Lëviz Albania





Authors: Blerjana Bino, Knowledge Management Consultant

Anahi Martinez, Grant, Monitoring and Civil Society Manager, LevizAlbania


Summary paragraph

What is digital democracy? Why is digital democracy at the local level more likely to be successful? What has been the contribution of LevizAlbania in supporting initiatives that promote digital democracy at the local level in Albania? How can digital democracy be further strengthened at the local level? This article tries to provide answers to these questions based on the experience of LevizAlbania and the conclusions of the last regional forum for digital democracy practices in Albania. The article argues that digital transformation offers an opportunity to increase citizen participation at the local level, to improve transparency and accountability as well as decision-making processes. At the same time, digital transformation requires political will and investment in digital infrastructure, but on the other hand it also requires digital training, engagement, and civic mobilization.


The practical application of technology in defining and facilitating the processes of local democracy is defined as digital democracy (see article ). In the context of rapid and comprehensive digitalization and given the intertwined social and political changes, it is important to understand how technological transformation affects local democracy. The purpose of this article is to reflect on the contribution of LevizAlbania to digital democracy in Albania by supporting various forms of technology implementation for civic engagement and participation in decision-making, monitoring and increasing transparency and accountability.

Since 2015, LevizAlbania (LA) has focused on empowering social actors at the local level in supporting democracy, enabling civil society organizations, informal groups, and individuals to engage and participate in local democratic processes, increasing demand for transparency, accountability and effective public services. LA has established a network of local partners, it has made various and complementary interventions to each-other, and it has had a wide geographical reach, accumulating knowledge on the mechanisms that shape the effectiveness of democracy support and civic engagement at the local level.

LA grantees (organizations, individuals and informal groups) have received support in using digital instruments to promote local democracy, mainly through the use of digitalisation in monitoring election promises or municipal services, increasing transparency and strengthening accountability (A detailed list of awarded grants can be found in the first footnote).  These instruments have also been used to raise awareness and empower citizens, or certain groups such as young people, marginalized groups, to be more active and participatory as well as to monitor and interact with local government. The main form used has been the creation of online platforms for monitoring, transparency, accountability and giving voice to citizens. However, the main challenges remain: first, the financial viability of these platforms; second, their interconnection with existing local government or civil society platforms; third, their mass usability by citizens beyond the life of the project (which established it); fourth, the transition from monitoring to action and the creation of communities for engagement and mobilization.

Based on the experience of LA grantees as well as a regional forum in Durres organised with local actors for local democracy in May 2022, this article aims to present some recommendations regarding the development of digital democracy in Albania. For further information regarding this aspect, see the article by Gentian Elezi and Saimir Musta (link).

How to understand digital democracy?

In principle, democracy is a political system that enables fair and representative governance. However, in practice, democracy has developed at different levels in different countries (see e.g. Freedom House rankings). A crisis of trust in the system of representative democracy has been confirmed in contemporary society and this is considered problematic for the functioning of democracy itself. In response to complex social, political, cultural, economic, and technological changes, democratic systems need among other factors also institutional innovation to ensure that they are governed responsibly, effectively, fairly and transparently. Thus, the Internet and rapid technological developments were seen as golden opportunities to revitalize democratic governments and to increase public trust and engagement. The initial expectation was that technology, and the Internet would enable a greater and more direct involvement and engagement of citizens in democratic processes. However, in practice, technology does not necessarly leads directly to better democratic processes as will be briefly outlined below.

Various forms of digital democracy have already been developed, i.e. the use of digital tools (technology and the Internet) in improving representation structures, decision-making processes and civic engagement and participation. The digitalization of public services is generally known as e-government (e.g. e-Albania, the platform of digital public services in Albania), while the digitalization of participation and decision-making processes is known as e-democracy or digital democracy. Essentially, digital technology serves as an enabler of various forms of democratic innovation (direct, participatory, assembly and representative democracy). For more about the theory of digital democracy, see this article.

Digital democracy has several often mentioned benefits, such as: mass engagement of citizens through forms that have lower financial and time costs than other forms (e.g. organizing an public hearing with the City Council online vs. physical meeting of a large group of participants[1]); enables effective instruments for monitoring transparency and increased the accountability of local actors (development of instruments for civic monitoring of Municipal contractors for public services and investments, such as OpenCorporates[2]); provided opportunities for participation regardless of physical or geographical and time constraints (exercise of the civil right to request from the local government such as the use of on-line petitions QytetarIN[3]). However, digital democracy requires at least the necessary technological infrastructure, access to infrastructure, digital capabilities and financial investment (e.g. building a digital platform for participatory budgeting buxhetim.al[4]) as well as the will and investment of the local government to internalize these new digital instruments in their daily work.

