Using digital technology to increase trust in politics



Institution: School of Management, University of Bradford

Grant Details: EMPATIA: Enabling Multichannel Participation Through ICT Adaptations. European Commission H2020 Programme. Grant Agreement ID: 687920, Grant Total: EUR1,483,625

Project website:

Leading academics: Prof Vishanth Weerakkody, Professor Sankar Sivarajah, Professor Zahir Irani and Dr Amizan Omar



To increase engagement in participatory governance, local authorities in several European countries invite citizens to get involved in decisions about how public money should be spent – a process known as participatory budgeting (PB).

University of Bradford (UoB) researchers were part of an international team developing a new digital platform to support this type of engagement, to determine if and how it might increase trust and participation in local politics.

The platform, called EMPATIA, was initially piloted across four European cities and then taken up by nine more. To date, 55,000 people have put forward proposals on over 3,000 different projects.

The role of the Bradford researchers was to develop the key performance indicators (KPIs) across social, political, and user-related dimensions that the platform needed to achieve, evaluate its performance against these, and recommend improvements where needed. EMPATIA differs from other PB platforms as it not only allows people to put forward projects they’d like to see funded, but it also allows voting for proposals put forward by fellow citizens and the tracking of project selection based on votes received, implementation of projects and their progress - thus increasing the transparency and accountability of public spending.


Benefits and impacts

LG authorities, NGOs, and SMEs across the four EU countries (Portugal - PT, Italy - IT, Germany - DE, and Czech Republic - CZ) have used the novel methodology, evaluation techniques, and KPIs developed by Bradford researchers during the life of the project and beyond. The research delivered multiple socio-economic and policy impacts across several cities in Europe. Impacts of EMPATIA were evidenced in 30 city-level implementations across PT, IT, DE and CZ in: Lisbon, Cascais, Condeixa, Lagoa, Milan, Pavia, Cormano, Monza, Wuppertal, Ricany.


Social Impacts for Communities

A key longitudinal societal impact of the EMPATIA platform is its implementation to support the National Portuguese Youth PB cycle from 2017 – to the present. The concepts and platform components have also been used outside the official partner countries in the project, including Mexico and Spain, thus extending its impact globally.

The novel research led by Bradford ensured that LG authorities fully engaged in the PB process using the EMPATIA platform leading to additional investments into community projects through PB. As outlined by Lisbon Municipality, “…since 2017 participatory processes supported by the EMPATIA project experts including Bradford… have resulted in 7.5M€ budget for more than 50 winning projects, that resulted from more than 120000 citizen votes from a total of more than 2000 proposals and ideas”. Therefore, EMPATIA has transformed the PB process from a traditional ‘townhall’ approach to a multi-channel and inclusive digital approach.

Societal impacts created through the EMPATIA platform and associated research (2018-2020):

  • Number of Users Engaged with PB: 55,000
  • Number of Ideas / proposals for PB: 3000+
  • Number of Votes received for ideas/proposals: 55,000+
  • Number of SMS received for ideas/proposals: 10,000+
  • Number of PB visitors to the EMPATIA website:200,000+
  • Number of PB page views in the EMPATIA website: 1,200,000+


Policy Impacts on Public Administration

EMPATIA resulted in the following policy impacts for Public administrations since 2017 across cities in PT, DE, IT, and CZ:

  • Continuous Improvements in the design and implementation of the EMPATIA platform from 2017 to 2020 resulting in changes to LG policy decision-making processes leading to improved public participation in LG decision-making.
  • Influence on LG public engagement policies, guidelines, and training.
  • Promoting social inclusivity through the co-creation of community-facing local solutions and projects via an inclusive multi-channel PB process that allowed LG, NGOs, private organisations, and citizens to work together.
  • Improving the understanding of and developing and adopting alternative public engagement models by governments.
  • Influencing change in public awareness and behaviours relevant to the process of government budget allocation for civic projects.
  • Development of resources and guidelines to enhance LG professional practice.
  • Influence private-public partnerships and working relationships through the novel research approach applied to design and develop citizen-centric ICT solutions for democratic government.