How to grow the virtual capital of civil society?


The present situation is not too good, admitted the moderator of the seminar Liia Hänni, e-Democracy Program Director of eGA. The WebPages of many non governmental organizations are static and old. The existing WebPages are not connected to one another, nobody has collected the data and thus there is no overview. Interconnectedness of different organizations on the Web could enhance collaborations between non governmental organizations and cooperation with the public sector. But at the moment the main obstacle for most organizations seems to be finding interesting or relevant partners to work with.

The Internet connects thousands

National Foundation of Civil Society and Fund For Non-Governmental Organisations has supported several projects developing the E-power of non governmental organizations. Thanks to this many non profit organizations have managed to found a web-page but after the end of the project development slows and webpages grow old. Umbrella organizations are more active. The Network of Estonian Non-profit Organisations has a mailing list with 3300 contacts, Estonian National Youth Council spreads information to its 50 members, Estonian Village Movement Kodukant also has a wide network on the web. But all these networks are predominantly using the Web for sharing information and in fact a lot more could be done in terms of developing new “tools” to support the functioning of an organization. “For a start something like a “self-help” page should be launched where activists of different organizations could ask one another questions and discuss organizational problems” Liia Hänni suggested.

Scepticism towards E-democracy

Representatives of roof organizations at the seminar expressed their fundamental doubts about Internet communication and the possibility of e-democracy. The pessimism is usually grounded on single cases of Internet discussions where somebody responded impolitely (swearing, mocking, obsessive fixation). Surprisingly it turned out that several Estonian civil society activists regard the Internet as a place to “hide” and work in isolation. Young people wish to be amongst themselves, village community does not want to talk to the adult educators community etc. Internet depends on how one approaches it and such attitudes will indeed not unite and make public but rather separate and hide non-profit organizations from one another. We hope that these barriers between different interest groups will be overcome by organizing activities that interest many groups – action democracy. Examples could include fake elections and collecting signatures for petitions. The new web environment where one can digitally start and sign petitions could be used here.

The success of E-discussions depends on moderator

The 10 years long experience of the mailing list Estonian Educational Forum proves that with good will it is very possible to discuss and learn from one another in the virtual environment. An active moderator that keeps the discussion lively and checks that single users would not misuse the list for wrong purposes is crucial. Discussions become lively when the questions are about ethical choices and opposing points of view are present among participants. Another factor is that the number of people in the list should be large enough (over 1000 members on the education list) and diverse, so that various life experiences and points of view would be represented. These simple conditions for successful e-discussion was news for the majority of the participants at the seminar.

Commenting law proposals on the Internet

The Estonian web-page gives every citizen of Estonia the opportunity to comment on law proposals. Ministries upload draft laws and people can comment. There are currently about 3000 users of this service and this is probably too little to have any real influence on the passing of laws. The participants of the seminar agreed that the situation would improve if local municipalities and political parties would also become involved at
Participants of the discussion seminar agreed that increasing virtual capital of civil society is an important issue and needs ongoing attention.