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Vibewire Forum: Some Thoughts about e-Democracy

As I've mentioned here previously, the Vibewire e-Festival of Ideas is now underway, and I'm taking part in a forum on e-democracy that also involves such luminaries as Mark Pesce, Jason Wilson, Martin Stewart-Weeks, and Tony Walker. I've now posted my first contribution, which I'm republishing here - any comments welcome, and I'll try and bring them to the discussion. Or better yet - join us!

I think it might be useful to work out in some more detail what we mean by e-democracy and related terms. Broadly, for me there are two interesting areas here: ways in which the Internet and other online media can facilitate better communication between governments and citizens (g2c, as well as c2g), and ways in which they enable citizens to engage directly with one another (c2c), possibly bypassing governments as well as mainstream media altogether.

Both are interesting, and there are a few notable developments here. For example, in g2c/c2g,

So, in this field much of the development is around improving government/citizen relationships, but as citizens, we remain pretty much placed in the role which government has designed for us. (In management speak, these developments are largely about better service for clients...)

Personally, I'm a little more excited by the potential inherent in direct c2c communication, though - and sites such as MoveOn and GetUp, but also many citizen journalism projects, point the way to what's possible here. Ultimately, of course, many of these projects also end up speaking to governments and politicians - whether by mobilising their members to become more politically active or by directly acting as lobbyists on behalf of those members. But before that happens, their use of many-to-many communications technologies can allow them to engage in very different forms of communication, collaboration, and consensus-finding than has traditionally been the case in activist groups and party rooms.

(We can talk more about these differences later, but just briefly - the way I see them, projects like MoveOn and GetUp are essentially opt-in political movements: you don't pay your party or union fees up front and then essentially fall in line behind your leaders, but instead pick and choose from the campaign ideas presented to you as a member or suggest your own; the direction the project takes is always up for renegotiation rather than hardwired to particular ideologies.)

So the difference here is perhaps one between e-consultation and e-participation (and both are important, for different reasons) - but perhaps others have different definitions of what e-democracy means to them?

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