Project Pitch and Q&A
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In 2020, building on robust and highly efficient civic digital participation achievements, public participation CSO MyVoice (ManaBalss) has provided high-impact digital participation services to civic society in Latvia. Civic society has substantially contributed to the legislative checks and balances in the COVID-19 emergency. Two national-level initiatives or petitions have been implemented into law: rolling back the centralized exams for the 9th grade and credit holidays for the borrowers. Multiple others are either in the parliament and government's decision-making process or still collecting the necessary civic approval (e-signatures).
Parliamentary procedures traditionally provide for the societal checks and balances of the executive power. Due to the necessity for urgent, flexible decisions during the COVID-19 crisis, regulatory power has substantially shifted toward the government, thus creating a misbalance of societal representation in political decision-making.
To date, the collective submissions (i.e., civic petitions) system in Latvia is legislated only by the Parliament. It is a hindrance to a wholesome civic participation in crisis-related policy-making.
This policy-making system affects the vast spectrum of society, including unprecedented rights limitations. It also lacks proper civic involvement by the affected societal groups and poor deliberation of the policy decisions. The outcome of this is both growing societal disappointment with governmental policies and marginalization of the civic society.
Collective submissions to the parliament are legislated in Latvia. A submission requires 10,000 signatures by citizens aged 16+ (0.5% of the electorate). Afterward, the submission has priority status for review in the parliament.
There is no legislation regarding collective submissions to other public institutions. This project pushes these boundaries and establishes precedents when public submissions are taken into account even without legislation to make the national ecosystem of trust around the digital ecosystem even more robust and eventually expand appropriate legislation.
Two of the COVID-19-related initiatives are implemented into law: rolling back centralized exams for the 9th grade and credit holidays for the borrowers. The credit holidays, implemented by Finance Latvia (banking association) and the national financial market regulator, are a unique case where a civic initiative is being heeded by the private sector.
Besides the globally unique effectiveness of MyVoice technology and management know-how, the innovation consists of scaling powers of the nongovernmental checks and enhancing accountable and inclusive governance even in non-legislated civic participation areas.
Project Impact and Potential for Scaling, Replication, and Sustainability
MyVoice is constantly working on expertise transfer to other countries. As an institutional innovation, it requires the right timing and the right actors. For example, civic, policy, and political entrepreneurs in the target countries are crucial for success. Some knowledge transfer is in the process to Ukraine and North Macedonia.
The story of MyVoice is recognized among the Open Government Partnership leadership. Our expertise has been consulted by OECD and the European Commission; and recognized by The Guardian, The NewYork Times, and Carnegie Europe. The template is quite clear, and its success depends on classic successful institutional change settings: policy and political entrepreneurs, constant advocacy, and the right timing. Don't waste a good crisis, as they say; this mindset was apparent in Latvia, where two COVID-19-themed civic legislative initiatives were implemented on the national scale in 2020, plus four more in other areas (healthcare, city and regional planning, and the environment).
With the legislative change in process in 2020 and the advocacy by MyVoice, the collective submissions system in Latvia from January 1, 2022 will be scaled from the national to municipal level. It will expand and strengthen citizen initiatives' existing popularity and make the digital participation ecosystem even more robust.
COVID-19 presented funding challenges for MyVoice as with almost any NGO/CSO. Still, the median popular support (the operational costs of the MyVoice platform is covered only by the popular micro-donations) remained the same in 2020 due to the platform's proven efficacy and its convincing empowerment of the civic society.
Since 2016, the MyVoice platform itself is sustained only by popular micro-donations. In 2019, we had 24,000 unique donors—enough to cover operational costs. For the growth projects, the organization attracts financing, e.g., from research and development cooperation grants, public procurements, and occasional targeted donations.
The popular demand for the service is high (since 2011, more than 17% of the population have used the platform at least once) and growing (more than 61,000 new users in 2020; more than 12,000 new users in 2021 until February 15). The political elite is very open to it (19 of 36 initiatives implemented into law were included in the policymaking agenda before the legally binding popular support threshold). The fundamentals for continual growth and expansion of services into other tools and spheres are very robust.
- The New York Times: "Online, Latvians' Ideas Can Bloom Into Law" (Apr 2013)
- Carnegie Europe: "Harnessing Digital Tools to Revitalize European Democracy" (Nov 2018)
- Democracy International: "The Citizens' Initiative Startup Changing Latvian Politics" (Sep 2018)
- Video: EU Debates: Europe and Latvia on the road to boost democracy (Jan 2020)
- Latvian Public Media Coverage (Latvian)
- Evaluation of the collective submissions' success in parliament (Latvian) Green = implemented into law; pink = in review; red = declined. The data only partially covers all of the parliamentary proceedings regarding the collective submissions.
Key Project Links
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Representatives of World Justice Challenge 2021 finalist projects are on hand to answer your questions. Join our online Community Forum to engage with finalists, share resources, and network with other members of the rule of law community. Submit your questions now and get ready to vote for your favorite project—voting opens in mid-April!
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