Online Collection System needs to be urgently up-graded

October 28, 2012 News

ECI Organizers have expressed an urgent need to make a more user-friendly design choice for the official Online Collection System (OCS) which the EU Commission is obliged to provide to ECI organizers. In our view some simple modifications to the OCS could make quite a change to ECI working in practice.

For more than six weeks now the first ECI, the right2water ECI, has been collecting online signatures (statements of support). And just this week the ECI Fraternité 2020 has started to collect online as well, both of them using the software provided by the European Commission. But does the offered online signature collection system really work efficiently? Beyond the widely expressed specific technical criticism of the Commission’s online collection software (expressed by ECI organizers, see here, here and here, as well as by IT experts) there is another decisive dimension that could be easily changed by the Commission. This refers to the question as to how far the website design for signing provided by the Commission is sufficient from a normal citizen’s and user’s point of view.

We suggest that you make an experiment yourself and compare the website designs for signing online provided by the Commission  and the website for signing an Avaaz petition.

From a normal user’s point of view it is not intuitively and quickly clear where and even whether at all one can sign on the ECI website provided by the Commission. Due to the unclear design a potential ECI supporter has to invest more time than necessary just in order to study the further procedure. (In fact, one has to click another button, the country button, at the very bottom and only then is it possible to type in one’s personal data). In addition, the formulation “Support the proposed ECI” leads to confusion, it should be: “Support the ECI for X”. In other words, the cumbersome design means that far too many supporters will give up and thus be lost on the website provided by the Commission.

Another important necessity is to make the ECI website for online signing as attractive and interactive as possible (such as Avaaz provides). For that we need an indicator showing how many citizens have already signed. And it is especially necessary to add a little interface / tick box, as a non-mandatory field, saying: “If you would like to be informed about the further progress of this initiative, enter your email address.” The last point is especially important for efficient campaigning, to stay in touch with one’s supporters and build up a European network.

Such a non-mandatory tick box does NOT contravene Art. 12.3 of the general ECI regulation, (i.e. personal data of supporters may only be used to indicate support and shall be completely destroyed afterwards).  The ECI Campaign coordinator, Carsten Berg, has expressed these points in a personal meeting with the responsible person at the EU Commission (Mr. Deasy – director of DG Digit) and his colleagues from the EC general secretariat. Unfortunately, the answer so far by DG Digit has been that ECI organizers can change this if they use their OWN software. This is hardly possible, however, given the huge challenges connected to creating one’s own software which would be very expensive and time consuming. Moreover there is little readiness in Member States’ administrations to certify a software that has been self-produced by ECI organizers (i.e. not provided by the EC) even though the implementing regulation explicitly provides for this option. For the time being the Initiative for the ECI, The ECI Campaign, suggests that we should concentrate on the EC’s obligation to provide a well functioning ECI online software and improve it in an open work and progress approach, exchanging ideas and comments with those who make use of the instrument. If this however doesn’t work civil society organizations need to set up a self-produced online infrastructure for the initiatives of European citizens. Something we recently have discussed at the ECI workshop in Helsinki, which we have co-organized with our Finish friends from Open Ministry; first proposals from Xavier Dutoit see here.