Below, we compiled information on the history of Parliament Watch (in German: Abgeordnetenwatch), its finances and how you can launch Parliament Watch in your home country.
On abgeordnetenwatch.de (which translates as “member of parliament watch”) users find short profiles of their representatives in the federal and European parliaments and can publicly ask questions which are then answered by the elected officials.
Parliament Watch enables citizens to:
All of these functions are completely free of charge and don't require prior registration.
Parliament Watch is financed through membership and one-off donations as well as premium profiles for candidates during election times.
The idea of Parliamentary Watch works: In average abgeordnetenwatch.de counts 6,800 visitors a day and about three million page impressions per month. More than 90% of all "Abgeordnete" (German for: members of parliament) of the federal parliament answer questions through abgeordnetenwatch.de. In Germany, the project covers the federal parliament, the European parliament, twelve state parliaments and 54 communal parliaments.The corpus of our saved submissions is called the Digital Voters’ Memory and counts 178,825 questions and 143,556 answers as of August 2015.
So far we helped to start Parliament Watch projects in France, Ireland, Austria, Luxemburg, Greece and Tunisia. In addition, Parliament Watch inspires similar projects in other countries e.g. Malaysia.
We ask project partners to be impartial, independent and serious about their involvement. To ensure impartiality, we will not cooperate with political parties or high profile party members or politicians.
Find more information on the Parliament Watch Network.
Are we witnessing a revolution? It sure looks like it. The internet has changed the world and even the very nature of democracy. What was unthinkable in the past becomes a reality with Parliamentwatch: Citizens are enabled to engage in direct communication with their representatives and candidates. You can ask questions, discuss current topics and present own ideas and solutions. It is quite straightforward and marks nothing less than a revolutionary step from representative democracy to direct democracy.
Still today, most democracies in the world have only a few elements of direct participation (if any) and the decision-making process can be opaque.
The german federal parliament (Bundestag), for example, is the most important legislative branch in Germany and has more than 600 members. Half of them are directly elected from 299 constituencies, the other half is elected from the parties’ electoral lists to achieve proportional representation in the Bundestag.
On top of that the legislative bodies of the states (Länder) have each between 50 and 200 members. And finally there's the EU with numerous different institutions and growing impact on legislation in nation member states. No wonder citizens feel alienated from politics.
This is where Parliament Watch comes in. We are driven by the vision of a more accessible political elite and a more participatory population.
It is as easy as it can be. With abgeordnetenwatch.de voters, citizens, basically anybody can get in touch with their representatives. It's quite straightforward: All you have to do is give your name and e-mail address. You log on, give your zip code and your voting precinct is immediately found by the computer. You get the profile of your representative and you can fire away your question. All questions and answers are reviewed by a team of moderators to make sure the code of conduct is followed.
In particular, questions that meet the following criteria are excluded:
Almost seven thousand questions reach abgeordnetenwatch.de each month, 300.000 people enter the site and generate three million page impressions. In the beginning, elected officials and candidates were sceptical to the new approach, but they quickly saw the advantage of digital communication and now most questions are answered - in fact over 90% of all listed politicians are active on abgeordnetenwatch.de. Over 80% of all 34,200 questions in the last legislative period of the Bundestag (2009 -2013) were answered.
Starting in 2015, we set up a new feature on Parliament Watch which is called the “petition check“.
For this tool we feature a list of petitions revolving around popular topics that are not officially subject to the political debate yet. The idea is to submit the petition to all members of a parliament and ask them about their opinion on the topic. In order for this to happen an online petition has to meet certain requirements:
- The parliament has to have decision-making power for the topic of the petition
- The petition has to be signed by at least 100,000 people
- A representative survey has to ensure that a majority of citizens is in favor of the request.
The first step (of our petition platform) is to collect the required amount of signatures needed. As soon as the number is reached, we run a representative survey to learn about the general public opinion. If a majority of the public is in favor of the petition, we go on to the last step. All members of the parliament will be given the chance for a statement which is published in their profile on Parliament Watch. This way citizens can see what members of the parliament think about relevant social topics, which are otherwise not voted on in parliament.
The goal of Parliament Watch is to create a more transparent democratic process and encourage citizens’ participation.
These aims can only be reached, when the platform itself stays completely independent. Abgeordnetenwatch.de is financed by donations of its users and sponsors who donate a minimum of € 5 per month. So far there are more than 2,500 regulars.
In addition, politicians have the possibility to upgrade their profiles to include certain features. In return for a once-off payment of up to € 200 candidates can add a picture, CV, political goals and an election campaign calendar to their profile.
These additional features are optional. Basic details such as name, party, constituency, professional qualification and current occupation, as well as the interaction with voters, are completely free of charge.
In 2004 two friends, sociologist Gregor Hackmack (l.) and IT nerd Boris Hekele (r.), would sit in a crowded pub in the city of Hamburg. At the time, a referendum on a new election system was held in the city and one particular question reoccured time and again: "How can I vote for a certain person when I don't even know who he or she is?” Gregor and Boris were having a beer when the idea for abgeordnetenwatch.de materialized in their heads. Now if that German beer known for its purity wasn't a good catalyst for democratic change.
Parliament Watch - Making Politics More Transparent and Accountable. Gregor Hackmack at "Ignite-Talk" in Phoenix, Arizona
From political apathy to engagement - blog entry and interview on ParliamentWatch
Annual Report 2014
Case Study on Parliament Watch -pdf, Dec. 2010
The Irish Times
The code of conduct
Deutsche Welle: Politiker in Malaysia unter der Lupe (german)