Every democracy is working towards employing ICT to shift to e-democracy, that is attempting to transition from physical to digital entity. In the process to become a digital entity, it is imperative for governments to address the key challenges of global digital divide, public sector reforms , civic engagement and online activism. There is no democracy without public participation for public interest.
E-participation enables citizens to enter into decision making process that shape their future. E-Participation is generally defined as an area of application of ICT where citizens are enabled for engagement in the process of policy-making through deliberation and active decision making initiatives. The technology and government procedure enables citizens to connect with one another and with the elected representatives thereby meeting the need of both citizen and government. Through e-Participation, citizens and other concerned entities (civil society, international governmental organization, media, political parties et al.) may provide feedback on government processes that may concern administration, service delivery, decision making and policy making.
“The demand for more participatory, more inclusive ways of making political decisions will continue to grow, and the technology that finds new, cheaper, and more convenient ways of doing it will get better and better.”
The two way communication requires information to be deliberated and discussed, and mode of communication to be heard. An important aspect of e-participation is to motivate, engage and keep citizens involved in order to achieve strong public participation in the decision making process, promoting more efficient society and government support.
The use of ICTs in the democratic decision making processes have the following main advantages:
- Enable broad participation
- Range of tools that provide citizens with diverse technical and communication abilities
- Provide relevant information to citizens for them to make informed decision.
- Enable effective analysis of unstructured information provided by citizens
- Enhances deep contribution and support deliberation
There are 3 levels to e-participation:
- E-enabling wherein government provides necessary support to all with internet/ no-internet to access information and understand it. It is same as e-informing.
- E-engaging wherein government provides mechanisms to support contribution, consulting and deliberation from a wide audience.
- E-empowerment is concerned with citizen’s active participation and influence on policy formulation. It also involves e-involving and e-collaborating. The service in this case becomes G2C, C2G and C2C.
The general tools employed for encouraging e-participation are largely enabled through web 2.0 features such as Wikis, blogs, social networking. These platforms often employ mechanisms for electronic voting, reputation system, internet petitions and transparency tools. The data so generated is analysed through data mining, visualization techniques, and simulations.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) developed a self assessment questionnaire in response to an emerging need to measure e-participation. The tool is termed as METEP (Measurement and Evaluation Tool for Citizen Engagement and e-Participation). The tool aims at assessing the e-participation success politically (Bloc A), socially (Bloc B) and technically (Bloc C)