we don’t need tools like TheyWorkForYou? I doubt so. Are the techpolitics enviroments in these countries too tiny to foster the kind of political digital innovations we’ve seen in the UK and the US? Maybe. We could also blame lack of good funding possibilities (except from the government), since we have few independent foundations similar to Sunlight.

We do see lots of examples of online communication between elected officials and the public, but not that many collaborative (problem solving) projects. However, there are some attempts, and we’ve gathered the most interesting cases for you. If you know of any other Scandinavian or Nordic political collaborative projects, let us know in the comment section.

Transparency/public data – efforts to make public data accessible to all on the Internet; free, searchable, clickable.

  • Digitaliser.dk (Denmark) – overview of public data resources in Denmark. The purpose is the encourage the use of public data in new ways. Similar to data.gov.
  • Opengov.se (Sweden) – overview of public data resources in Sweden. The goal is to highlight the benefits of open access to government data and explain how this is done in practice. Similar to data.gov.

Collaboration/ political ideas – tools to make it easier to cooperate and solve political problems.

  • Ideoffensiv.dk (Denmark) – portal for political ideas in Skanderborg municipality. People can present ideas, discuss them, vote, and follow how the municipality is dealing with the political ideas from the public.
  • GataMi -Tromsø municipality (Norway) – report a problem in your neighbourhood, ex a pothol or a broken street light. Similar to FixMyStreet.
  • Malmøinitiativet (Sweden) – portal for political ideas in Malmö municipality. Suggest a political idea, and get support from you idea from the local community.
  • Yr.no (Norway) – weather data presented in a user-friendly way, based on public data. Project developed by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.
  • Hendelseskart (Norway) – political event map from the local newspaper Asker og Bærum Budstikka. Political events from the past 3 months are marked on the map (in addition to crime, accidents, fires).
  • Maktbasen (Norway) – the “Power database”, a mashup with data on national and local politicians, their economic interests as well as their voting records.
  • Fakta først (Norway) – blog and reasearch project about public data.
  • HvemStemmerHvad (Denmark) – overview of Danish national politicians’ voting record as well as their absence, starting from 2001.
  • Folkets Ting (Denmark) – debate, comment or vote on current law proposals or political speaches.
  • Riksdagsmonitor (Sweden) – monitor Swedish national politicians’ voting record and absence.
  • Bliv Hørt (Denmark) – digital hearing in the Copenhagen municipality (thanks to HvemStemmerHva for the link)
  • Ungdomskriminalistet (Denmark) – ideas for how to reduce youth crime in (suggest ideas, discuss, vote) Denmark, started by the political party Venstre (the Liberals) (thanks to HvemStemmerHva for the link)
  • Danmarksdebatten (Denmark – dead?) – digital dialog platform for municipalities and citizens, initiated by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (thanks to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen for the link)

New ways of communicating between politicians and citizens – blogs written by elected officials and bureacrates.

  • Bærumbeta (Norway) – blog about communication policy in Bærum municipality.
  • Ordførerbloggen (Norway) – the mayor’s blog in Kongsvinger municipality.
  • BetaTrondheim (Norway) – blog about web 2.0 possilities and challenges in Trondheim municipality.
  • Departementene og sosiale medier (Norway) – blog about how to utilize social networks and web 2.o tools in a ministry.
  • Origo.no (Norway) – online community and publishing tool used by 1067 politicians (all the names are confirmed) in Norway. The Norwegian Labour party has developed their own community, MyLabourParty, on the site. (Disclaimer, the writer works as a communication advisor for Origo)

Do you know any other example? Help us update this list in the comment section! (I’m updating as people suggest more links, and add attributes in parathesis).

11 thoughts on “A survey of Scandinavian Techpolitics

  1. Few techpolitic attempts in Norway and Scandinavia might be explanied by the fact that we have a very strong Welfare state in these countries. A model in which the state assumes primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, which may explain few attemts from the citizens it selfs. The Welfare state might have taken a too big responsibility a too big responsibility, and citizens themselves are getting blunt….because both ICT adaption and skills should in principle point in another direction.

  2. Opengov.se covers Swedish* data…

    On FarmSubsidy if you look at the about page there are actually both Swedish and Danish involvement behind, the reason Norway is not in is probably because Norway is not in the EU. Also there has been Danes (at least one) involved with the votewatch.eu project.

    The municipal of Copenhagen has a nice “hearing-portal” at http://www.blivhoert.kk.dk/ and I think one could find lots of other public funded projects.

    I don’t believe your (Petter’s) explanation about the welfare state killing peoples own initiatives. First of all I don’t think the list of projects in the blog post is alarmingly short.

    I think an alternative explanation could be that generally the official sites in the Nordic countries are rather keen themselves on making their sites better and easy accessible to the public that way the potential gain for unofficial sites are small.

