Reading and video: What are e-consultations?
Watch this short introductory video (2:17), in which the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, states: “We can only decide effective policies if we take into account the experience and needs of those directly affected by them”.
The video was used in mid 2020 to launch an EU-wide public consultation to gather views on the new actions that could be taken at EU level to promote the integration of people with a migrant background within EU Member States. With this consultation, the European Commission gathered input from a broad range of stakeholders including:
- national, regional and local authorities
- civil society organisations
- social and economic partners
- businesses, education and training providers
- academia, cultural and sport organisations
- migrant organisations and private individuals.
The results of the consultation contributed to the development of the Action Plan on integration and inclusion.
So, what are e-consultations?
Public e-consultations started in the 1990s with the aim to engage citizens in politics through digital technologies. Thematic listservs, e-consultation platforms, e-polls, e-petitions and e-campaigning are tools that policy makers can use to enable more diversified, deliberative and cost-effective forms of civic participation. E-consultations can be initiated by political institutions or by non-governmental organisations and vary widely in their approach, themes, goals, selection of target groups, often allowing at the same time for “citizen-to-government input” as well as for “citizen-to-citizen” interactions. These consultations are different from informal online spaces such as virtual communities, forums, or newsgroups, where participants interact but do not necessarily seek to influence policy. Within e-consultation, the very aim is to affect formal decision making processes and because of this, these consultations tend to be more formal and have a duration and an agenda pre-defined by the organisation which launched them.
Nowadays many international organisations such as the European Commission, the Council of Europe or the OECD, as well as national governments are using e-consultations. Also cities and local communities are increasingly using online platforms for public consultation: initiatives such as MeinBerlin, Decidim Barcelona, Participate Melbourne, Decide Madrid allow citizens to directly participate in local decision making, often by collecting ideas about the future of the city and by voting on them.
The European Union is making extensive use of e-consultations to foster transparency and offer an opportunity to European citizens to participate in the EU decision-making process, legitimating the work of the Union and reducing the often-quoted democratic deficit. Already in 2001, the White Paper on European Governance  called for “a reinforced culture of consultation and dialogue” with the aim to make policy-shaping more effective. As a result, the European Commission is now considering stakeholders' consultations as essential parts of the policy-making process. These consultations run through a dedicated online platform that lists open as well as closed consultations. European consultations are typically starting from a policy draft produced by the European Commission that presents the state of affairs and the goals to be reached in a specific field, together with some policy alternatives. Inputs from participants are collected through web-based questionnaires and published on the consultation website, unless respondents prefer these to remain private. All past and open EU e-consultations, amounting to more than 500, can be accessed here: https://ec.europa.eu/info/consultations.
 European Commission (2001). White Paper on European Governance. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/DOC_01_10