Inclusive online community engagement

May 20, 2012

Whilst I am frequently dismissive of those who claim a major role for social media in participatory politics, I am not unaware that it has uses and that these uses may increase particularly with younger generations. So I must give thanks to Steven Clift for bringing to my attention their 60 page evaluation report on inclusive online community engagement in lower income, highly diverse, high immigrant neighborhoods. The  Inclusive Social Media pilot project was funded by the Ford Foundation. The report is available on the e-democracy.org website.

A great deal of effort has clearly been employed in these areas of St Paul, MN, USA and the preparatory analysis of the make-up of those communities is really interesting, along with the groundwork to involve people in the electronic forums but as it states on page 54 – “the sparse participation of local elected officials on forums can feel like stonewalling to forum participants, one of whom said, “It takes a lot of discussions going for government officials to respond.” A Frogtown community member felt strongly about accountability, saying, “I think the elected officials – the decision-makers – need to be online to answer questions to make the forum a more effective online engagement [tool]. Ideally, you’d want to have full participation [across all groups].”

An interesting read and a telling story of trying to develop local e-democracy in the USA.


Digital participation in Scotland

January 11, 2012

My thanks go to James Gilmour for informing the various e-democracy groups of the release of two reports recording “Digital Participation in Scotland”. There is the “A Review of the Evidence” (39 pages) and the lesser read of “A Review of the Evidence – Research Findings” (4 pages).

A key conclusion of the report is that “internet non-use is not related to infrastructure or to having the right “materials” as the majority of non-users are yet to pass the first barrier of recognising the benefits and need for the internet. The review concludes that actions should be focusing attention on “older people, those of low incomes, those who are not working and those with low levels of educational qualification”. This may provide some further guidance to those working with Race Online 2012 to increase the education around the benefits of being online. It also states that “The Carnegie UK Trust is proposing to carry out research in 2012 to explore in greater depth the reasons why some people may not take up digital technology; and highlight effective interventions which have been successful in encouraging and supporting more people to get online”, which may further assist the educational work.

Whilst this is not a reason to stop developing online government services, it does mean that multiple channels will have to continue until mediated provision (which has its own cost) or 100% shift is enabled by increased participation.

The reports produced a very healthy debate on UKIE-EDem and DW-X,not just in the UK and Scotland but across the world, which I hope to summarise in due course since there were some very interesting points made by the people who know!


The dilemma of social media

September 14, 2010

Having debated the pro’s and con’s of social media in government before on this blog, I was pleased to discover, courtesy of Lisa Nelson (GSA New Media Manager) through e-democracy.org,  a new Canadian report entitled “Social Media and Public Sector Policy Dilemmas” by Toby Fyfe and Paul Crookall. The 52 page 2.5 Mb PDF is a very useful addition to the debate, despite being rather too celebratory of the limited success (IMHO) in the UK since it does come up with some conclusions and next steps that are well worth considering.

In the same mail Lisa also publicises a UK report from the Development Research Centre called “Citizenship, Participation and Accountability – So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement” by John Gaventa and Gregory Barrett, which comes in at a healthy 60 pages but only 0.5 Mb.

In parallel, these papers are positive about citizen participation (using whatever media) but recognize such caveats that communications from several thousand citizens do not necessarily mean whole-hearted support but might indicate the presence of a strong lobby group, a not-unknown occurrence in politics. There is, therefore, when employing citzen participation  a need to be clear about the risks and examine the qualitative data, along with the quantitative. One of the arguments for participative democracy being that the politicians carry out the checks and balances and so are less susceptible to the presence of lobbies – if only we could trust that to be the case.