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Designing for e-Democracy in Australia

My paper is in the next session at EDEM 2009, but we start with a paper by another Australian-based researcher, Mary Griffiths. She begins by highlighing the extremely broad range of digital media channels which are now available to users (in Australia and elsewhere) to engage with each other and with various organisations and institutions. There's only limited research at this point which provides a full picture of this digital landscape, and the visions which emerge of it so far remain quite utopian.

Web 2.0 cuts across these different areas, and there is a great deal of hope for social media, societal change, and e-democracy developments. But the difficulty is that in business and the corporate world there is an uncomplicated sense of this fragmentary landscape; the diverging agendas and the diverse literacies of users within this environment are not fully recognised. It's a substantial distance from Web 1.0 to full online engagement and content creation; indeed, not all these literacies may matter to citizens engaging with one another in political deliberation.

Common Pitfalls in Electronic Voting

The final speaker in this EDEM 2009 session is conference organiser Alexander Prosser, whose focus is on a recent ruling related to e-voting by the German Federal Constitutional Court that raised questions about transparency in e-voting. In 2008, for example, 200 e-votes disappeared in a Finnish election; in 2007, software support in a UK election staff manually edited ballots as they would not fit into the counting software, and key processes were performed on vendor-supplied notebooks; in Australian student union elections in 2009, a harddrive with e-voting data needed to be protected by firefighters (hm?) as it was taken to an erasure service, as it would have allowed matching voters and their votes - so questions about transparency and accountability in e-voting are certainly very real.

Towards e-Participation in the Netherlands

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Matt Poelmans from the Dutch Burgerlink initiative. He begins by suggesting the e-participation is a prerequisite for a mature form of e-government, and that do date, the citizen is the missing link in this picture. Well beyond e-anything, there is a need to relink citizens and government - and this is a challenge which is at least two millennia old.

In the Netherlands, there is a Burgerlink (i.e. Citizenlink) project aimed at improving public performance by involving citizens in innovative ways; it runs from 2008 to 2010 and aims to design and develop basic infrastructure for cooperation between all levels of government. The project aims to deliver generic components and standards compliant with the Dutch Interoperability Framework. This involves promoting service quality (through an e-citizen charter and a service quality code), measuring customer satisfaction (based on a study of life events and delivery chains), and stimulating citizen involvement (through the development of e-participation instruments).

Important Lessons for Vendors of e-Voting Systems

The next session at EDEM 2009 starts with Alexander Leiningen-Westerburg from Siemens, who consequently shifts our attention to the vendors of e-voting services. He notes the very delicate questions around e-voting, and suggests that success or failure of individual implementations affects every vendor in the market. But how much of a market is there, anyway - what are the advantages of e-voting? One promise is an increase in the voter participation, but so far there is little evidence for this. Another is that more expatriots are likely to participate in e-voting (especially in major emigration countries, such as those of eastern Europe), but again, the evidence so far is limited.

From e-Goverment to i-Government?

The third speaker in this opening session at EDEM 2009 is Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, whose theme is the demise of electronic government (hmm, that didn't take long...). He suggests that e-government as a concept has come to the end of its lifespan; the promises of higher public sector efficiency, and of resulting economic growth and greater trust in government, and of deeper citizen participation in public matters have not been fulfilled. The reality of electronic government is far less promising; the economic gains remain unclear, and have yet to be measured accurately - there are no robust frameworks for such measurement at this point. We measure not what we should, but what we can measure: avoidance. That's not helpful.

Electronic Voting in the German Social Insurance Elections

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is Hans-Eberhard Urbaniak, the federal commissioner for the social insurance elections in Germany (and yes, I hope he explains to us what this may mean). In Germany, some 46 million are eligible to vote in the social insurance elections (including especially health and pensions insurance), and if I understand this right, the delegates elected through this process shape the social insurance services provided to the public; this is a matter of self-determination for the voters, and through the process, the overall range of social insurance services is determined. The overall budget for social insurance is some €420 billion, incidentally.

Challenges Ahead for e-Governance

From Transforming Audiences in London I've now made my way to a surprisingly sunny Vienna, where the 2009 Conference on e-Democracy (EDEM) is about to begin. We begin with an opening speech by Roland Traunmüller, outlining the challenges ahead for e-Governance, and he notes that IT and governance concepts have changed substantially over the past few decades. There has been some academic interest in e-governance of some form or another for the past three decades or so, ever since computer technology became more mainstream, ad the International Federaton of Computer Societies has been examining the opportunities since 1990.

From Social Media to Democratic Participation?

The first day at Transforming Audiences finishes with a keynote by Natalie Fenton and Nick Couldry. Natalie points to creativity, knowledge, and participation as the three central themes of this conference - in that context, what does it mean to be political in the new media age? What are the principles for the way we conceived of and carry out our citizenship? How do we engage in political life?

There are multiple conflicting views on the impact of social media on political participation, of course - a sense that social media break down public/private barriers and lead to new forms of participation, and those who characterise such participation as an incessant meaningless conversation which never leads anywhere. Taken by themselves, both are likely to be wrong - so what is the real story here?


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