Sharek: Egypt’s e-Participation Platform
Ministry of State For Administrative Development

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Following the January 25, 2011 revolution of Egypt, a roadmap was approved by the people in a referendum for democratic transition in the country. That entailed the election of both houses of parliament, electing a president, and the indirect election of a Constituent Assembly to draft the constitution, which would then be put to a referendum. Both houses of parliament were successfully elected, and they elected the Constituent Assembly in a joint meeting. Once this Constituent Assembly was formed, the challenge popped up. The Constituent Assembly was to collect input for the constitution from an array as wide as possible of the society. And once that input was collected, the Constituent Assembly was to exhibit their drafts and collect the public’s opinion on it. In a country of a population of over ninety million people, and of an area of about 1 million square kilometers, the matter was no easy task, especially with the post-revolution general public’s mood of wanting to have a say in everything. Older public figures, politicians, and media moguls faced no problem in getting themselves heard by the Constituent Assembly. However, those with no connection to politics (which composed the majority of people in Egypt) had no such chance. The Constituent Assembly was looking for a means to listen the voices of the unheard. Among those were the people that made the revolution that put them in their seats in the first place; the youth. The Constituent Assembly wanted to also listen to the minorities, Coptic Christians, the disabled and women. The Constituent Assembly was working within a limited timeframe of six months to draft a constitution that is to be inclusive of all the people of Egypt; that they knew they could not cover through traditional hearing sessions and other similar channels.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Sharek initiative was proposed by the Ministry of State for Administrative Development (MSAD) of the Government of Egypt to the CA, as to address some of the challenges faced by the assembly in accomplishing its mission successfully. The solution was building upon the strengths of Egypt’s context. As previously mentioned, Egypt has an area of about one million square kilometers, and a population of around 90 million. Illiteracy is one of the main challenges facing Egypt, as it is around 30%. On the bright side, information and communication technologies (ICT) play a major role in the lives of Egyptians. Mobile penetration rate is at 116%, while internet penetration is at 43%, and is on rapid rise, and half households have at least one computer. Sharek built upon those favorable numbers. “Sharek” means participate in Arabic. And, this is what the initiative was about. Sharek is an ICT-based platform for the collection of citizen input from multiple channels. Citizen input was collected from an internet website, emails, letters, an agent-manned call center, as well as an interactive voice response (IVR) based call center. In addition, so-called Constituent Assembly “ambassadors” (which were mostly young people) were recruited on voluntary basis by the CA, and sent to all of Egypt’s governorates, schools, universities and villages to collect citizen input. All channels were funneled into a central repository, which was the core of Sharek. When the input collection stage was completed, it was reviewed and filtered by legal aides. Once filtered, the input was sent to respective sub-committees within the CA. Members of the Constituent Assembly reviewed the input in those sub-committees and drafted the articles accordingly. Once the first draft of the constitution was ready, it was released through the front-end (citizen-facing) interface of Sharek, through the website (http://www.dosour.eg – http://sharek.dostour.eg). The system was built to accept logins from citizens using multiple social media credentials, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Yahoo. In addition, you could sign up for a Sharek account if you did not have any of the above. Once the user was logged in (to prevent multiple voting), citizens were able to vote up or down on any draft article. They were also able to comment on the article, expressing why they liked or did not like the draft. The process of evaluating those inputs were crowd-sourced, meaning that the citizens themselves were the ones voting up or down other user inputs. That function made the Constituent Assembly’s members’ job easier, as they could only look at the top input and see what most people really wanted, instead of going through all the comments. Sharek also allowed citizens to review the history of all drafts of a certain article, as well as review those that removed entirely (due to citizen criticism), or new ones that were just added. In addition, a mobile app and interface were developed for Sharek’s frond-end, so mobile users may also take part in the evaluation process. Constituent Assembly ambassadors were again asked to go through the places they have been before and ask citizens for their input on their feedback on the draft articles. Sharek’s strategy was formulated upon inclusion. Its main objective was to first provide a means for the unheard to voice their opinions towards the drafting process, and to finally make sure all citizens are involved in evaluating the draft so it can be refined to meet all of their expectations. Its target was the people of Egypt, and the initiative was built by MSAD based on the strong belief that everyone had to be heard.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
