Platforms for digital participation

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Are you interested in digital solutions for participation? You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

There are various digital solutions for participation already in place. We want to guide you through some of these solutions. As a starting point, we have mapped available open-source platforms for public participation.

Why open source?

Building an “in-house” IT solution is resource-consuming and challenging. Commercial software packages come with expensive license fees. Free and open-source Software (FOSS) refers to any software published under a licence that gives all users of that software four freedoms: the freedom to use, understand, distribute and improve the software for any purpose.

Popular examples of open-source software: Firefox internet browser, WordPress web publishing software, software behind Wikipedia

Examples for proprietary software: Microsoft Office, SAP, Adobe Photoshop

Using open-source software

  • enables a sustainable operating and development model even after a solution has been handed implemented in an institution. This means that local service providers can take over the further development, maintenance and support of the software without restrictions. Open-source software can be reused and scaled indefinitely – locally as well as globally.
  • is an expression of committing to the “Principles for Digital Development”-
  • promotes collaboration and sharing because it permits other people to make modifications to source code and incorporate those changes into their own projects. 

Our partners: Open-source Platforms for Participation

PartiCipate is cooperating with, so far, 4 open-source platforms for participation. These platforms are: Consul, Adhocracy+, CitizenOS and Ushahidi. They are ready to be used for your participation journey. To make it easier for you to understand the differences, we have analysed each of the platforms for you.

