Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary Memorandum on Electronic Democracy and Public Participation by Christine Bellamy, The Nottingham Trent University

  Public participation and electronic democracy are both large topics, and the discussion on 11 January has served to clarify the nature of the Committee's interests and concerns. Perhaps, then, I may be permitted to offer some supplementary comments.

  1.  The Committee may wish to give special consideration to the special properties of networked technologies, so far as political communication is concerned. As Dr Coleman's evidence illustrates well, ICTs can do more than offer faster, more direct ways of lobbying MPs and corresponding with governments. They could also permit interactive communication and discussion—between citizens themselves, as well as between citizens and their representatives.

  2.  These properties mean, for example, that ICTs could be used to support online deliberation. Appropriately conducted, online discussion groups can serve not only to encourage the expression, but also the aggregation, of opinion: they offer a means of organising opinion and developing understanding, by laying bare the main strands of political debate. They also have the advantage that, compared, say, with citizen juries or focus groups, they can be more lightly mediated, and more openly and freely constituted. Citizens can choose to participate, rather than being selected for participation.

  3.  Given the wide range of e-democracy applications listed in the Annex to my memorandum, and the patchiness of experience in operationalising them, the Committee might wish to recommend a programme of experimentation, based on the following features:

    —  incremental innovation with a variety of electronically-enabled participation techniques;

    —  systematic, independent evaluation of innovation, as it occurs;

    —  careful attention to the implications for Members' working practices and resources; and

    —  active consultation with the Data Protection Registrar and Central IT Unit, as appropriate, on issues such as data protection, the authentication of participants' identities and the protection of anonymity.

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