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Finland is about to start using crowdsourcing to create new laws

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Who makes laws? In most of the democratic world, that’s the sole preserve of elected governments. But in Finland, technology is about to make democracy significantly more direct.

Earlier this year, the Finnish government enabled something called a “citizens’ initiative”, through which registered voters can come up with new laws – if they can get 50,000 of their fellow citizens to back them up within six months, then the Eduskunta (the Finnish parliament) is forced to vote on the proposal.

Now this crowdsourced law-making system is about to go online through a platform called the Open Ministry. The non-profit organization has been collecting signatures for various proposals on paper since 1 March, when citizens’ initiatives came in, but a couple of days ago the government approved the electronic ID mechanism that underpins the digital version of the platform. That means it can now go live on 1 October.

“The National Communications Security Authority audited our code, our security policies and our service/hosting providers to ensure that the details of citizens are safe and can’t be hacked into,” Open Ministry founder Joonas Pekkanen told me via email. “[The system verifies] the people’s identity through the APIs offered by banks and mobile operators. So people can sign the initiatives online with the online banking codes or their mobile phones.”

What’s more, the banks and operators are providing the use of their strong verification APIs for free, as part of their social responsibility policies. Welcome to Finland!

Could it work elsewhere?

There are clear similarities to be found between the Finnish model and that being experimented with by the German Pirate Party, but the Open Ministry platform is somewhat less radical and less likely to be derailed by endless collaborative editing. The first batch of proposals on the Finnish platform is pretty varied: a ban on fur farming, a requirement for all public software procurement to take into account open data and APIs, a ban on energy drinks for under-16s, and a referendum on Finland’s restrictive alcohol laws (the government has a monopoly and prices are sky-high).

Open Ministry founder Joonas PekkanenAssuming they get their 50,000 signatures (the fur-farming one has already amassed 43,500 paper signatures), each will have to be voted on by the Eduskunta. Compare that with, for example, the UK system – there, an e-petition that garners 100,000 backers wins the grand prize of being considered by a government back-office and maybe being discussed in Parliament.

But could it work elsewhere? On a technical level, there is little reason why not. Indeed, the Open Ministry platform is (naturally) open-source and available on GitHub. “We encourage anyone to fork and contribute to it and use it in other countries also,” Pekkanen said.

But a lot of this drive for openness has a cultural and political basis. Perhaps it has something to do with the cold winters (as suggested to me by representatives of the Finnish Innovation Fund in Helsinki this week) or their small-ish populations, but the Nordic countries tend to have relatively close societies where people are enthusiastic about pitching into civic life. Politically, Iceland provides a great example with its partly-crowdsourced constitution.

And in terms of civic-minded tech projects that capitalize on open data, Finland has a particularly impressive roster. Just a few examples:

That’s give-and-take activity, with some projects engendering trust between citizenry and government, and others benefitting from trust being there in the first place – people are less likely to contribute to an officially-sanctioned project if they think it’s pointless or exploitative. By way of a slightly frivolous example, where but somewhere like Finland would you find a national patient health records co-operative with this tagline?

Tech-driven democracy fans in other countries may not find the environment as conducive to crowdsourced legislation right now, but on the other hand they just got themselves a model to study. If crowdsourced legislation is going to work anywhere, Finland would be the right place for it to happen.

46 Responses to “Finland is about to start using crowdsourcing to create new laws”

  1. So how’s that different from Switzerland’s direct democracy? In Switzerland, 100,000 people can propose an amendment to the constitution on which the people(!) will vote. The parliament has no say in this. So how cool is this? Crowdsourcing since 150 years.


  3. Being optimistic, here in Finland, this could even reverberate more openness into the smudgy and hasty law making process, that has summoned a bulk of non functioning, irrational laws that in worst case have been tailored by and for the profit and benefit of only a small minority of people.. and yes, there is corruption in finland but it’s so build into the system (of cultivating fresh meat into heavy weight political players), that we need to stick the balloon from outside to make the systematic and collective realization that we could do it much much better, and for the benefit of the majority AND the minorities. And what makes me even more optimistic is that the multi fail, “Official” IT- vendor, Tieto does not have a lead on this. Godspeed!

    • The 50 000 do not vote, they are needed to make the initiative.
      The 200 representatives of the people (eduskunta, chosen by the people in the election every 4 years) do the voting.

  4. joegermuska

    I think getting more that 10% of eligible voters behind an initiative is a pretty good argument for sending it to a vote.

    The UK comparison is misleading because while it takes double the numbers to get consideration, the population of the UK is about 12x that of Finland (or so Google tells me.)

  5. Easy to see how this could spell doom. Increased power for the individual without a proportionate increase in responsibility (who gets penalized if a law causes more problems than it solves ?).
    Zero taxes, free utilities, better benefits, could all be easily passed with such power, unless you trust a majority of citizens to be extremely capable of national decision making.

  6. Paulo Cesar

    Brasil has one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Here even the press is corrupt, and they only report bad news about the left wing and good news about the right wing, even if its a lie…

    So, here we had an online initiative to collect thousands of signatures on the Project Ficha Limpa, that proposed a law which prohibits several politicians involved in crimes to be electable.

    And, surprisingly, it worked! Without support from the mainstream media and all. The law was accepted in the congress due popular pressure and passed.

    So, in my opinion, if this worked in Brazil, where its normal to be corrupt, it can work anywhere

  7. Kevin FitzMaurice

    We need a new plan for government. All the old plans have proven to be failures over time. For one reason, they do not scale well, but only work with small samples. Are you interested in learning about and promoting the first important and new form of government in centuries? I think it is ideally suited to our times and troubles. Please examine it for yourself at

      • sabretruthtiger

        So true, and people don’t realise you will never have democracy, the left/right paradigm is a dog and pony show to give the people the illusion of democracy. Decisions are always made by those in power to keep them in power. They’re not about to allow mob rule.

      • I think, this is the problem of many post-communist bloc countries. For 50 years people were so brainwashed and devoid of bottom – up social incentive, that they simply do not know, or dont believe that they can actually affect something. Home rule concept is something new for them, so it doesn’t suprise me why it failed in Estonia. Finland however as well as rest of other egalitarian Scandinavian societies is a different story. I think it will work, and i keep my fingers crossed for the Finns.

    • Good luck with that one. last time alchohol prices went down people started drinking themselves to death. People who thinked positived about it thought the effect will wear of. it didnt. it became even worse.

      So just getting rid of the high prices wont do. You need to add some other laws to support the lowered price. how abour right to carry a gun? heavy prison time for beating up your wife? or serious shit in the fan if your binge drinking causes bad things for your kids?

    • Damian Dugdale

      and look at spain and the uk – they’re the model of how a society should be run. i live in sweden and dont mind paying the extra because i can see where the money goes