We believe that the Sharek initiative followed a novel approach in the constitutional drafting process. The initiative built upon today’s technology in order to ensure that the drafting process would be as inclusive as possible. Following a multiple-channel approached in the collection process, allowed for the voices of tens of thousands to be heard, that would otherwise not have had the chance to share their input on the constitution. Dependence upon a combination of traditional channels and information technology, such as with the Constituent Assembly’s ambassador outreach program was unique to such a process of collection of input then sharing the drafts for feedback, and even allowing illiterate people to learn of the drafts and even hold and share an opinion on them. Finally, making all of that data available to the public, provided an unprecedented level of transparency in the drafting process, that was a main reason in building citizen confidence in the CA.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
Once the MSAD approached the CA, regarding the development of the Sharek platform, and received its approval, a team was assembled at the Ministry to develop the action plan. That action plan addressed technical development, human resources development and training, as well as actual adoption steps. The key development points identified in the plan were the development of the Sharek platform, its launch and promotion, training Constituent Assembly members and staff, and finally launch of draft articles until the final text was issued. Development of the first phase (proposal collection) was concluded in 2 weeks. Once that was completed, the collection platform was launched, and it started receiving input immediately through the above-mentioned collection channels. In parallel, Constituent Assembly staff were trained on how to input physical proposals into the system. Another team was trained on refinement and distribution among sub-committees. This team was composed of staff with legal backgrounds, as they were the ones in charge of categorizing the collected proposals. Adjacent to that, the Constituent Assembly Ambassadors were trained and sent out to collect proposals as well. Constituent Assembly members were also briefed on how to use the system to access the categorized content. Once collection was completed, development of the second phase of the platform (feedback collection) was finished, and it was launched immediately as the first draft articles were ready for publishing. Government agencies and non-governmental organizations were engaged at that stage to promote the URL of the platform, and again Constituent Assembly ambassadors were sent out to their designated areas to collect input on the draft articles. The release of draft articles and whole versions of the constitution was an iterative process, that was repeated until the final version of the text was reached and also released through the Sharek platform. The media campaign was strengthened then, to make sure that every citizen and eligible voter had the chance to read what they were about to vote on.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The initiative/project was proposed by the MSAD, given its experience in ICT tools, due to its leading role of e-Government in the Government of Egypt. The Constituent Assembly welcomed it fully, as it addressed some of the major challenges it was facing in the limited time set out for carrying out its mission. The Constituent Assembly is obviously the project owner, as the whole project was a tool in aiding it in delivering its mandate. The Sharek initiative action plan and project design was co-designed by relevant teams at both the Constituent Assembly and the MSAD. Other government agencies, such as the State Information Service and National TV/Radio played a major role in raising awareness of proposal/input inquiry channels. They were also involved in the production of creative material to this end. Multiple privately-owned media outlets played a similar role, by airing creative materials (advertisements) developed by the CA. Non-governmental organizations and independent individuals volunteered for the role of Constituent Assembly ambassadors and were pivotal in the collection of citizen input. And last, but definitely not least, the citizens who were the core audience of the initiative were the most important stakeholder. It was their proposals and input that was pursued, and was the catalyst for all the debates raised at the CA.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The initiative’s direct main financial cost was the development cost of the internet-based platform for both stages, which was outsourced to a local small-scale IT (information technology) services company. That cost around fifty thousand US dollars, which the MSAD covered. In addition, a team of over 10 MSAD employees were appointed to the project. A similar team of Constituent Assembly staff was appointed, in charge of inputting physical input into the system. There were around 20 legal aides in charge of categorizing proposals and submissions for sub-committees. The Constituent Assembly ambassadors were about 700 people, which all worked on voluntary basis. Those were non-governmental organizations’ workers, as well as individuals. However, they were reimbursed by the Constituent Assembly for transportation costs, as they had to travel all over the country. The MSAD’s team were paid their salaries through the Ministry itself. This was also the case for the Constituent Assembly staff, which were originally Shoura Council (upper chamber of parliament in Egypt) employees. The legal aides, were paid volunteers and they were paid by the CA, which had an autonomous fund of twenty million Egyptian Pounds from government, to cover all of its activities over the duration of six months.