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Strategies for Strengthening e-Participation in Europe

The final speaker in this EDEM 2010 session is Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, who examines the current status of e-participation in the European Union. All EU states have a relatively equal level of e-participation take-up, even in spite of their very different historical trajectories; that take-up is highly variable across local, national, and transnational levels, however.

The older European democracies are substantially more active at the local level, for example, while cross-border initiatives are generally limited (even in spite of European integration and strong cross-border ties in a number of regions). Indeed, the local level is generally best developed, with sophistication declining markedly towards the national and transnational levels. This is interesting also given that substantial public funding is coming from the EU and national levels, rather than from local public authorities.

Further, between 2007 and 2009 there has been a marked decline in more old-fashioned e-participation models (Internet kiosks, TV, etc.), while there was no strong growth in Web 2.0 (or even Web 1.0) initiatives. Overall, Web 1.0 still leads the way, supplemented by basic Web 2.0 tools (discussion fora, etc.); e-voting remains relatively unimportant.

Main strategies for optimising e-participation in Europe could be to formalise and mainstream e-participation as a coordinated form of open engagement; to help establish or support independent, neutral, and trusted third-party services for e-participation; to provide government or institutional frameworks for building citizen participation from the bottom up (but without controlling it). (In other words, very much what I talked about as g4c2c yesterday.)

Some of this could be substantially promoted by unleashing the power of public sector information through open data initiatives which make such material available in anonymised and machine-readable formats; alongside this, it is also important to empower civil servants to become more directly active (and creative) in their own right.

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