Social planning and decision-making processes are becoming increasingly complex. Different interests, values and states of knowledge must be taken into account. For this reason, it is all the more important that citizens are involved more strongly in political decisions. e-democracy refers to a variety of ways of assisting democratic processes using information and communication technologies.
The many ways in which we communicate today allow us not only to provide information but also to create new communication channels and even participate in political decisions. These three stages – information, communication and cooperation – are the basic framework for e-consultation, e-petitions, e-parliament and e-voting, relatively new terms that have now become common. But how can the democratic decision-making process as a whole be strengthened by electronic forms of political participation?
E-participation and Open Government
E-participation involves citizens being active in political decisions. In order for this to work the necessary information must be accessible without restriction and the political process must be transparent. Recent developments such as open government address the problem and require policymakers and the administration to be more open. Public data and information are handled differently. The data collections held by the public sector is public property and should be made freely available to the public. This could not only lead to innovative services with more value for society, such as information services for public transport. It would also give us more ways to use e-participation.
However, how does the concept of e-democracy influence politics and the administration? There is no doubt that electronically assisted forms of participation provide new ways of being politically involved, of forming our opinion and making decisions in the network of relationships between the citizens and the state. In this way politics may not only become more transparent, but the voices of citizens may influence more directly political decision-making, for instance through electronic consultation or petitioning.
A number of ITA projects are investigating how electronically assisted forms of public participation influence the political and public discourse:
ie: The e2demoracy project examines the effects of e-participation on regional climate protection policies. Over a period of two years, energy consumption data from test households in Germany, Austria and Spain are being used to prepare climate impact statements using an online CO2 calculator. The aim is to determine whether the new forms of participation encourage citizens to become more aware of the need for increased climate protection and local environmental policies and whether this results in a more climate friendly behaviour.
Selected projects related to E-democracy
As part of the European Network of Excellence Demo-net, the ITA conducted research on the topic of e-participation
Citizens in Austria, Germany and Spain participate in local climate protection measures to lower CO2 emissions
E-Democracy in Europe (eDem_EU)
Prospects of internet-based political participation (STOA)