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The first main output was the project’s first stage, which was the data collection platform. Through its unique multiple-channel approach, it saved a lot of time, effort, as well as money that would have been wasted in dealing with loads of paper, should a paper system had been used. It also proved a great asset in the categorization effort, as sorting was much easier than it would have been with a paper system. Also, the system forwarded copies of proposals and submissions along with the summaries made by the team of legal aides to all relevant members of sub-committees. Those reports also listed the number of times a certain proposal or submission was made for or against a certain issue. The legal aides team were able to develop briefs on all debatable issues, such that members of the Constituent Assembly were fully informed on all different views on a certain issue ahead of sub-committee meetings and discussions. The second main output was the platform for e-participation that was built. Again, the platform emphasized a multiple channel approach. This approach was able to cater for the needs of the target audience in Egypt. The system allowed for collecting attitude towards the draft articles, as well as how citizens think the drafts can be improved, or what is bad about them. This input was also shared with the public, and the process of evaluating the feedback was outsourced to the public, by allowing them to assess the responses we received from other citizens. The feedback, and especially the ones appealing to most citizens proved to be a most important input for the members of the CA. They were able to use it in the refinement process, until the final text was reached.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The project’s lifecycle was limited to six months, which was the maximum duration set out by the temporary constitution for the Constituent Assembly to complete the draft constitution, on which a referendum was to be held. Given such a clear and tight deadline, there was no room for delays. A very aggressive timeline was established and was monitored by project management personnel from both the MSAD and the CA. This proved successful, as project met its milestones on time. On the software development front, both the data collection and the feedback collection platforms were completed in time, with no major problems. On the ambassadors front, the teams collected input and feedback surpassing targets, in less time than expected. Clear targets were set out as key performance indicators (KPI’s) for aspects of each phase. For example, the Constituent Assembly set out a minimum number of inputs it wanted to collect from each governorate and municipality, based on population, given that Egypt constitutes of 27 governorates & over 300 municipalities made the task not easy. Even input collected online was location-stamped, so it may be categorized accordingly. Similar KPI’s were set for the second stage, feedback collection. The input part met its targets, but the feedback stage surpassed all expectations.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
When the MSAD first proposed the initiative, the Constituent Assembly Chairman and other members present in that meeting were excite about the project and wanted to give their full support for it right away. However, this was not the case for other many members. It was only natural, as the Constituent Assembly had 100 primary members and 50 secondary members. Many of them were hesitant about being open in collecting input from citizens in that manner, claiming many citizens were illiterate and were probably going to provide useless input. Others were concerned that collecting input in that manner removes the authority the Constituent Assembly has, as it will have to bend to the will of the masses then. A third group were worried that this high level of transparency and openness will leave them vulnerable, and it was better to work behind closed doors. All of these concerns were addressed by the project team from both the MSAD and the Constituent Assembly and those concerns were put to ease. Another main challenge that faced the project was the high number of illiterate citizens in Egypt. The Constituent Assembly did not want to ignore large segment of society, which estimates put at around 30% of the population; not in the input collection phase, or in the feedback collection phase. Secondary research firms doing random sampling was not a solution the Constituent Assembly wanted to accept. It wanted its own people to reach out to the illiterate and talk to them; hearing what they had to say. The MSAD did not have the ambassador program in its initial proposal, but when it found the Constituent Assembly insisting on reaching out to the illiterate, the MSAD proposed such a program, and helped in the recruitment process.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
According to all targets set ahead of project implementation, it was a great success. And even when it comes to qualitative attributes, the general public perception of the Constituent Assembly’s methodology for input and feedback collection was seen as favorable and inclusive of all opinions, even by those who criticized or rejected the final draft of the constitution. The Constituent Assembly’s methodology was perceived as one that provided a voice for the masses and listened to the voices of the unheard. This huge success was mainly due to the Sharek platform and the innovative ambassadors program. The biggest display of the power of Sharek was the heavy criticism of article 68 in one of the early drafts. Article 68 gave immunity to “national symbols” and wanted to penalize any person that offended those. The online community voted strongly against it, and the Constituent Assembly was left with no choice but to remove it when the ratio of people against it to those for it was about 60:1. This case was repeated with another two articles, but none received as much criticism as article 68. One the quantitative side, the Sharek website had over 30 million visits in under 5 months. Almost seven million people downloaded the final draft of the constitution, and that was through the website alone. The final draft was also available through many other different channels. The Sharek platform received over three hundred thousand proposals for the new constitution. In addition, over six hundred and fifty thousand citizens provided their feedback on the draft articles. Almost 50% of the feedback provided was related to the type of government. The general behavior of evaluators was accepting drafts, as rejections accounted for only 11% of collected feedback. 21% of all feedback collected over the internet was from out-of-country Egyptians. Another interesting statistic is that internet feedback had only 14% females. Mostly, female feedback was collected offline. Younger people (under 35) were the most engaged over the internet. And to further prove the point of adapting to feedback and changing articles according to input, the Constituent Assembly had released 981 draft articles for public feedback, over the span of three months. The final draft has 236 articles. That means that the Constituent Assembly produced the draft constitution over four different times.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
