Among the lessons learnt from the eParticipation Preparatory Actions a particularly relevant one refers to the long-term sustainability of the undergone trials: permanent adoption of electronic tools for civic participation by public sector organisations is more likely to occur when there is a convincing business model showing financial savings or at least organisational and political advantages in a clear way. A necessary precondition for this business model to “square” is that (offline) participation has to be formally integrated in the legal or regulatory framework the targeted organisation belongs to. This is the case of environmental assessment (at strategic level) and spatial planning (at operational level), provided an EU-wide framework through the ESDP first and now the Territorial Agenda. EU Directives and/or National legislations exist to establish participation as a mandatory requirement for a great deal of policy processes and administrative procedures – mostly involving Regional and City Councils in Europe.
With this lesson in mind, the PARTERRE consortium intended to validate the market perspective of a pan-European service based on two electronic tools that have been successfully trialled on previous Preparatory Actions: the Electronic Town Meeting for citizens involvement in agenda setting and the DEMOS-Plan application for stakeholders online consultation in spatial planning. Six pilots in five EU countries deployed these tools to enhance direct participation of citizens, stakeholders and civil society in the decision-making processes regarding spatial planning and environmental assessment, both at the local and regional level where specific decisions are taken and applied and at the national and EU level where the policy frameworks for Europe’s territorial development are defined. The business goal was to provide a complete “turnkey” solution (both technologically and methodologically assessed) to European public authorities.