"Makes digital democracy easy - for everyone no matter where."
"Free Citizen OS platform for asynchronous meetings & citizen participation"
"Anybody can submit a proposal to improve their city, others can support it"
"Data crowdsourcing and mapping tool that allows people to collect, manage and analyze crowdsourced information"
What can we use them for?
Adhocracy+ has a focus on providing digital citizen participation for a broad range of target groups: municipalities, NGOs, governments.
Citizen OS has a focus on the decision-making part within the citizen participation process.
Consul has a clear focus on digital citizen participation especially for cities and national governments.
Ushahidi has a clear focus on data crowdsourcing without the need of an internet connection.
Can we ask citizens for information or ideas (“Petitions”, “Data Crowdsourcing” or “Brainstorming”)?
Yes “citizens can submit their own ideas and discuss the ideas of others, they can also locate them on a map.”
Yes, you can “get input from a wider audience” through the crowdsourcing of ideas.” You can also initiate and sign petitions and send those directly to the local government or parliament.
Yes, “citizens can create a proposal and seek support, other people can discuss the proposed topic”.
Yes, you can do “data crowdsourcing and mapping that allows to rapidly collect, manage and analyze crowdsourced information from communities”. The data mostly comes through SMS, e-mail, and Twitter and can then be analyzed based on geolocation and keywords.
Can citizens deliberate on proposals or conduct a live debate (“Collaborative Documents” or “Virtual Assemblies”)?
Yes, “citizens can discuss the paragraphs of a text”, “citizens can lead structured discussions”. At a (live) event citizens can follow a live stream and “ask their questions online, other participants can support the question.”
Yes, there is the feature to “co-create texts”. You can also do “rational, balanced group discussions, public or private, weighing up the pros and cons.”
Yes, “legislative texts can be shared with the public to receive comments on any particular part of it”.
No.
Can citizens collaboratively make decisions (“Voting” or “Participatory Budgeting”)?
Yes, “citizens can submit their own suggestions and add a budget. Ideas of others can be discussed and rated (pro/contra)”.
Yes, citizens can “make decisions with customisable voting.” There is also the feature to do “anonymous voting with deadlines” and “mini-votes and vote delegation”.
Yes, it’s a “secure voting system for citizen proposals and enquiries from the institution”. Furthermore “everyone can propose and decide directly how to spend part of the budget.”
No.
Adhocracy+ emphasizes on possibilites to integrate offline consultations into the online platform.
Citizen OS’ inclusiveness lies in the fact that anyone can log in for free, without any barriers. Social logins are also available to make access quicker and easier.
Consul is the only platform which considers the international standard for digital accessibility, WCAG II.
Ushahidi is very inclusive due to it’s accessibility via SMS and a lot of different languages.
Is the platform accessible without internet connection?
No. But it’s designed to integrate on-site events/documentations into the online platform.
No.
No. But it’s designed to integrate on-site processes, such as including an analogue survey or voting into the digital system.
No, but it does have offline capabilities. Ushahidi is also optimized for receiving data/information via SMS, so reporters don’t need to have internet access. But data managers i.e. owners of the dashboard do.
What does the citizen need to participate online?
Internet connection and device (desktop computer, tablet, smartphone). E-mail account or Social Login possible for registration/login.
Internet connection and device (desktop computer, tablet, smartphone). E-mail account needed. It’s also possible through social media accounts such as Google and Facebook or an Estonian Mobiil-ID/ID-Card/Smart-ID.
Internet connection and device (desktop computer, tablet, smartphone). There are different ways to participate: with an E-mail account, through a SMS-code or a code sent by mail.
If the citizens want to use Ushahidi online an internet connection and device (desktop computer, tablet, smartphone) is needed. There is no e-mail account needed to participate.
Is it possible for citizens to participate anonymously (so that other citizens and the initiators can’t see their real name?)
It’s possible to register with an alias, so initiators can’t see the e-mail address and real name.
Voting can be done anonymously (so only the initiators can see the personal identifiable information, not the general public.)
People are at least asked to login with their e-mail, whether they are asked for more details is up to the government using the platform. Moreover only the number of votes are displayed.
Ushahidi allows for anonymous reporting. In cases where information is shared via SMS, Twitter or email, personal identifiable information are not accessible to the general public, only to administrators.
Which languages do they support?
5: English, Russian, German, Dutch, Kyrgyz. (Additional languages can easily be added by volunteers.)
16: English, French, Spanish, Ukranian, Russian, German, Czek, Dutch, Bahasa, Slovak, Estonian, Latvian, Macedonian, Finnish, Polish, Portuguese (Additional languages can easily be added by volunteers.)
Dutch, German, Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, English, French, Greek, Hebrew, Occitan, Portugese, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Turkish, Swedish, Ukranian, Slovenian. (Additional languages can easily be added by volunteers.)
