The delusion of e-democracy

January 26, 2011

An addition to that recent string of papers on public engagement should be one by Ismael Pena-Lopez of the Open University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. Ismael has been blogging for some years and on his site ICTOLOGY he presents for public consumption a variety of works including a recent one entitled ‘Goverati: E-aristocrats or the delusion of e-democracy‘.

I reported on Ismael’s presentation to a conference in May 2010, where he used the term ‘goverati’, we now have a complete paper outlining his thoughts. Whilst listing both the benefits and barriers involved in e-democracy Ismael still concludes as a majority of the other papers have done that it is not the ‘e-‘ thing that needs addressing but the ‘democracy’, since those traditionally excluded are not increasingly included within e-democracy. The ‘goverati’ are the same entrenched minority with the skills or allies to enable them to move from the traditional domains of influence to that on the Internet.

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To the e-barricades!

May 25, 2010

Dan Jellinek of E-government Bulletin fame has reported on the recent EDEM10 conference. Two presentations are picked up on in particular. The first is that by Dr Andy Williamson of the Hansard Society who described how the e-democracy sector had failed. The reason behind this, he believes, is that only 4% of the UK population are actively involved in politics or community work and that more needs to be done to get the claimed interest (far more claim to be interested) into action. He does recognize that moving towards a more deliberative system (surely the intended outcome of e-democracy) will be as a result of evolution and will require changes to the system of government.

The other presentation reported by Dan is from Ismael Pena-Lopez, of Catalonia, who examined the digital divide and saw the rise of a “goverati”, who had the skills to access the electronic information around governance. Ismael is not the first to raise the issue of a potential elite forming, elsewhere in the literature there have been fears that those employing the e-channels for political ends and those with existing interest and access to politics, whilst not perhaps doing it deliberately, are developing a niche of their own.

In my own research I’ve borrowed the terminology of philosophy, Immanuel Kant in particular, describing these situations as the antinomies of modern government. E-government has been brought in, full of promises of improving access to government, as well as services it delivers. However, being in a representative democracy the shift to any level of participation, as required by the tenets of e-democracy may take some time, as those in power may not wish to relinquish power quite so easily…or have the ability to release it.