For some time I’ve been interested in the notion of enchanting technologies, those tools that inspire action and give a sense of magic because they so tightly meet expectations we didn’t know we had.

Yet I would not have expected such a feeling to come out of e-consultations…

Some weeks ago we’ve been asked to advise the EC on a collaborative roadmap creation. We came back with co-ment.com, because it allows documents to be collaboratively commented and nicely visualized. Commentable documents are better than traditional consultation, because it allows people to see what other people post immediately, without the filter or bottleneck of government which is typically the case in e-mail or survey-based consultation.

The hidden gem in co-ment is that it allows to embed the commentable document on any website. Thereby, with very little cost we were able to publish this online consultation 2.0 on the Europa website. But the disruptive innovation happens when you allow any other stakeholder to embed the document (as iframe). In this way, you not only ask stakeholders to provide input to the EU-level discussion: you ask them to co-host the consultation. Already several stakeholders, such as Telecentres, have published the document on their website.

The power of this technological solution is that it makes visible and concrete the kind of subsidiarity and silos-breaking effect that Europe longed to achieve. Government are often warned that they cannot expect people to come to their website, they should rather reach out where people already are. This is especially true for the EU, where the discussion is often limited to the “Brussels bubble”. Embedded consultation allow stakeholders to build local discussion that directly feed the EU level debate.

Of course this is just a start, and many questions remain unanswered: who is really answering, how to summarize hundreds of comments, the quality of comments, and the privacy and accountability implications of embeddable documents. Yet there is something magic and inspirational to comment on a document on your local website and the comment appears on the Europa website.