IFIP ePart 2010, Lausanne

The sub-catagories of the ePart 2010 (dedicated to topics on eParticipation and eDemocracy) were foundations, eParticipation initiatives, understanding & evaluation and ICT & eVoting. The conference was colocated with and held in parallel tracks to the EGOV 2010.

Keynote: Ann Macintosh (University of Leeds):  Argument Visualisation ‐ The Key to Unlocking Online Deliberation?

“The trouble with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings.” (Oscar Wilde)

Macintosh presentation focused on argument visualisation with reference to it’s possible value for policy making. Before combining these two research topics, she summarised the history and current state of research in the field of online deliberation by browsing through the main arguments of the following book titles which argue the need for deliberation:

  • Hay 2007: Why we hate politics
  • Stoker 2006: Why politics matter: Making demoracy work
  • Fishkin 1991: Democracy and deliberation
  • Dryzek 200: Deliberative democracy and beyond

Others then claimed a potential of the internet for enhancing deliberation, like Dahlgren 2005: The internet public sphere. Whilst this is not a new research area (see Dutton 1992: Political Science research on teledemocracy), with the more sophisticated technology of today we are moving from the traditional text-based to a new form of deliberation. And with people using the web 2.0 a much bigger audience is attracted. Macintosh argued that the linear form of information in debate fails to capture real life argument patterns and does not enable people to think of arguments. The capacity of technology has not been like we expected it in the 90ies. It’s potential to enhance democracy has not been realised yet. Why is that? The overall reason might be to many expectations: One one hand, we are expecting too much from governments and politicians (they need to give up power), on the other hand too much of the citizens (e.g. with reference to the digital divide). Not least we’re also expecting too much of technology.

Online deliberation presents large problem spaces. Coming up with an own opinion and to formulate an informal contribution is difficult, especially when taking into account the complexity of policy development. From the socio-technical perspective, the problems are the following:

  • making sense of unstructured text
  • knowing what critical questions to ask
  • ensuring inclusive deliberation.

This is where argument mapping comes into play – seen as a tool to make sense of unstructured text and visualising language. Argument visualisation provides an alternative way of representing text in online deliberation forms. The ODET 2010 workshop was dealing with online deliberation tools emerging from the labs. If you are interested in argument mapping it is worth browsing the posts tagged “argument mapping” on http://digitalcitizenship.co.uk where you’ll find a video covering some of the tools presented at the conference.

Session 1

Yannis Charalabidis: Towards a Systematic Exploitation of Web 2.0 and Simulation Modelling Tools in Public Policy Processes

The idea of the PADGETS concept is not to pull users into sites but to go where they already are, bringing together two well established domains; the mashup architectural approach of web 2.0 for creating web applications (gadgets) and the methodology of system dynamics in analyzing complex system behaviour. The objective is to develop and deploy a toolset that will allow policy makers to graphically create web applications that will be deployed in the environment of underlying knowledge in Web 2.0 media. To overcome the problem of politicans giving low feedback one could combine the tool with election times.

Pietro Speroni di Fenizio: Don’t Vote, Evolve!

This was basically a mathematical approach to the following question related to eVoting processes: Given an open question, how can we find an answer that has the most wide support? Whilst open questions are more related to consulatation (example for an open question: “What’s the meaning of life?”), closed questions are typical eVoting questions (e.g. “Does god exist?”). The presented concept aims at providing a final document representing the will of people through an unification of answers in order to find an agreement. In a system where users come up with answers to a question and vote for the answers this is done by a genetic algorithm of answers: one is only allowed to fairly throw away an answer from a mathematical point of view. Different answers compete, and to overcome the problem of the tyranny of the majority only answeres dominated by others are taken away. Applying the Pareto Front concept, the most dominant answer will always stay there and each person will find at least one of the answers he/she has voted for in the Pareto Front.

Todd Graham: The Use of Expressives in Online Political Talk: Impeding or Facilitating the Normative Goals of Deliberation?

Graham examined everyday informal political talk by examining speech talks and the role of expressive talks in online political talk of the Guardian. Expressives are notions like humour, emotional comments and acknowledgement. By applying content analysis and textual analysis he found that 43 % of the postings contained humour. 29 % expressions were emotions (e.g. anger) and 28 % acknowledgements. Especially rational humour plays a substantial role amongst the codes for extended debate. Graham propsees to go beyond the analysis of sheer text and not to neglect expressives when looking at the normative conditions of deliberation.

In the afternoon, I listened to the track focusing on the evaluation of eParticipation projects. VoicE and VoiceS were projects aiming for giving people a voice in EU legislation.

Sabrina Scherer: A Regional Model for E‐Participation in the EU: Evaluation and Lessons Learned from VoicE and VoiceS

The thematic scope of the project VoicE was on consumer protection. VoicE is a regional eParticipation model as an means to attract citizens for EU policies and to motivate them to participate. Evaluation followed the Model of Mcintosh and Whyte (2008). About 200 useres a day visited the website. However, there was low active participation and few reactions from politicians – the involvement of politicians could not be successfully implemented. Retrospectively one can also say that information how to influence the policy making process was not transparent enough for the useres. The regional approach was good in principle, but it is hard to realise a real impact on Brussels. Moreover, the target group was very homogeneous. VoiceS continues the project. Recommendations for VoiceS include that the topic of discussion and substantial media coverage are crucial. It is important to have a well-defined participation process. A more interactive platform aiming at a smaller target group is liketly to be more successful. A new feature of the successor project includes a game where citizens can take on the role of either a EU commissioner, a parliamentarian, a lobbyist or a minister. Participation sections are integrated in a news section as most of the visitors come to the platform via search engines when looking for information on the topic consumer protection.

Thank you for the organisers of EGOV 2010 and ePart 2010 for your efforts – keep up the good work!

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