e-participation is the term referring to "ICT-supported participation in processes involved in government and governance". Processes may concern administration, service delivery, decision making and policy making. E-participation is hence closely related to e-government and e-governance participation. The need for the term has emerged as citizen interests have received less attention than those of the service providers in e-government development. It also emerged as the need to distinguish between the roles of citizen and customer has become more pressing.
A more detailed definition sees e-participation as "the use of information and communication technologies to broaden and deepen political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their elected representatives". This definition includes all stakeholders in democratic decision-making processes and not only citizen related top-down government initiatives. So e-participation can be seen as part of e-democracy, the use of ICT by governments in general used by elected officials, media, political parties and interest groups, civil society organizations, international governmental organizations, or citizens/voters within any of the political processes of states/regions, nations, and local and global communities.
The complexity of e-participation processes results from the large number of different participation areas, involved stakeholders, levels of engagement, and stages in policy making. Fraser 2006, p. chapter 2.
The term "e-participation" originated in the early 2000s and draws generally on three developments.
- Developments in e-democracy since the late 1990s, where interest rapidly evolved from e-voting to several forms of ICT-supported and -enabled interaction between governments and citizens, including not only direct ones but also ones pursued outside of government itself, including electioneering, campaigning, and community informatics. To a large extent, the institutional framework conditions of the chosen democratic model define at which part of the democratic processes participation is permitted such as direct or representative democracy, or any intermediate forms.
- The general development in CSCW Computer Supported Cooperative Work and groupware directed towards collaborative environments to support human ICT-mediated interaction, both work-related and social.
- The development in e-government towards increasingly complex service-delivery. Complex services require considerable interaction including searching, selecting options based on multiple criteria, calculating outcomes, notifications, inquiries, complaints, and many other activities. There are several ICT tools for such tasks, ranging from FAQs to call centres, but there is a need to coordinate all these into user-friendly but powerful toolsets for client-organization encounters. Because interaction in such contexts is complex, and because goals have to be reached, the arenas where it takes places become social arenas for ICT-supported participation.
2. On the definition
The term participation means taking part in joint activities for the purpose of reaching a common goal. This encompasses both trivial situations in which participation mainly has a technical meaning, ”doing things together”. For example, a football team needs 11 players, and dancing often requires two or more people acting in a coordinated manner. But participation, even in trivial situations, also has a goal-oriented aspect which means decision making and control are involved. Participation in political science and theory of management refers to direct public participation in political, economical or management decisions. The two are not completely separated but belong on a spectrum of complexity and context. When participation becomes complicated, decision making becomes necessary. Hence, any participatory process is potentially important for the rule system governing the activities. In terms of points 2 and 3 above, this means that when service processes become complex, the implementation of them will not be in all details based on political decisions but also on what is found to be practical.
Instead of taking in and accepting knowledge as is disseminated by the media and government, by participating, one becomes an active citizen and further contributes to a democratic society. When such practical doings become implemented in government eservice systems, they will affect decision making, as many changes will later be hard to make simply because existing procedures are implemented in ICT systems and government agencies’ procedures. There are many theories dealing with institutionalization, for example structuration theory, institutional theory, and actor-network theory. These theories all, in different ways, deal with how "ways of doing things" become established or rejected, and how those that become established increasingly affect the ways we "normally" do things.
3. Models and tools
A number of tools and models have emerged as part of Web 2.0 that can be used or inspire the design of architecture for e-participation. In particular, "the emergence of online communities oriented toward the creation of useful products suggests that it may be possible to design socially mediating technology that support public-government collaborations" Kriplean et al.
3.1. Models and tools Mechanisms
- Reputation systems
- Transparency tools social translucence mechanisms
- Electronic voting
- Internet petitions
3.2. Models and tools Tracking and analysis
- Data visualization
- Data mining
- Simulations such as agent-based social simulation
- Digital traces
4.1. European eParticipation actions European eParticipation Preparatory Action
eParticipation is the Preparatory Action lasts for three years 2006–2008. The EU is taking the lead in using online tools to improve the legislative process for its citizens. eParticipation which launched on January 1, 2007 will run as a series of linked projects which each contribute to a greater awareness and involvement by citizens in the legislation process from initial drafting to implementation at a regional and local level.
The individual projects will concentrate on ensuring that the legislative language and process is more transparent, understandable and accessible to citizens. In addition the projects emphasis on the communication of legislation will be used to enhance and grow citizens involvement and contribution in the process of creating and implementing the legislation.
So far, 21 projects have been funded. The European Parliament, national parliaments and local and regional authorities are actively involved. State-of-the-art ICT tools are being tested to facilitate the writing of legal texts, including translation into different languages, and the drafting of amendments as well as making the texts easier for non-specialists to find and understand. New digital technologies are also being used to give citizens easier access to information and more opportunity to influence decisions that affect their lives. A report Charalabidis, Koussouris & Kipenis 2009, which was published as a MOMENTUM white paper, highlights the major facts and figures of those projects while providing some initial policy recommendations for future use.
4.2. European eParticipation actions European eParticipation Actions
The European Commission has now launched a number of actions aiming at further advancing the work of supporting eParticipation.
- FP7: ICT Challenge 7: Objective ICT-2009.7.3 ICT for Governance and Policy Modelling. The European Commission has launched some call in this area to finance researches. Currently the Integrated Program Future Policy Modelling FUPOL is the largest project in this domain. FUPOL
- CIP ICT Policy Support Programme or ICT PSP. The European project has open a call in the programme CIP Competitiveness and Innovation Framework on the Theme 3: ICT for government and governance