37 languages (Additional languages can easily be added by volunteers.)
Do they consider international standards for digital accessibility (e.g. “WCAG II”)
No.
No.
Yes, they consider WCAG II.
The are currently working on accessibility.
Adhocracy+ ist part of the German association “Liquid Democracy”, they are sensitive in data privacy and sustainability.
Citizen OS is a foundation based in Estonia, established by people from the environmental “Let’s do it” foundation.
Consul is a foundation based in the Netherlands, with – for an IT platform – still rare gender ratio: there are more women than men in their board.
Ushahidi is a non-profit based in the USA, with a very divers team of employees from all over the world.
What kind of organisation is it, where is it located, when was it founded?
Behind Adhocracy+ there is the non-profit association “Liquid Democracy”, based in Berlin/Germany, founded 2009.
A foundation, based in Tallinn/Estonia, founded 2015. Recently they also established offices in India and Indonesia.
A foundation, based in Amsterdam/Netherlands, founded 2019 by different European NGOs (However, the platform itself has been around since 2015).
A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, based in the USA, founded 2007 in Kenya.
What’s the business model?
Donations and grants, fees and consultancy services.
Grants – coming from the “Open Estonia Foundation”, the “Let’s do it!” Foundation and EU/Erasmus+. Private donations from citizens and philanthropist.
Funding comes from Bosch foundation, the 13 founding NGOs and through fees and consultancy services.
Grants, fees and consultancy services.
How is the organization governed? How about gender diversity?
The association has a board of directors, which consists of half men/half women (while the development team consists of 70% women).
The CEO is Anett Linno, they have 10 employees (5 men/5 women). They also have an advisory board consisting of various mentors and coaches.
The foundation is governed by a board. There are more women than men in the team. The advisory board consists of the 13 directors of the founding NGO.
The CEO is Angela Oduor Lungati, they have 12 employees (6 men/6 women), half of the team works in Nairobi, while others work in Nigeria, Hungary, Sweden and the US. They also have a board of directors and advisory groups.
What is the long term vision of the organisation?
Liquid Democracy – the association behind Adhocracy+ – wants to “create more and more flexible participation opportunities for all citizens.”
To initiate and participate in different participation projects globally – “to show how e-democracy works and that communities get the opportunity to raise their voices.”
To “reinforce the quality, neutrality and credibility of citizen participation worldwide in democratic process under the principles democracy, independence, free knowledge and software, neutrality, transparency, rule of law and inclusion”.
To “carry the commitment to amplifying voices, empowering communities and fostering change to this day, seeking to foster a world in which communities are thriving and just.”
How aware is the organization of environmental sustainability?
They use 100% renewable energy for hosting. The hardware used for hosting is highly energy efficient.
Citizen OS was established by the people of Let´s Do It Foundation which is an environmental organization that organizes the World Cleanup Day. They also aim for “green offices” (for example “beeing paper-free”, no use of plastic cups”).
The foundation operates completely remote and connects mostly digitally with its collaborators, be it core team, developers, board or advisory committee.
They are “aware of it, and getting more active in that”.
What about data privacy?
GDPR compliant. No use of cookies. They use Matomo for website tracking.
GDPR compliant. They collect as few data as possible, they don’t share data with third parties.
GDPR compliant.
GDPR compliant.
What about hate speech – are they monitoring/moderating the projects on their platform?
There are different tools for moderating on the platform. It is possible to publish a code of conduct for organisations to prevent hate speech. It is also possible for moderators to edit or delete user content if needed.
Public content is being moderated by the initiators. But everyone can report inappropriate content to Citizen OS.
No moderating from Consul. Each institution which uses Consul can moderate their projects on their own.
No moderating.
Adhocracy+ is very experienced in Germany, but has also implemented projects beyond Europe. Independent research partners analyse and evaluate the platform.
Citizen OS recently started projects outside of Estonia, being part of the “Open Government Partnership” also helps with that.
Consul has a track record of a lot of big institutions such as national governements, especially from the spanish speaking world, and the most vibrant open source community.
Ushahidi is the oldest platform with a lot of experience through their work all over the world. Millions of citizens and a lot of big partners used them so far.
Where is their current geographic focus?
Their focus is Germany, but they also run projects in Kyrgyzstan and Ghana.
Their headquarters are in Estonia but they have a global outlook. The platform is available everywhere, but the organisation currently runs related projects in Europe, India and Indonesia.
Their focus is in the EU and in Latin America. They also have projects in Palastine (with GIZ), in Somalia (UNDP) and Tunisia.
Their focus is global, with a lot of use in developing countries. But Ushahidi has been used in >160 countries all over the world.
What are their “Best Cases”?
GIZ uses Adhocracy+ in Kirgistan for the project “Prospects for Youth”: Open link

