TOM Analysis conclusions
Based on this analysis of current TOM website usage, the database of TOM-generated ideas as well as feedback from users the following problems hampering e-participation should be highlighted:
Actual usage of TOM is very low, with the number of daily visitors comparable to a moderately popular Estonian weblog. This can be attributed to a lack of publicity, but also to the small number of positive responses from the government and the inability of the system to present even these. The fact that ideas attract only a few votes and are often authored by dominant and dominating users has resulted in a perception that TOM is not a place for real public discussion and thus has limited its potential impact on relations between governed and governing. Also, the process of responding to TOM-generated ideas that are not congruent with the existing work plans and priorities of government ministries tends to produce negative results and leaves no window of opportunity for continuing the discussion, while further development of the idea would need extensive lobbying skills that would give public officials the possibility of changing the original position graciously.
These problems could be overcome by changes to both the TOM process and its software: by finding ways to widen the discussion, add tools that give better access to and an overview of existing ideas and make the system useful for all potentially involved parties: citizens, politicians, public servants, journalists etc.
Suggestions for changes will be outlined in TID technical specification and TID procedural recommendations, but based on the current analysis of usage data and participant feedback they should definitely include:
- the provision of tools for following/monitoring discussion both within one particular idea and within a subject matter of interest, also ‘campaign tools’ to invite new users etc
- the simplification and speeding up of the entire process, and providing adequate statistical feedback on individual user’s TOM-related activity (while not compromising their privacy)
- the categorization of legislative proposals by subject and also by result (e.g was the idea implemented, explanation of existing solution to the problem described etc), as well as the construction of search tools that use the same categorization and that can be used for customised searches by different user groups (authors, journalists etc)
- a solution to the problem of engendering a wider public discussion, including but not limited to online media, weblogs, the texts of statute amendments, and wider circulation to parliamentary commissions etc
- the design of a follow-up process that could make it easier to re-formulate the TOM-generated idea based on the initial government response so as to re-submit it, while bearing in mind a potential reluctance to change the official position as expressed in the original response