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International Cooperation

Public Participation Guide: Electronic Democracy

Electronic democracy describes a wide range of interactive tools that embrace existing and emergent media sources as a forum for allowing members of the public to express opinions and seek to influence decision-making within their community, state, country, or globally. Electronic democracy can be achieved through older technology, such as television and radio, and newer technologies, such at the internet, cell phones, and electronic polling systems. These newer technologies are widely used participatory tools. Massive numbers of stakeholders can access information and provide direct input through the internet. Large groups can also provide real-time input at public meetings through electronic polling devices (see computer-assisted processes).
 

Advantages

  • Aims to engage more members of the public in expressing their opinions on a website, via email, or through other electronic communications options, in order to influence planning and decision-making
  • Increases the number and variety of people who exercise their democratic rights through comments sent to decision-making bodies with regard to proposals and issues
  • Creates a virtual public space where people can interact, discuss issues and share ideas
  • Allows citizens to participate at their own convenience
  • Can reach very large audiences with relative ease and little cost
  • Facilitates interactive communication
  • Disseminates large amounts of information effectively and without distortion

Challenges to Consider

  • Can exclude participation by those not online
  • Results can be manipulated therefore results of on-line polls should be carefully considered
  • Enormous amounts of input will require significant time and effort to synthesize and make sense of the input
  • People can become disillusioned if the project is “over-hyped;” keep expectations realistic
  • Encourage electronic conferencing among participants in an interactive forum to help the project moves beyond mere broadcasting to build an on-line, participatory open space
  • Avoid list servers that automatically reply to all; email lists with many active subscribers generate so much information that they drive people away

Principles for Successful Planning

  • Establish a detailed website providing information about the project and links to other sites that may provide background information to help to ensure that input is informed
  • Keep your site well organized and up to date
  • Use standard HTML formatting to make the site as inclusive as possible
  • Provide details of subscribe/unsubscribe procedures
  • Set up your own on-line dialogue through your website.
  • Counting the number of people who visit the site can provide useful data for authorities who need to know how many people are concerned and what kinds of issues are of concern to the community
  • Investigate whether government news groups offer newsgroup space for local electronic democracy projects; newsgroups provide the core of information exchange and global topical discussions
  • Don’t forget to let the traditional media know about your e-democracy project, an article in the news (radio, television or print) will let people know of your project and its address

Resources Needed

Staffing

  • IT staff
  • Materials

Online service providers

  • Computers and programs to build, update, and receive input

Planning Time

  • Can take many months to design, program, and initiate.

Implementation Time

  • Websites should be maintained throughout the life of the project.
  • Input periods should be clearly defined and well advertised.

Group Size

  • Unlimited

Cost

  • Relatively low cost for the range of input achieved.

Most relevant participation levels:

  • Can be used at all levels on the IAP2 spectrum.

Explore the full Public Participation Guide.


Contacts

For additional information on EPA's Public Participation Guide, contact:
Shereen Kandil
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2650R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
E-mail: kandil.shereen@epa.gov