On March 1, 2012, a project for crowdsourced legislation was launched in Finland. It is called The Open Ministry (Avoin ministeriö, in Finnish), and it is the world’s first Internet-based legislation platform, where anyone can propose a new law to be evaluated by the Finnish Parliament.
The Open Ministry was made possible thanks to the new Citizens’ Initiative Act, a recent addition to the Finnish Constitution, by which members of Finland’s Parliament are required to vote on all citizen initiatives that garner at least 50,000 valid online signatures.
The Open Ministry, which operates independently of governmental or political parties, was founded by Internet-based startup entrepreneur, Joonas Pekkanen. “I noticed the passing of the Citizens' Initiative Act in early December 2011, and I was surprised that it did not get properly covered in the media, since I considered it a great leap for the Finnish civil society. I was worried that, if not done properly, it would quickly be dismissed as a useless tool, but if done properly it could prove to be a start of a new kind of democracy,” said Pekkanen when I asked him what triggered the idea of creating The Open Ministry.
Indeed, the movement he started quickly gained interest and grew. Today, The Open Ministry operates with a group of volunteers from different professional backgrounds who evaluate and select the proposals. The final selection is passed on to volunteer lawyers who draft the proposals into legal form and appropriate terminology before sending them to the Parliament.
According to Sami Majaniemi, volunteer coordinator, a proposal can change after it has been presented to the Parliament. “Ideas are not copyright protected. In other words, you can post a new initiative to the Ministry's Webpage and in principle anyone can take it from there and change it at will, then post it again as his/her own. As we have only a few ideas so far this has not happened yet, but we anticipate that it might, at some point,” explains Majaniemi.
The citizens can follow and discuss the process and documents through the Website, where all the information and documentation is posted regularly so that people can participate in the public discussion and educate themselves on the issues.
Although the content submitted to the service is licensed under the Creative Commons 3.0 license, credit is given to whoever participates in the creation of the proposals.
Pekkanen says: “The explicit purpose of the deliberative process is to transform the original ideas (and people's opinion and understanding) as the discussion progresses. And if, along the way, the idea transforms too much, any member can cancel support for the idea, and branch it out in a different direction. The process is somewhat analogous to the Open Source programming philosophy in software development.”
And Majaniemi points out that branching an idea into new ones is not necessarily a bad thing. This allows the original idea to be more thoroughly pondered and evaluated.
If the Open Ministry initiative proves to be successful, there is no doubt the model will serve as example to other nations. Similar projects have been proposed in the US, but none of them has gone as far as The Open Ministry in Finland.
However, despite the enthusiasm and fast work already done by Pekkanen, Majaniemi, and the volunteers, the Ministry of Justice should first have a Website where citizens can sign the initiatives; this doesn’t seem to be likely to happen before the end of the year. Also, to be legally valid and to avoid fraud, the signatures need to have a bank identifier code or another form of online signature to prove that who is signing the initiative is who he or she claims to be.
All in all, it will take approximately a year for the first crowdsourced bill to reach Finland’s Parliament.
— Susan Fourtané is a freelance journalist based in Finland.