  3. To Peter and “HvemStemmerHvad”,

    The reason for the politics might be that the Scandinavian cultures normally focus on that the members of these cultures (Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns etc.) normally consider each other with some trust and therefor do not assume that there is a need for such politics.

    It is well known that in some countries there is a very healthy skepticism against their governments e.g., the United States and Russia. A skepticism which often leads to the foundation of communities that devote their time to investigate the actions of the government.

    As Peter says the welfare state has probably contributed to the lack of interest in what the administrators of the state does but so has the national culture.

  4. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, a Danish PhD student Columbia University has written a very interesting comment about my blog post at his blog, take a look.

  5. Thanks for your great comments!

    @Petter – the challenge for the welfare state it then to encourage innovation in techpolitics, not necessarily develope the tools (unlike Yr, which was developed by two govermental institutions) themselves?

    @HvemStemmerHvad – this list is not that bad, but I think so much more could been done if we got better access to public data, and the techpolitics enviroments in Scandinavia started talking to each other – which is part of my intention when I wrote this blog:-) The focus need to be local, but by learning from each other, we can come up with new sollutions or use tools that are tested and have worked internationally.

    @coherencyarchitect – FYI: Norwegians are the most trustful people in Europe, according to a survey by European Social Survey (article translated from Norwegian). But techpolitics is not only about checking and catching politicians in wrongdoing, it is also about making tools that are useful to people, more useful then the sites the local or national authorities are developing.

    @rasmuskleinnielsen, thanks for you long and thorough reply. Of course it is unfair to compare tiny Scandinavian countries with the giants US/UK – you can also see this a way to provoke a debate:-) Still, when the Scandinavian populations are so tech savvy, I think we should have high expectations for what is possible to do within techpolitics. The Norwegian election this fall proved that all the politicians have jumped on the Social Media bandwagon and are communicating extensively on new platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, Twitter, Origo, etc. This kind of digital communication is something lots of Scandinavian politicians are getting comfortable with. But few have taken the step from communicating to collaborating online. And what can we do to encourage more collaborative online efforts – that’s my main point.

    I’ve corrected the mistake you pointed out regarding opengov.se, HvemStemmerHva. I have also added Bliv Hørt to my list, great initiativ. Regarding FarmSubsidy, I’m keenly aware that this groups consist of Scandinavian programmers and journalist, as well as it lists the EU-member Sweden, Denmark and Finland – I’ve written about FarmSubsidy here, among other places. But Norway is not included, neither are Norwegian farm subsidies public, so when I mentioned FS in this context, it was mostly related to the Norwegian context.

  6. Indeed an interesting post by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen. I’ll take his points.

    It’s not directly politics, but anyway I just came across this project: http://www.tinemuller.dk/drupal/node/715 which is a mash-up of google-maps and a list of public toilets in DK (only Cph so far).

    More relevant maybe is http://www.ungdomskriminalitet.dk/ a project on youth crime by the political party Venstre.

    You could also find a reasonable list of “blogs written by elected officials and bureaucrats” in DK if you took the time.

  7. Thanks Bente, it certainly does provoke a debate and as said, I think your overview was very useful.

    On collaboration in particular, I would add that often, when government agencies or political parties have tried to launch collaborative sites, at least in Denmark, they’ve found that there are currently relatively few people interested in taking part. Danmarksdebatten.dk, for instance, won various prizes, only to disappear into the ether. Look at radikale.net, which is technologically impressive, but seems to have a low level of activity. This is not to recommend against it, but to underline that in Scandinavia as elsewhere, tools alone only foster collaboration in so far as a critical mass of people have an itch to scratch. If not, you have to be very patient and careful in creating and fostering a community.

    (crossposted at rasmuskleisnielsen.net)

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  9. Thanks for your links, HvemStemmerHvad and Rasmus. I’ve added some of them. I didn’t include the public toilet (who are planning their public toilet visits while sitting in front of the computer? That was a lame joke as more and more have smart phones, but still…). But what about the youth crime project, has that worked in the sense that is has created engagement, maybe even sollutions?

    @Rasmus, we’ve seen the same lack of engagement around a similar intititive in Norway called Innbyggerinitative (Citizen Initiative – here is one example from a local municipality, Larvik). It gives people the right to present a political suggestion for the city council if they have collected more than 300 signatures. But how many are actually using these kinds of eInitiatives that we never hear about?

    The same topic – lack of engagement in online communication – is also the topic of an article written by Gro Sandkjær Hanssen and Signy Irene Vabo “Styringsdilemmaer i lokaldemokratiet – økte utfordringer med digitalisering?” in the book “Digitale Dilemmaer”.

    You can’t just say – here is an empty space on the internet, now start discussing, people! You need to encourage and foster the dialog, and create good design for constructive debates.

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