The German city of Harburg used Adhocracy+ to collect ideas for activities around diversity. Citizens could post ideas, comment and vote for them: Open link

During a live meeting, citizens could ask/rate questions on a topic: Open link
In Indonesia, they lead the Indonesian Opinion Festival, where Indonesian citizens come together to democratically share their opinions, insights, differing perspectives and hopes for the future: Open link

Also in Indonesia, they started the “34 Islands Project – for a Greener Indonesia.”, where Grassroots community decision-making is combatting waste pollution through CitizenOS: Open link

In Estonia, they supported a political party to carry out a more deeply participatory way of doing politics: Open link

Also in Estonia, they supported the Estonian Resource Management Union (PARE) in moving their general meeting online due to Covid-19: Open link
GIZ uses CONSUL in Palastine for the project “Designing Inclusive Digital Governance”: Open link

In Porto Alegre/Brazil, the city where they “invented” participatory budgeting, Consul is used as their digital tool: Open link

The government of Uruguay uses Consul for a national consultation process: Open link
After violence erupted in Kenya following the 2008 election, Ushahidi served as the technology provider for Uchaguzi: Open link

Citizens in Macedonia raised their voices in 2012 using the Ushahidi platform. Transparency International – Macedonia and the Center for International Relations deployed an open source version of the Ushahidi platform to empower citizens to report on alleged acts of corruption: Open link

Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL) used the Ushahidi platform to collect reports from the ground to help direct relief efforts after an earthquake in Nepal 2015: Open link
How many institutions/individuals used the platform already? How many users?
>200 Institutions, “every quarter around 30 new institutions join”.
3.800 discussions, 500 groups, 58.000 registered users, >100.000 Votes.
Approximately 180 institutions worldwide.
200.000 individuals or institutions collected information with Ushahidi so far (“deployments”), 50M posts/”testimonies”, 25M people reached in critical situations.
Do they analyze the impact and effect of their platform?
There are independent research partners who analyse and evaluate the platform. Also they do research on their own.
They do some quantitative and qualitative research. One research partner is Tallinn University in Estonia.
Yes, there is a impact study about Madrid – their first use case. Many municipalities do their own research, for example for the “ConsulConference”.
Yes, for example with the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government they published an impact report: “10 years Ushaidi”.
How vibrant is the Open Source community (in Nov 2021)? How many developers are in their core team?
The last updated relevant repository had 21 contributors (Open link), they have 7-8 developers in their core team.
The last updated relevant repository had 5 contributors (Open link), they have 1.5 developers in their core team.
The last updated relevant repository had 117 contributors (Open link), they have 10-15 developers in their core team.
The last updated relevant repository had 64 contributors (Open link), they have 10-15 developers in their core team.
Programmed in Python, they release a new version every 3-4 months.
Programmed in PHP, they release a new update every week.
Programmed in Ruby on Rails, every 6 months a new version of Consul is released.
Programmed in PHP, they release a new version every 1-2 months.
What’s the Tech Stack (programming language, etc.) and which free-software license do they have?
Python, Django, wagtail, SCSS, React, Licence of the software: AGPLv3.
Programming language is PHP, for their API they use Node.js and the database engine is PostgreSQL, frontend is AngularJS. For document editing they use Etherpad. The license is Apache 2.0.
Consul has a AGPLv3 License and uses Ruby on Rails (MIT License), Node.js (MIT License), and PostgreSQL (PostgreSQL License).
Programming Language is PHP, Licence is AGPLv3.
How scalable is the platform?
“Very scalable”.
API and frontend are easily scalable.
Fully scalable. It has been designed to work from small cities with very light infrastructure to whole countries (e.g. Colombia with 50 million inhabitants).
Very robust and scalable system based on a lot of experience with many users.
How secure is the platform? Where are teh servers located?
Very secure (SSH, TLS), server location is in Germany (Hetzer).
Database backups are done daily. They usea logging system with an automated alerting system for any crashes or errors. They use Heroku for hosting which is in the EU.
They provide a fast bug detection and correction. On top of that the platform is hosted by the governments themselves, allowing them to impose any security measures that they consider relevant.
They use different access levels and very secure servers. Server location is in the US (AWS).
How modular is the platform?
There are currently 10 modules for participation which can be used flexible at the same time or in sequence.
They have different moduls that can be used separately: document co-creation, argumentary, voting, groups.
The platform has been designed in a fully modular way, allowing each functionality of the platform to run completely independent. External organisations can also develop their own modules such as the SDG module developed by UNDP or the Artificial Intelligence module developed by the Alan Turing Institute.
The main module is data gathering: Ushahidi allows for data collection via different streams at the same time, i.e. SMS, Email, twitter, web, smartphone apps.
How easy is the integration into other websites?
Easy to embed through their API: The external operator of the website only has to add a small code snippet to his website and the participation process including all functions is available on the website.
There are possibilities for the frontend to be split into pieces for widgets – which then can be easily integreated into other websites. For specific partners they also provide an API.
Consul includes an API using the open source GraphQL technology. Besides that the design is fully responsive, making it functional in smartphones, tablets or to be integrated as a widget in other websites.
Easy, through their API.
How often do they upgrade/deploy new features?
Every 3-4 months.
Usually they release new updates every week, sometimes even more often.
Every 6 months a new version of Consul is released, and in the meantime specific improvements can be released following the agile model of development of the software.
Every 1-2 months.
In general the platform is for free, but if specific support is needed price starts from a couple of hundred EUR.
Everything is for free at Citizen OS, but customisation is currently not possible.
To start using Consul you will need an experienced IT developer – either in your team or from external. If you want to use one of CONSUL’s “Certified Companies”, that starts from a couple of thousand EUR.
In general Ushahidi is for free (“owing to COVID-19 for an indefinite period”). But for training and customisation you have to pay.
They all four say you can use them “free of charge” – but what does that mean exactly?
You as a project manager can use the platform for free (with “minimal official support”): just register your organisation on the platform and start your citizen participation project.

