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Towards e-Democracy in South East Europe

The final speaker for this EDEM 2009 session is Blaž Golob, who shifts our focus to developments in e-democracy in South-East Europe. The Centre for e-Governance Development in South-East Europe include the regional coperation council, various governments from the region, university organisations, and technology partners; it aims to achieve the successful development of an information society in the region which will contribute to the future of Europe. It supports the rapid development of the 12 SEE countries, and does so by focussing on e-democracy as one of the seven pillars of the information society (the others are e-government, e-business, e-education, e-health, e-justice, and e-security).

Principles for Open Government in the Networked Society

We continue the Austrian focus at EDEM 2009 with Peter Parycek, one of the academics involved in the Austrian e-Democracy initiatives. He suggests that we're in the midst of a new media revolution towards a networked society,driven by digitisation, convergence, and the shift to many-to-many communication; this turns the Net into a social space, and changes our patterns of communication and organisation - the 2008 Obama campaign is a very good example for this.

In politics, advertising, and many other areas, word of mouth has become key in influencing public opinion - this is a shift from hierarchical to networked organisation, and the question now becomes whether we will be able to utilise these new patterns of the network society in government as well. An answer to this is provided by the emerging principles of open government:

e-Democracy in Austria

The second and last day at EDEM 2009 starts with a paper by Christian Rupp from the Austrian Federal Chancellery, who begins by noting the changing role of ICTs in government. ICTs have initially been used to increase efficiency and effectiveness, but more recently the focus has been on improving governance, raising dilemmas of balancing openness and transparency. Austria is in a good position for e-government as there's a relatively strong ICT base and level of digital literacy; also, the federal structure of administration here means that e-government is distributed across all three levels of government rather than taking place only at the national level.

e-Participation in the Emilia-Romagna Region

Finally for this first day at EDEM 2009 we move to Sabrina Franceschini and Roberto Zarro, who present on e-democracy initiatives in the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. The region set up its first participatory project,, in September 2005, running to October 2007. It aimed to define and create participation processes in an integrated manner in the region, to promote participation not only towards citizens but also within the administration itself, to provide a tool for all administrative levels, and to define, test, and disseminate the methodology. It created a committed working community, an e-democracy project in the Partecipa site itself, and it managed to implement and test the participation kit.

Models for Participatory Budget Deliberation

The next speaker at EDEM 2009 is César Alfaro, who shifts our interest to projects for participatory budgeting in the UK, Spain, and Brazil. Such projects aim to involve citizens in budgetting decisions, based on dialogue and participation. This was trialled first (offline) in 1988 in a number of Brazilian cities, and is now in place in some 100 municipalities in Europe, involving some 4 million citizens; the UK is likely to implement participatory budgetting in 2012. However, the models uses differ substantially, on the percentage of the budget which has been allocated to such models, on the number of participants and the structure of participation, on the number of discussion and approval rounds and their rules, etc.

e-Participation in the U.S. Context

The next session at EDEM 2009 starts with Michael Milakovich, who returns us to that question of citizen participation in e-democratic environments. So far, the overall lesson is probably that 'we've built it,but they haven't come yet' - and yet, in the US, online media were certainly used very effectively to help win an online election in the 2008 presidential elections, while the classic citizen participation model - the town hall meetings - are now being used and abused for partisan agitation.

This is an issue not least of digital democratic literacy; the use of social media and other electronic technologies remains in its infancy. There are issues with competing communication systems (used differently across different generations, but not neatly so), and the respective electoral structures also play a role in what e-democracy frameworks are appropriate (e-participation may loook differently in a direct democratic system than in the US electoral college framework, for example). Additionally, there are public concerns about the equation of politics with administration, and questions about the distribution of citizen and government responsibilities.

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).


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