For the purpose of drafting the constitution, the project has achieved its goal, and the only way it needs sustaining is keeping a copy of the public content available over the internet as a historical reference for the drafting process. All the back-office content and systems have been moved to the national archive for records keeping. And although drafting a constitution is not a process one takes upon frequently, due to recent political developments in Egypt, the very same system is in use again by the Committee of Fifty (C50). The C50 has a mandate to draft the amendments to the 2012 constitution that was heavily criticized due to reasons unrelated to the process and the Sharek system of participation. Once again, the proposal system was deployed, and input was collected on what needed amending in the constitution, and the C50 utilized the system fully to publish draft articles, and collecting feedback on them. The C50 delivered the final draft of the constitution to the President in early December 2013, and a referendum was held on the amendments, which passed on January 18, 2014. This covered the direct use of the developed systems of Sharek. The cost is once again covered by the MSAD. On another front, the MSAD has announced its plans to adopt Sharek as a national platform for participation and consultation on national issues of debate, as well as proposed legislations by government and in the upcoming parliament. It has pledged to finance the necessary development and hosting associated costs, and make it available to any government agency wanting to collect public input on any issue. In addition, a special version of the platform would be created for parliament, so it would be able to present all its currently discussed proposed legislations. Development is already under way for two new uses. The Supreme Legislative Reform Committee (SLRC) is a special committee formed by the executive to review all proposed laws from any government agency. The SLRC has set a very aggressive legislative agenda and is expected to lead proposal of legislations. The SLRC has lined out a process for the review of proposed legislations before they are sent to parliament including two rounds of public consultation. The SLRC is heavily reliant on ICT, and is controlling its aggressive schedule through the use of a workflow management system. The SLRC wishes to use Sharek for online consultation. On another note, the Ministry of Planning and Administrative Reform has expressed its interest in utilizing Sharek for online consultation of the Egypt 2030 Development Plan. Finally, upon agreement with the software development house that developed the Sharek platform, the MSAD has decided to avail the source code of the Sharek for public use. This was done to foster the culture of participation and consultation upon the Egyptian society and other Arabic-speaking countries in the region. Possible uses are limitless. As of right now, Sharek is publicly available over the Git-hub service for public use, as an open-source project.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The Sharek platform and the whole process of drafting of the constitutional articles was a journey throughout many lessons could be learnt. First of which, is context defines the solution. There is never a one size fits all solution. Sharek may not be the world’s first e-participation platform, but it is the one built after studying the country’s context and the one addressing the challenges brought up by that context. The approach the MSAD and the Constituent Assembly followed was one that identified those challenges and addressed rather than shy away. Another lesson that can be learnt from the above is that information and communication technologies (ICT) tools in general and, more specifically, the internet are not a goal in themselves. They are exactly what they are called; tools, a means to an end. A major contributor to the success of this project was this realization by the teams involved in the development of the project. ICT was only used when it added value or resulted in favorable results. It was the hybrid model that was built upon ICT and the ambassadors that addressed the wide segments of the Egyptian society. The internet was used as a platform for the collection and categorization of both proposals/inputs and feedback. Of course, many people were also served directly by the online aspects of the system. And this hybrid model proved a great success. In ending, the Sharek platform and the integrated system/model that was used along with it will not be abandoned. Already the C50, that amended the constitution, made heavy use of the system. In addition, the MSAD has announced its plans to adopt Sharek as a national system for participation and consultation on national issues of debate, as well as proposed legislation by government and in the upcoming parliament.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of State For Administrative Development
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Mohamed Mansour
Title:   Project Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   +20.12.2770.3951
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   mmansour@ad.gov.eg  
Address:   13, Salah Salem Street, Nasr City,
Postal Code:   11768
City:   Cairo
State/Province:   Cairo
Country:  

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