However, the concept and practices of digital democracy are very complex and closely related to the political context, government system, civic engagement level, level of development and access to technology and other social and cultural factors. Despite the complexity that is not the subject of this article, digital democracy serves as a normative concept - it enables us to think of democracy as an open, dynamic, and evolving form of political organization. Therefore, digital democracy should not be seen neither as a utopian model of the near future, nor as a simple technological transformation of existing democratic institutions (see article). Digital democracy must be analyzed both from the point of view of the political system and from that of transformation and digital infrastructure in a certain social context.

LA's experience in supporting digital democracy at the local level

In addition to the initiatives mentioned above, some other additional initiatives which are supported by LevizAlbania are as follows:

Monitoring the implementation of transparency laws by the Municipal Councils (INFOCIP) regarding the implementation of law No. 139/2015 “On Local Self-Government” through the monitoring of municipal councils in Tirana, Kamza and Vora in relation to the implementation of chapters IV and IX of this law and the promotion of civic monitoring and commitment to a transparent decision-making.

“Advocating and encouraging citizens and the media to participate in local government and its accountability, to put pressure on the realization of electoral promises"- Free Thought Forum. The project has encouraged citizens to ask the municipality to solve emergency problems and fulfill election promises. Specifically, the project focused on the cooperation and lobbying of the media to denounce the problems that are within the competence of the municipality, especially those related to environmental pollution.

Local multimedia platform in Gjirokastra: "Open Government"/Raimond Kola - Gjirokastra. The project has contributed to increasing citizen participation in the policies of municipal governments through multimedia (Facebook, Blog, Magazine), as well as awareness and practical assistance to citizens in obtaining information based on the Law on the Right to Information.

Public Transport in Tirana. The importance of citizen involvement in decision-making - Alterum Center. The project focuses on implementing a model that, on the one hand involves citizens in identifying problems and advocating for their improvement, and on the other hand increases the accountability and responsibility of local government. In addition, the project aims to increase safety and quality in urban transport by raising awareness and maximizing the role of citizens, stakeholders through active involvement in the decision-making process and legal advocacy regarding the tools that can be used by citizens/stakeholders to oppose/repeal, monitor the decisions of the Municipal Council regarding public transport.

Use technology, improve democracy! - A.L.T.R.I. The aim is to enable citizens' digital skills to understand and effectively use the tools of digital democracy.

Lessons learned

LevizAlbania has supported several pioneering initiatives in the field of digital democracy as analyzed in this article, which have shown how the instruments of digital democracy can be implemented in practice at the local level even though digital democracy is not a goal in itself for LA. In the wide range of digital democracy practices, the focus has been the development of online platforms for monitoring local government, promoting the demand for transparency and accountability from municipalities and municipal councils, as well as giving citizens a voice to be more engaged. Although for LevizAlbania, digital democracy at the local level has not been its specific objective, it has nevertheless made an important contribution to the dissemination and popularization of digital democracy practices at the local level. This process of supporting such initiatives has had some major challenges which apply not only to LevizAlbania, but are lessons learned that also serve other actors interested in digital democracy at the local level.

First, the support of different initiatives in different geographical areas on the one hand has increased the diversity of digital democracy practices and has incentivised local organisations to engage in such practices. Considering the theory of change and the purpose of LevizAlbania, it did not follow a strategic and coordinating framework of these initiatives.. In the future, it would be advisable for other actors who will implement interventions in digital democracy to build a specific theory of change on how technology will strengthen local democracy in Albania.

Secondly, despite the positive results achieved by the LA supported projects as evidenced in the article and in the local digital democracy forum, the sustainability of the platforms remains challenging, especially the financial one. A lesson learned here is that the civic actors undertaking such initiatives need to be empowered and supported to find other ways to ensure the sustainability of the platforms, once the support is complete. Connecting and collaborating with other local actors could be another way to ensure more sustainability. Thus, cooperation with universities can serve to ensure the sustainability of human resources, while alliances with local media increase the promotion of initiatives and can contribute to a greater engagement by the public on these platforms.

