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.
Parliament Watch enables citizens to:
Before elections (on the state, federal and European level) the project is extended to include all candidates running for election.
None of these functions require prior registration and all functions are available completely free of charge.
Parliament Watch is instead financed through membership and one-off donations as well as premium profiles for candidates during election times.
Parliament Watch works. In average, the website counts 6,800 Visitors a day and about three million page impressions per month. More than 80% of all MP of the federal parliament answer questions through Parliament Watch. In Germany, the project covers the federal parliament, the European parliament, nine state parliaments and 54 parliament on the communal level. All in all the digital voters' memory counts 162,238 questions and 131,216 answers (as of December, 31th, 2013).
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 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 how to start Parliament Watch in your country in our hand out for international project partners - (pdf)
Are we witnessing a revolution? Looks like it. The Web has changed a lot. Even the very nature of democracy. Not so long ago the men and women who represented you in parliament would speak to you, and you would listen.The speech was the quintessential form of communication. Now everybody can talk. Not only talk back. Ask questions. Follow up. Present own ideas. Chat. The World Wide Web makes it possible. We are seeing a rapid change from a one way communication to a true exchange. It is, at the same time, a big step from representative democracy to direct democracy. The change is so dramatic that it is no exaggeration to talk about a revolution.
Germany is a typical representative democracy with only a few elements of direct participation. There is a one chamber federal parliament, the 622 member Bundestag. And there are the parliaments of the individual federal states, the Landtage or Bürgerschaften with fifty to two hundred members each.
Then, of course, there is the European Union, an association of 27 countries comprising almost a half a billion people. Do not even begin to ask about the decision making process there. There is the European Parliament with 754 seats. A Council, chosen by the national governments. Commissioners, who run the show. The great unknown, the lobbyist. The system is so complicated that no one dares to explaining it. This is what counts: the majority of national laws are made mandatory by European laws. And the deputies in the European Parliament are, in theory, able to oversee this law making process.
But does anybody in Germany know his or her deputy in Berlin, in one of the regional capitals, in Brussels? Chances are, they don't even know their names.
On top of that the German electoral system is tricky, to say the least. There are two ways to get elected. One is by direct mandate. The other is on the list of a political party determined by proportional representation. There the parties decide who is placed on the top of their lists, who on the bottom. They make or break the candidates. And then, of course, voter participation is on the decline in Germany like in most western democracies. Many people don't really care who represents them in government.
It is as easy as can be. With abgeordnetenwatch.de voters, citizens, anybody can talk to their MP's on line at any time. All they have to do is give their name and their e-mail address. You log on. You give your zip code. The voting precinct is found by the computer. You see a profile of your MP and fire away your question. Moderators make sure that certain rules are observed. They act on a codex of conduct which has ten rules.
The question has to be just that, a question, not a statement. It shall contain no insults. Whenever it gives quotes or factual information the sources must be named. There shall be no ridicule of victims of a reign of terror, of racisms, sexism, or political and religious persecution. Questions about the private life are also not allowed. The right to remain silent for professional reasons, i.e. the right of doctors or lawyers not to give information about their clients must be respected. There shall be no mass mails. MP's must not be swamped with the same question. Only one follow up question. The Reps themselves and their employees must not pose questions to their colleagues.
code of conduct in English
Around six thousand questions are asked through the portal of abgeordnetenwatch.de each month, 300.000 people enter the site and generate three million page impressions. What used to remain in the dark of private mail is now accessible to all. The voter can find out what he or she wants to know. The decision making record of the elected representative is common knowledge. And, last but not least, the Germans can find out how much money their reps make on the side.
No doubt about it, your average MP didn't like this new approach to the representative democracy. The 'Abgeordneten' did not feel love on first sight for the abgeordentenwatch.de . But they quickly saw the advantage of digital communication. Now most answer most questions. To be precise, 80 percent of the members of the 'Bundestag' gave over 23.300 answers to questions posted on abgeordnetenwatch.de. Sometimes it takes a little until love grows.
We are witnessing nothing less than the end of back room politics. The change began in the city of Hamburg which is also a federal state of Germany. Then came the entire Federal Republic. The media caught on in Germany. Spiegel Online, the number one on line publication here, as well as the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the daily paper with the biggest circulation, have become two of the many partners of abgeordnetenwatch.de. When the more traditional media are mentioned something else comes to mind. MP's did until now not waste much time on yesterday's news. What did they promise before the last election? Who gives a darn? No one remembers anyway. Now, with a site like abgeordnetenwatch.de a virtual voter's memory has come into existence. We will not forget.
The aims can only be reached, when the portal operator is itself completely independent. Abgeordnetenwatch.de is financed by donations of its users. Sponsors are solicited. They donate regularly, at least € 5 per month. So far there more than 1,550 regulars, one hopes and works for more.
In addition, candidates may upgrade their profiles to include certain features. In return for a once-off payment up to € 200, candidates can add a picture, CV, political goals and an election campaign calendar to their profile.
These additional features are optional and there is no requirement whatsoever to avail of them. Basic details such as name, party, constituency, professional qualification and current occupation, as well as the interaction with voters, are available as standard and are completely free of charge.
In 2004, there were two friends, a sociologist with his master's fresh in his pocket and a computer crack, Gregor Hackmack(l.) and Boris Hekele(r.), who sat in a popular pub in Hamburg. During that time there was a referendum on a new election system. The typical question of the day among the voters in the north German port town was: "How can I vote for a certain person when I don't even know who they are?” Gregor and Boris were having a beer when the idea for abgeordnetenwatch.de came up. They soon discussed it with all the parties in the Hamburg Bürgerschaft, the state parliament. 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 2013 Parliament Watch - pdf, May 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)
Interview with dáilwatch.ie founder Sarah O´Neill