There’s a newish post over on e-democracyblog.com around the citizens’ perspective on engagement. I congratulated Richard a few months ago about his Tech Policy Scorecard, and I’m most impressed that he’s still managing to maintain it for the coalition government, and further that some of it is recorded as underway, if not already carried out!
The more recent post on there has pulled in ideas from seven, largely academic, papers published in the last few years, and follows an earlier one about the barriers existing to e-participation. I’ve no arguments with the papers presented but, in some cases, they are a few years old. So, to keep up the pressure I’m adding a few more up-to-date ones*, which would indicate little reduction on the barrier front! On this basis, five years have moved on, I suspect the change in culture will take a long time.
The first paper to be mentioned is by Kay Schlozman, Sidney Verba and Henry Brady entitled “The Weapon of the Strong? Participatory inequality and the Internet Revolution” presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association 67th Annual National Conference, The Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL, Apr 02, 2009 . 2010-11-11 http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p361714_index.html, which is also reproduced in Perspectives on Politics (2010), 8: 487-509 Copyright © American Political Science Association 2010, DOI: 10.1017/S1537592710001210 (About DOI) Published online: 17 Jun 2010. Their conclusion, sadly, is that the Internet has made no inroad into the existing inequalities around political participation.
The next is from Service Business (2010), doi:10.1007/s11628-009-0083-5 Key: citeulike:6216991, “Making e-government attractive” by: Michael Willoughby, Hermenegildo Gómez and M. Lozano, which having praised Birmingham City Council’s web site then points out that the UK doesn’t reach the international top 20 for participation, according to a 2008 UNPAN report. Importantly, they conclude that “it is one thing to provide channels of communication and spaces where the public voice can be heard and another to demonstrate that public opinion can truly sway the way public administration is run and what it offers all stakeholders, be they business or individuals.”
The third newish paper is “Is E-Government Leading to More Accountable and Transparent Local Governments? An Overall View” by Vicente Pinilla of the University of Zaragoza and Lourdes Torres and Sonia Royo published in Financial Accountability & Management, Vol. 26, Issue 1, pp. 3-20, February 2010. Their concluding two sentences are: “Technology is behaving as an enabler within pre-existing social and political structures but it does not entail substantial changes in the style of the government to citizen (G2C) relationship. So, it does not seem that ICT’s, through e-governance initiatives, are going to lead to a reshaping of governance in the public sector in the short term.” Rather than ‘entail’, I think they mean ‘result in’!
So that’s three pretty recent academic papers identifying little change. This will not be because of the technical issues but entirely the social, political and structure issues. If, as Baroness Thatcher decreed, there is no such thing as society, this is only because it and the surrounding structures are too complex for politics and politicians to deal with.
*[I realise that recent academic papers are frequently pay-to-view for those without access to a university library – there is a campaign for more open and faster access to academic research, but this will take as long as government culture changes, if not longer!]