Third, their widespread use by citizens beyond the life of the project remains challenging and requires such communication and engagement strategies to reach different civic groups. The experience of LevizAlbania shows that a combination of the use of social media, alliances with local media and networking with other local actors is needed to encourage citizens to use the platforms. Furthermore, awareness and education about the practices of digital democracy is also needed.

A fourth challenge is moving from monitoring to action, creating communities for engagement and mobilization. Practices of digital democracy at the local level so far have focused more energy on monitoring than on action. While monitoring and information serve to promote local government transparency, it is essential that digital democracy initiatives also focus on ways in which digital tools can be used to foster civic participation and engagement. A lesson learned is that in designing these initiatives, ways of engaging and mobilizing citizens and social groups in digital democracy must be thought through and planned. While mobilization in the digital public sphere may be more easily feasible, the transition from online to offline mobilization in practice is more challenging and constitutes a still evolving field of action. Several studies have shown that digital technologies, and especially the spaces that allow for social interaction, can facilitate forms of political engagement. (see article). Some scholars describe online political participation as “clicktivism”, while others argue that it is useful to understand that participation and civic engagement is not one-dimensional, but multi-dimensional by combining different forms of engagement that are complementary to each other. However, there is still room to thoroughly study the reasons that push citizens to move from online to offline mobilization.

Finally, digital inequality in terms of digital capabilities and access to digital infrastructure and the Internet is a prerequisite for a successful digital democracy initiative. The same social groups that are more inclined to be active and have skills and access to the digital world generally participate in digital democracy initiatives. Successful and sustainable practices require working with the principle of inclusive digitalisation, which seeks to bridge the gap between those with and without Internet access and digital infrastructure. Here, of course, we refer to the citizens on the one hand, but also to the employees and representatives of the local government, who should be part of the digital training process. Municipalities should not only embrace this opportunity for democratic innovation, but also invest in their technological infrastructure and digital training of their employees. 

Conclusions and recommendations for the future

As technology has transformed the way we live, work, and communicate, governance systems require more time to transform and respond to change. Local government in particular has an even greater potential for digital democracy as it has an obligation to engage citizens in the day-to-day affairs of community life. Technology is the means by which local government can foster this open relationship with citizens for better, more accountable and transparent governance. Therefore, social actors must exert pressure and take initiatives that enable the strengthening of digital democracy practices at the local level.

In conclusion, we must keep in mind that digital democracy allows for citizen engagement using technology, and is part of a wider field of democratic innovation that includes consultative democracy (through discussion) and participatory democracy (where citizens can be involved in the decision-making process). Digital democracy is a way to enable engagement and participation. However, the practices of digital democracy cannot be oriented only towards technology as a means, but towards democracy and democratic values, i.e. open, transparent governance, accountability and civic engagement.

Some of the recommendations in this regard are:

  • Work should be done on comprehensive digitalization by devising and financially supporting initiatives that provide internet access and digital infrastructure for marginalized groups.
  • It is important to work for the digital empowerment of citizens and social groups, so that they can benefit from e-services or the opportunities of digital democracy.
  • Digital instruments are not exclusive to traditional forms of engagement and participation but are complementary.
  • It is important to focus resources also on the interconnection, integration, and sustainability of platforms by providing a more strategic approach, better coordination, local alliances and continuous communication with citizens.
  • While the use of digital tools by social actors to promote transparency and accountability of local government and citizen participation are valuable mechanisms that should be supported in the future, it is also important that society continues to exert influence on local government to be more open, transparent and accountable through the promotion of the principles and implementation of digital democracy.To better understand the practices of digital democracy in Albania so far, it is important to analyze the contribution of LevizAlbania as well as other initiatives in a broader context of other developments in local democracy. In this way data can be provided to inform future strategic interventions for digital democracy.

About LevizAlbania

LevizAlbania is the Local Democracy project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) implemented by a consortium of (i) the Open Society Foundation for Albania (OSFA), (ii) Partners Albania and (iii) Co-Plan. Since 2015, LA has contributed to the growth of local democracy, through grants to Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs), informal groups and individuals, supporting their demand for transparent, and accountable local government and efficient public services. The project supports the building of coalitions to foster structural and systematic change at the local and national levels and to promote positive practices in support of local democracy.