Of course you can also download and modify the open source code for free (but therefore you will need an experienced IT developer).
Everything is for free. As a project manager Just register on the platform and start your citizen participation project.

Of course you can also download and modify the open source code for free (but therefore you will need an experienced IT developer).
There is no “platform”, where you as the project manager just register.

But: “The open source code can be used by any person or entity”. You then need to have IT knowledge to integrate the code into you website/system.
“Small non-profits and grassroots organizations that are aligned with Ushahidi’s mission and can demonstrate a yearly operating budget of less than $250k USD per year are invited to apply for a free basic plan.” They however, waived fees off the hosted service owing to COVID-19 for an indefinite period. Currently, all users are able to access the platform at no fee.

In any case it’s open source meaning that all the code that runs it is available for all admins to download and modify for free.
Is there anyone who can help in training/capacity building?
One-time training for a organization is 990 EUR (“introduction to the use of the platform, especially to the conception and set-up of projects”), written online tutorials are for free.
Partly, for example at a “Summer/winter school” in partnership with Tallin University (not for free). They teach there how to design civic engagement projects and how to use digital tools for engagement. They also provide online documentation.
They provide a written documentation, incl. videos, a slack channel, and a “demo” version. External partners (“Certified Companies”) can support for 6.000 EUR/year.
Yes, for a fee – depending on institution, size, etc.
How about support with installation/set up?
They sometimes offer “free workshops” to introduce the platform. Otherwise: “Starter package” starts at 500 EUR one-time (“advice by phone and by email when setting up your first project”), the more comprehensive “support packages” start at 300 EUR/month.
Yes, for example via e-mail and with a FAQ section/simple tutorial.
External partners (“Certified Companies”) can support for 10.000 EUR.
Yes: “Ushahidi Basic” is 49 USD/month, this includes “Collect, monitor, analyze, and respond to real time incidents and engage with stakeholders.” However, currently, fees are waived for all users owing to COVID-19.
And what about customization?
Yes, it’s possible, price upon request.
Currently it is not possible to customize their platform but this is in development.
External partners (“Certified Companies”) can support for 75 EUR/hour.
“Ushahidi Enterprise” starts at 5.000 USD, this also includes “technical expertise, ongoing support, and customizations.”
What kind of user statistics comes for free?
It’s possible to download all “actions”. Optional: 20 EUR/month for more specific Matamo web tracking data.
There is a free reporting available consisting of number of users, posts, votes, etc.
They provide certain statistics for free (but numbers depend on how. the users have registered).
They provide a general dashboard with the most important numbers. For the self-hosted version, there are more tracking options.
Are there any other costs, especially for hosting?
Hosting is for free, individual subdomain is 800 EUR.
No – hosting is for free.
No – the initiators host the platform on their servers.
No – currently, hosting is free.