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Managing Government Business Processes

We’re entering the second and final day of the CeDEM 2011 conference here in Krems. The first speaker of this session is Bojan Cestnik, whose interest is in business process outsourcing and its connections to citizen participation. Bojan starts by noting that the availability and sophistication of user services provided by governments are steadily improving; there is also a strong EU policy stating that no citizen should be left behind by these services in 2010. At the same time, participation figures remain limited: only 28% of citizens participate (but 68% of companies). So, there’s a need to understand and engage citizens more effectively.

There may be problems of apathy or intentional exclusion here. Certain obstacles and barriers actively discourage engagement, but this has also given rise to a common but incorrect belief that people just don’t care about politics (that they see it as a spectator sport). It is necessary here also to embrace voluntary and incomplete participation, rather than aim for ‘perfect’ outcomes.

Who Engages in e-Policymaking Processes?

The final presenter on this first day at CeDEM 2011 is Rebecca Schild, whose interest is in engaging policy communities online, in Canada. Canada is at an important crossroads in public consultation at this point; there has been substantial consultation in the past using older media technologies, but since the 1990s there was a neoliberal shift towards a more exclusive policy process that became dominated by private sector interests. Can this be redressed using e-participation?

Does the Internet increase participation in policy processes, then, and for whom? Can this draw on the emerging networked public sphere, or does it fall prey to fragmentation and polarisation? How may socio-cybernetic governance be made to work, and how can participatory inequality be addressed?

Of Lightweight Crowds and Heavyweight Communities

The second round of keynotes at CeDEM 2011 starts with Caroline Haythornthwaite, whose focus is on making sense of online community structures. She begins from a social network analysis perspective, which understands social networks as constituted of relations between actors. Such social networks transcend online social networks, of course; rather, we now need to take a whole-of-system perspective in which social networking takes place across a range of networks, including online networks.

What’s especially important here, too, is a focus on new forms of collaborating and organising; with the shift towards Web 2.0, but also with many other concurrent shifts, there’s been a transition in attitudes and practices towards collaboration. Indeed, Caroline suggests that we’ve entered a Web 2+ period now. Alongside this are shifts towards user-driven practices, the perpetual beta where things are constantly in flux, and where data and information are mashed up and remixed all the time.

Networks of Political Blogging in Greece

The final speaker in this CeDEM 2011 session is Kostas Zafiropoulos, whose interest is in political blogging in Greece. He describes Greek blogs as a self-organising community, and begins by showing the well-known image from Adamic & Glance’s study of the US political blogosphere around the 2004 election (which, analysing the patterns of interlinking between blogs, showed a highly polarised environment at the time).

Kostas’s project undertook a similar study for Greece. They began by using Technorati to find Greek political blogs (with “some” authority, according to Technorati’s measures), and tagged them according to their political orientation. During May 2009, they identified some 101 blogs through this process.

Uses of Political Blogging in the 2010 Swedish Election

The next speaker at CeDEM 2011 is Jakob Svensson, who shifts our attention towards the individual in political participation. He does this against the background of the 2010 Swedish elections, which for the first time used social media in a significant way. Jakob focussed on Nina Larsson, a politician of the conservative Liberal’s Party, who used two blogs during her campaign.

Jakob notes the different forms of rationalities (deliberative, but especially also expressive) which are on display in such uses; beyond this, there is also a more instrumental use of social media to influence election outcomes, of course (at worst, this simply refers to naked political spin). All of this needs to be considered in a wider theoretical context of digital late modernity and networked individualism, of course. The process of individualisation opens up other spheres for participation, too – life politics, for example. Blogs and other social networking sites are sometimes seen as saviours for this, but there are strong critiques of such perspectives, too.

Twitter in e-Participation

The next CeDEM 2011 session starts with a presentation by Peter Mambrey, whose focus is on the potential role of Twitter in e-participation. He begins by noting the expansion of the media ecology and the take-up of new media forms by specific groups in society; this creates new opportunities for political participation and self-empowerment, but also challenges for local administration and government.

There is a rising expectation of service quality, growing demands for local service delivery and expertise, competition between cities for citizens and enterprises, demographic change (with a marked population decline in some areas in Germany, for example), and financial problems in the wake of the global financial crisis. General questions include transparency and input-legitimacy, dialogue and output-legitimacy, collaboration and participation, identity management and public relations, and an erosion of the representative system (also through lobbying).

Building towards Deliberation and Civic Intelligence

I’ve made it to Austria for the third year running, to attend the Conference on e-Democracy. We begin the day with a keynote by Douglas Schuler – and my own keynote will come later today, too. The proceedings from the conference will appear soon on Google Books, by the way – in line with the open access philosophy espoused by many e-democracy initiatives. The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #cedem11, by the way.

Doug begins his talk with the premise that current trends aren’t adequate for the challenges we face – can we intelligently readjust our activities? What’s necessary here are interdisciplinary approaches, aiming for research that makes a real difference. Doug’s focus is on deliberation: we are in desperate need of good decisions and actions, which help fix our current problems. Such decisions don’t necessarily happen through conventional mechanisms (including the free market); we won’t luck into better solutions, but need clear and effective mechanisms for better deliberation to reach them.

A Technological Shaping of the Social in Evidence-Based Policymaking Platforms

The next speaker at AoIR 2010 is Anders Madsen, whose focus is on design choices in policy-oriented technologies of knowledge management. This operates in the context of discussions over the role of knowledge in democracy – how is the relevance of information and facts settled? Two divergent approaches to this highlight the role of science in generating evidence-based policy (which responds to well-defined problems), or alternatively see a range of wicked problems that need broad participation and socially robust policies.

Digital democracy can aid policymaking in these contexts; policymaking procedures can be grounded in new technologies of knowledge management – but this too is either simply about efficient and transparent data-sharing, or about the collaborative production of knowledge, reflecting the earlier division. Some of this leads to discussions of Web design - for example drawing on clearly structured Semantic Web developments, or more folksonomically organised Web 2.0 structures.


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