This month’s article is brought to you by the letter ‘E’ and ‘D’ —‘E’ for ‘electronic’, ‘D’ for ‘democracy’.
Taken apart, they each constitute a vast body of meanings. Google them and you’ll get 471,000,000 hits for ‘electronic’ and 67,800,000 for ‘democracy’. Taken together, these words take on a new meaning that definitely outweighs the sum of their parts.
E-democracy thrives in a framework that acknowledges the Internet and other forms of digital technology as political media; each one possessing the radical potential to drive democratic processes and be transformed in return.
The word ‘democracy’ is derived from the Greek word ‘demos’ (people) and ‘kratos’ (rule / strength). There are many detailed definitions and forms of democracy, but in general it’s founded on the principles that:
- All citizens enjoy universally recognised equal freedoms and liberties.
- All citizens have equal access to political, social, cultural and economic power and decision-making.
Decision-making is a collective endeavour and requires direct involvement by “…all residents of a particular geographical area and of a viable population size beyond a certain age of maturity (to be defined by the citizen body itself) and irrespective of gender, race, ethnic or cultural identity. (Wikipedia, 2009)
Put democratic intent into the realm of the electronic and you’ll get a new way of looking at the ABCs of data: Accessibility (who gets access to data), Bureaucracy (who and what structures control the production and distribution of data), and Consciousness (what kind of information is being disseminated). This framework impacts the whole question of how information can be harnessed and put to use in the digital era, specifically with the onset of Web 2.0.
Web 2.0 meets Gov 2.0
In general, E-democracy as a paradigm focuses on creating more democratic communities by enhancing democratic processes and values (e.g. participation, accountability, transparency) through information and communication technologies and strategies. What makes the notion of E-democracy more interesting these days is the framework where it’s taking place: Web 2.0.
Wikipedia defines the term “Web 2.0” as “…a perceived second generation of web development and design, that aims to facilitate communication, secure information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration on the World Wide Web. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the development and evolution of web-based communities, hosted services, and applications; such as social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies.”
‘Gov 2.0’ is a take on Web 2.0 in the sense that principles of good governance such as transparency, accountability, grassroots empowerment and communication converge with similar values emanating from Web 2.0 technologies. ‘Gov 2.0’ aims to capitalize on the momentum for change and broad engagement, wherein the democratization of data brought about by Web 2.0 technologies have played a significant role. It’s a platform where technologists can rise to the call of public service and where different stakeholders in government and civil society — policy-makers, elected officials, upper management in city, state, and federal agencies, private-sector internet business and cultural leaders, and the citizens — can establish a common agenda for the pursuit of good governance and stronger democracies.
This is how I see it: in order to govern – and to govern democratically – one needs to ensure that citizens have the means to raise their voice and be heard; provide venues to gather and organise; stimulate and safeguard processes for discussion, collective decision-making and action.
The digital realm is currently widely used by citizens to interface with government. Government uses websites, portals, e-services and the like to disseminate information. But just providing information is not enough. Steven Clift, Founder and Board Chair of E-democracy.org, asks: where is ‘democracy’ in these interfaces?
By the same token, interactive media proponents like those in our profession should explore how democracy can be designed so “that it survives and thrives online”. We should identify “…the incremental contributions the Internet” and other digital technology can make when democratic principles are applied to it. Clift posits: how do we “…make those tools, features, practices, and rights universally accessible to all people in all cities, states, and countries?”
-end part 1-