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Does e-Participation Generate More Positive Attitudes towards Democracy?

The second speaker in this ECREA 2016 speakers are Dennis Friess and Pablo Porten Cheé, who shift our attention to e-participation tools and platforms. They begin by noting that there is a democratic crisis which manifests itself in growing scepticism about representative policy-making. One response to this is a call for more opportunities for citizen participation, especially also through online platforms; but does such e-participation lead to more positive attitudes towards democratic processes?

Political Self-Interest as a Barrier to e-Government

The final speaker in this DHA 2012 session is Julie Freeman, whose interest is also in online political participation; her focus is on the City of Casey local government authority in Victoria, comprising a population of 256,000 citizens served by 11 councillors. How are online tools and platforms used in local government in this case?

Casey has its own council Website, of course, as well as a Twitter and Facebook presence (which is mainly used to disseminate media releases), the civic networking site Casey Connect (a council-provided platform for local clubs and associations to present themselves, at arms’ length from council) and the civic consultation facility Casey Conversations (a PhD project which offers discussion boards on key advocacy issues, without direct council involvement in the discussions).

Understanding Flows of Information and Power in Open Data

I’m chairing the next workshop at the Berlin Symposium, which features a paper by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Zarino Zappia. Zarino starts us off by highlighting the Obama administration’s statement that government should be transparent, participative, and collaborative – and a number of open data sites by governments and non-government have now been set up.

But where is the research into how this material has been used, by whom, why, and with what results? Will such re-routing of information flows bring about a democratic renaissance, or will we see the rise of intermediaries who wield new forms of power? To address some of these issues, Zarino and Viktor have begun to map the new field.

Towards Open Statecraft

The second keynote at the Berlin Symposium this morning is by Philipp Müller, who will argue for the idea of ‘open statecraft’ in a networked world. He suggests that our world has become ‘unfiltered’ through the move from mass to networked and social media; the appropriate description for this is not simply many-to-many or few-to-few media, but n-to-n media, where all sorts of power games in pursuit of communicative impact, visibility, and success take place.

There are also some cognitive lags here – we’re missing a framework that allows each of us to work in these worlds, much as we once learnt, slowly and with difficulty, to live in the industrialised and mass media worlds. Historical analogies are 1386 – where lances as a military technology were first used to undermine warfare based on mediaeval knights, and in the process undermined the knighthood system overall; 1518, when Martin Luther became the first blogger, using the new technology of the printing press, and a church door, to initiate some 150 years of governance crisis; and 1927, when Bertolt Brecht pursued ‘radio theory’ and considered the development of audience-driven backchannels to radio as well as theatre plays.

Further Critical Questions about Crowdsourcing

The second speaker in this (really productive) session on crowdsourcing at the Berlin Symposium is Malte Ziewitz, whose interest is in the application of crowd wisdom to regulatory problems. Crowdsourcing itself isn’t actually all that new – there have been questions about the wisdom or folly of crowds for a very long time already, and ‘the crowd’ has been positioned as a problem (the uninformed mob) as much as as a solution (drawing on folk knowledge and commonsense).

Current thinking on crowd wisdom comes variously from management science, computer science, and economics (painting crowdsourcing as an engineering challenge, focussing on generating ‘useful’ information, and worrying about bias, abuse, and manipulation) and from political science, sociology, and regulation studies (focussing on the solicitation of lay views, concerns over knowledge gaps and expertise in regulatory decision-making, and questions of technology and regulation). These combine into a view of crowd wisdom as a techno-scientific solution to regulatory problems – through terms like ‘wiki government’, ‘infotopia’, ‘peer production’, and ‘civic technologies’.

CeDEM Lightning Talks, Part 2

And here’s the second part of the five-minute lightning talks which conclude this CeDEM 2011 conference, which starts with Mark Thamm. He presents a case study of online debate about nuclear power which was facilitated and tracked by the WeGov group through established social networking platforms; this involves kicking off new discussion topics as well as tracking contributions to existing topics. WeGov staff also respond to existing posts from the general public to create further discussion. This process enables policymakers to engage with such debate through an intermediary service.

Next up is Andras Szabo, whose interest is in social news and bookmarking Websites like Reddit, Digg, and Newsvine. These sites generate compilations of news reports from professional media and other sources, levelling the playing field between mainstream and alternative news organisations; they create strong public places, and enable meaningful participation.

CeDEM Lightning Talks, Part 1

The final session at CeDEM 2011 is a series of five-minute lightning talks – so I’ll try to cover them all in two combined blog posts. Let’s see how we go…

The first speaker is Siobhan Donaghy, whose interest is in the transparency of electronic vote counting: after voting (using traditionally paper ballots and ballot boxes) has taken place, how are the results dealt with? Can technological solutions improve the counting process – and how can we keep the counting process transparent even though counting is no longer manual?

A Passionate Plea for More Open Data Initiatives

The final keynote speaker at CeDEM 2011 is Stefan Gehrke, whose focus is on open data. He notes that open data was a niche term at first, but turned more mainstream after President Obama launched the initiative – as a result, the increased availability of public sector information (PSI) initiated a change from from a permissions culture (where data access must be requested) to an innovations culture (where access is the default setting, and no permissions are necessary for the development of new services using these data).

PSI puts citizens into focus and highlights the importance of government-to-citizen interaction between elections. This increases the focus on citizens’ needs, and the potential at a local government level is especially high. But in spite of all of this, the digital civic rights movement has been faster than government in harnessing open data; they have developed projects showcasing the potential of open data, if not always with the support of government.

Models for Greater Citizen Involvement in Public Services

We’re now starting the final round of keynotes here at CeDEM 2011. The first presenter is Elke Löffler of Governance International, whose interest is in facilitating the greater involvement of citizens in decision-making – a move from big government to the big society. How far have we come to date? We’ve moved, at least in some countries or some regions, from law and order approaches in the 1980s through new public management models in the 1990s to collaborative governance initiatives in the early 2000s; the latter stages of this process are very unevenly distributed, however.

Even public servants pursuing these latter, more advanced models feel that they have not yet been implemented in any significant way; where new approaches are attempted, awareness of the also still remains quite low. On a scale from 0 to 100, EU citizens generally rate the level of user involvement in their countries at around 50, with the UK and Germany slightly more advanced than other countries – the glass is half full, at best.

Learning from e-Democracy Failures in Sweden

The second presentation in this session at CeDEM 2011 is by Elin Wihlborg, whose focus is on a specific case study of e-democracy practices in a Swedish municipality – focussing in this case on reasons for failure, which are just as important to investigate as obvious successes. We need to start, though, by considering the concept of ‘democracy’ in the first place, which is often glossed over – it’s about forming a demos through finding a common ethos and participating in an inclusive fashion, and about kratia: thinking through the exercising of power.

What happens when we add ‘e-’ to this concept, then? Again, we need to consider how ‘e-’ anything affects both the ‘demos’ and the ‘kratia’ element of the term ‘democracy’. This is about politics from the institutional all the way through the everyday level, then, and democracy from the national to the local level. Similarly, we need to challenge the idea of empowerment, of course – what constitutes empowerment, who is empowered, who extends an invitation to participate and ‘be empowered’ in the first place?


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