Emerging civic online participation practices: the twinning of open government and civic society.

TitleEmerging civic online participation practices: the twinning of open government and civic society.
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Maier-Rabler, U., and S. Huber
Affiliation (1st Author)ICT&S Center, University of Salzburg
Section or WGCommunication Policy and Technology
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeCPTT1b
Slot Code (Keyword)CPTT1b
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleOpen Data and EGovernment
Submission ID6617

This paper draws attention to the relation of government-driven initiatives for enhancing democratic participation and civic online participation movements. It aims at contributing a framework that helps to conceptualize and structure the rising number of online applications and collaborative patterns in the field of participatory democracy, facilitated and shaped by the means of ICTs. Here, Open Government (OG) initiatives and Civic Online Participation (COP) practices are understood as two sides of the same coin, both striving for the use of ICTs in the field of democratic participation. Most academic work in the field of eParticipation focuses on the dichotomy of top-down eGoverment/eDemocracy initiatives versus bottom-up eParticipation initiatives (e.g. “invited spaces versus invented spaces”, see Cornwall, 2009). This paper takes a different approach by looking at the mutual enhancement of recent developments on both sides. It attempts to identify a merging of invited spaces (e.g. Public Access policies to Public Sector Information (PSI)) and the invented spaces of civic online participation practices. OG initiatives set by a public administration that aims at more transparency and accountability as well as at citizens’ increased commitment to active participation and political empowerment, are typically designed in a strategic manner and carried out within an institutional setting. COP in the other hand typically takes place in a very different environment. Its form of appearance is usually the one of practices that unfolds within a network of civic actors. Such COP practices emerge and dissolve with the perceived need for action felt by involved individuals. Starting point of the argumentation is the widespread dissatisfaction with modern day representative democracy, exemplified by Crouches critique of it termed post-democracy (2008). We than briefly refer to future governance scenarios (e.g. IPTS, 2010), which we believe may only turn into reality if the two sides of the coin (i.e. OG and COP) manage to merge. Based on these assumptions and conceptually backed by long-waves-theories (e.g. Kondratieff, Schumpeter, Perez), we identify open access to Public Sector Information (PSI) in form of Open Government Data (OGD) as a possible driving force that may function as a bridge between today’s OG strategies and COP practices, depending on and/or shaped by the conditions of the dominating political and democratic systems, structures, and cultures. Such a societally embedded conceptualization of OGD as a driving force in this merging process is particularly interesting in the light of the currently ongoing development of a myriad of OGD-based online applications. Even if the large majority of them will not cause any positive or negative effect in the context of participatory democracy, some of them are already effective in the establishment of collaborative patterns emerging among its users. The paper provides examples for such collaborative patterns powered by applications based on recent OGD-releases and looks into the socio-technical settings of those successful examples. Civic online participation in (local) political and societal affairs carries a distinctive participative value situated on a scale between deliberation (i.e. low participative value) and acitive collaboration (i.e. high participative value) (cf. Noveck, 2010). Whereas, according to Noveck, mere deliberation predominantly serves the goal of self-expression, collaboration serves the goal of real participation, which is characterized by co-design and co-decision. In liberal-representative media-democracies (Jarren, 1998) informing citizens via mass media from top down is the general practice, while citizens’ participation in decision-making is not only eyed with suspicion, but mostly hampered and misused if practiced. While mere information is the bottom of the participation pyramid and a precondition for real participation, it is only connected to the election process, in order to allow citizens to take informed decisions. The latter, citizen’s real participation in the decision-making process, is sometimes regarded as a peril to the principle of representativeness. Citizen participation in agenda-setting, policy-making and problem-solving is though different from active participation in legally-binding decision-making. When citizens commit themselves to civic online participation, they collaborate in order to put a topic on the political agenda, frame a policy, or solve a perceived problem. This emerging (in the conext of new social media) form of civic online participation hardly strives for legally binding decisions bypassing political representatives. It therefore stretches from the beginning of a decision-making process until after its implementation but leaves legally binding decisions to democratically legitimated representatives. The long-term commitment that such a participative political process demands both from the citizenry and from the public administration requires the formation of collaborative networks transcending the borders between invited and invented spaces. This process demands the existence or establishment of a participatory culture within public administration which is connected to the dominating political culture and social practices. We observe, that current open government initiatives push in this direction, “inviting” citizens for collaboration. On the other side of the coin - concerning Civic Online Participation practices - the development of the necessary participatory culture demands civic networks. Unlike the development of open government initiatives, the development of networks of civic online participation does not follow any set timetable or benchmark. Its emergence is scattered and depends on various factors. Among those factors figure the organizational power of the civil society, the level of widespread Internet literacy, and the presence of concrete cases that trigger the commitment of a critical mass of participants (especially among the young). For the time being, the study of factors/conditions pushing or hampering the formation of networks of civic online participation, which transcend the separation between top-down or bottom-up and merge – at least in a limited way – invited and invented spaces, remains an urgent duty within social sciences. This paper is a contribution to the conceptual framing of a multi-dimensional process of (democratic) innovation at the crossroads of open government strategies and civic online participation practices. The conceptualization of open government data and the dimension of trust inherent in public sector information in the context of social media and emerging networks for participation form the theoretical basis of this paper.

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