Future e-Democracy, London 2010

Future e-Democracy 2010, London snowed in! http://www.headstar-events.com/fdem10/

“Engagingly Different”

Steve Thompson, from the Institute of Digital Innovation(University of Teesside) initiates the conference with a keynote  on an alternative perspective on inclusion.

Involving people is more difficult than you expect as people will not just turn up. Engagement is a two-way street, and it needs to engage both the community and the decision makers. So, digital inclusion needs to consider on the one hand digital relevance, and on the other, promote digital enthusiasm.

Digital involvement can be encouraged with a pub quiz between two villages, a digital evening (with very few computers, more a social event), by using 2nd life for presenting community visions and ideas.

The community members express their identity through the use of IT, and this may not be in the way you want them to! People have an instinctive use of media, but not of the big, complex tools. So, they misappropriate media, for example when using a web-camera, itself very easy to use and respond to, as a head-cam.

The digital equipment itself is not so important, but engagement needs to involve people, support them to have relationships with each other and work together.

Steve Thompson’s keynote slides including multimedia can be found at: http://scr.bi/futuredem10

PEP-NET Plenary: The European Scene Hans Hagedorn (Citizens’ Fourm), Catherine Howe (Public-i)

Hans Hagedorn reviews the recent trends and models  e-participation presently popular in Germany. But these trends need to be considered in the context that people are fed up with the stream of new e-participation projects and the issue of how to reach large audiences.

In Germany, e-participation models presently preferred are:

1.  The fixmystreet model (a UK import), e.g. www.maerker.brandenburg.de and www.markaspot.de

2. Participatory budgeting, as found in Berlin-Lichtenberg, Hamburg and Cologne.

3. Citizens’ jury or deliberative opinion poll, for example the Bürgerforum 2008, 2009, 2010

Catherine Howe on the other hand, looks at another issue relevant to e-participation in Europe. Should the UK bother with European co-operation?

She considers the issue on the basis of the lessons learned from a number of EU funded projects, for example:

  • People like bringing in their single issues (campaigns) but not to  a council website; the council breaks peoples’ trust;
  • Need to embed accessibility practices into agile development;
  • Language and culture are a barriers
  • There is endless bureaucracy (consider the forms for EU funding!!)

But cooperation cannot and should not be avoided, as the network society has its own ways of working and culture and certainly does not respect nation states and their boundaries!

Plenary: Crowdsourcing by Government. A meaningful exercise? Catherine Howe (Public-i) and Gez Smith (Delib)

Crowdsourcing means opening up the agenda setting as wide as possible, promises to listen to the citizens, and is at present a very popular idea.

Catherine challenges the idea that crowdsourcing is always good: the crowd is reduced down to lowest common denominator, the government is slow and not good at the network society and crowdsourcing is not good at longitudinal effects as citizens respond more to present issues (e.g. the effects of today’s snow on London).

It is therefore false to assume that it will automatically lead to a good solution.

Gez on the otherhand, suggests that crowdsourcing can go well, as can be seen with the public consultations „Programme for government“, „Your Freedom“, and „Spending Challenge“, but  can go wrong too. For crowdsourcing to fulfil its promise, the technology has to work. But it is also important to know how to set the questions, how to handle and make sense of the data that comes in. Crowdsourcing should not be understood as deliberation itselef, rather, it is part of deliberation and is still a better option having government decide for us.

A government will need to consider certain issues if it wants to employ crowdsourcing:

  • It is important to then follow through the whole effort, and this includes responding to the citizens. Citizens need a good experience, or they won’t come back.
  • Need to consider how we understand crowdsourcing (there are different ways of conceptualising it!).
  • Moderation: government moderation is often equated with censorship.
  • Facilitation may be better than moderation.
  • Look for the effect in long-term rather than short-term: the internet is fast, and the government is slow!

Workshop: Large Online Deliberation Paul Johnston (Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group), Hans Hagedorn (Citizens’ Forum), Anna Wohlfarth (Bertelsmann Stiftung)

Paul Johnston formulates a problem: Policymaking process is difficult and complicated: and e-democracy can make the policy-making process even more complicated. So how can policy-maker and e-democracy work together to bring out best solutions?

Hans Hagedorn and Anna Wohlfarth propose a solution – the Bürgerforum 2011, based on small-scale experiences gained in 2008 and 2009. Here, social issues were discussed with 10,000 citizens and 100 moderators from 25 regions. The Bürgerforums are supported by a federal presidency and a large-scale media campaign, and include face-to-face events. They use a world-café method to stepwise condense a broad idea into 6 proposals which are then presented to the federal president, who is requested to respond to them.

Workshop: Apps for Democracy: the future is mobile Richard Sarson (Journalist), Jonathan Simmons (Public Zone), Iris Lapinski (CDI Europe)

Politicians talk to their constituents more and louder. There are a number of projects to support such political activities, such as:

MyMP: where citizens talk to their MP while on the move, as they notice issues that are important to them.

and

Apps for Good:  based on educating people, real-life problems, technology, with the aim is to get young people to learn to create apps that change their world

Closing Plenary: Question Time Andy Williamson (Hansard Society), Chi Onwurah MP, Julian Huppert MP, Sue Inglish (BBC News), Sam Coates (Conservative Party)

Will the use of IT in politics increase?

There seems to be consensus that the use of IT in politics will increase, but that the extent of the increase will depend on whether IT is interesting for the constituents. There are also forces that make MPs take an interest in IT, but at the same time, there is little “pocket advice” for MPs how deal with IT – at the moment they feel a bit lost and don’t know how to deal with it!

Looking at makeitpolicy.org.uk shows that there are a lot of people using IT in some constituencies, and both the regulations as well as MPs too have changed in their attitudes and use of IT. At the same time, the e-petitions service to Downing Street e-petitions has been shut down. Although historically petitions were important at a time when people couldn’t vote – today, they do not  always offer an ideal solution (people will sign opposite petitions).  The removal of e-petitions service should not really pose a problem as the UK does not have a digital citizenry (75% people are online, but that does not imply that they are digital citizens). In future, e-petitions may become more important. Furthermore, IT can cause other problems, as can be seen with the mismatch between UK parliamentary IT services and the MPs’ needs.

Social media and IT has also had an impact on other institutions, such as the BBC:

  • It has improved the BC as it now has more tools and options;
  • The BBC’s output is able to reach more users, both in the UK and other countries;
  • The output is linked more with other BBC programmes, material, journalists and editors;
  • There is now an inverse relationship between what citizens find interesting and what journalists think is interesting;
  • Even though the 2010 UK election was pronounced a media  election, people still watched the traditional BBC political format.

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