Knowledge Management System and Civic Engagement Platform

LevizAlbania's Knowledge Management and Civic Engagement Platform aims to collect, structure and capitalize on all of LA's contributions and achievements in the last 6 years. At the same time, this exercise examines the challenges that LevizAlbania faces in achieving its objectives, but also the challenges of grantees and the broader context of local democracy. Knowledge management analyzes the internal and external processes of LA, as well as conceives the establishment of mechanisms based on the identified needs. This chosen approach aims to improve the effectiveness of new projects and will instill a culture of systematic and structured use of the knowledge gained, using the tools and mechanisms (platform) set up. The Knowledge Management System and the Civic Engagement Platform contribute to increasing the effectiveness of interventions, and provide an in-depth analysis and overview of the challenges in supporting local democracy and civic engagement. Experts engaged for this by LevizAlbania (alphabetical order): Blerjana Bino and Gentian Elezi.

[1] During the Covid-19 pandemic, in accordance with all the imposed measures, several projects of the Call for Applications No. 6 of LevizAlbania ensured the participation of citizens in discussions with Municipal Councils online. For example: The project “Activation and empowerment of young people to be part of local decision-making, through free speech and civic action”  implemented by the Foundation "Sustaining Inclusive Growth" in the Municipality of Pogradec managed to ensure the participation of a youth group in several Municipal Council meetings online  during the pandemic period. They requested that these meetings be made public within the legal deadline and with the necessary quorum. They were provided access to the Zoom and participated in various discussions. The project "Services for citizens with citizens – The case of Municipality of Lushnja implemented by the Institute of Public and Legal Studies in the Municipality of Lushnja has encouraged the civic group trained by the project to discuss four detailed proposals online with the executive of the Municipality, as well as with two members of the Council.

[2] Call Project No. 7 of LevizAlbania “Citizen Monitoring and Transparency on Municipal Contractors for Services and Pubic Investments” implemented by the Albanian Institute of Sciences (Open Data Albania). The project managed to open data on contractors. i.e. businesses that have won a tender with municipalities. The open information is placed in a passport and in a few seconds every citizen, journalist, civic actor, or official can obtain information who the owner of the business is, what economic performance this business has, its object of activity, licenses it has, data on the administrator, data and lists of other contracts according to the municipalities and partnerships with other businesses. The passport is also linked to information on value treasury transactions in favour of this business. It is a carefully designed and developed algorithm, as an anti-corruption tool for risk assessment, which identifies businesses that have indications that are favoured by lack of competition, irregularities or low efficiency.

[3]Call Project No. 6 of LevizAlbania “QytetarIN” was implemented by the organization Qendresa Qytetare (Civic Resistance). During 2020, time when the pandemic isolated opportunities for action, Qendresa Qytetare provided the opportunity to several interest groups to electronically sign petitions. These groups, which were legally and technically supported by the Qendresa Qytetare team, managed to influence the agenda of Tirana Municipal Council and municipality by transforming their neighbourhood and by getting back the fees they were entitled to by law. A total of 1,299 citizens, 755 of whom were women and girls were involved in the project activities and in the signing of the petition. Indirect beneficiaries were 5,400 students of the Student City, who benefited from fee reduction, about 500 residents of the Former Polygraph Neighbourhood, who suffered the presence of waste in the area, as well as over 20,000 students who use public transport in the capital, who received student bus passes. From 2022, the strategic project of LevizAlbania “#PërQytetin” implemented by Qendresa Qytetare widens the coverage of the platform and a model built with QytetarIN. It is currently being implemented in Durres in partnership with the organization Durresi Aktiv and in Kurbin with Sebastia Center.

[4] LevizAlbania supported the Agenda Institute in creating, piloting and extending the platform for civic participation buxhetim.al. This platform was initially developed as a result of the project "Active participation of citizens in drafting the budget of the municipalities of Durres, Elbasan and Korca” and later expanded through the project "Expansion of buxhetim.al in 20 municipalities of the country." Through the project of Call No. 6 of LevizAlbania "Extension and consolidation of the online instrument of civic participation buxhetim.al in 61 municipalities of the country” 55,908 citizens used the platform buxhetim.al to express their priorities in the budget for 2021.

Street: Qemal Stafa

New Bazaar, Building No. 74, Floor 2, Tirana

+355 44 500 153