Notes from the EDem10 — 4th International Conference on eDemocracy 2010, at the Danube-University Krems, and held in Krems, Austria, on May 6th and 7th, 2010. More notes on this event: edem10.
Disruption and Empowerment: Embedding Citizens at the Heart of Democracy
Andy Williamson, Director of Digital Democracy, Hansard Society
- Where have we failed?
- What are the challenges?
It’s not about technology, but about people…
We have historically been shifting from community societies to individualist societies, from citizens to consumers. We are treated as consumers of “democratic services”, a consumer of democracy. And we are not: we are citizens.
People have gotten used not to do anything, not to get up and demonstrate their thoughts: 4% of British citizens are involved in some participation activity; 5% want active involvement; 24% want more of a say; % just want information; 16% don’t care. The ones that want active involvement are the primary goal, while the 24% that “want more of a say” do not want to talk about “politics” or “e-government” but about schools or public transportation: we have to address them in their own language/interests.
In the last 10 years we have been unable to create a momentum of participation. We got some true successes, but we failed in creating a social change. The reason is that we did not bridge the adoption gap of most (e-)participation initiatives.
Privileging individuals over the collective reduces opportunities for citizens to be engaged, debate and modify their believes. When we look at individuals as individuals we lose social capital, the relationships.
How can we reassert and independent public sphere when it remains colonised by powerful corporate interests, media outlets and technocratic agencies?. You really need higher levels of information literacy and lots of time to find out the truth amongst all the diverging discourses. And we are colonized by technocratic agendas.
Citizens do not trust governments, but governments/politicians trust even less citizens. Consulting the citizens is costly and expensive, and it takes a lot of time and you (governments) do not know where you’ll end up. A participative democracy is a healthy democracy.
Some NGOs have bought into the technocratic arguments of government. We have created an intermediate layer of civil society representatives that actually do not represent the civil society and were never elected to. If NGOs were there to fill the void of participation and engagement, the Internet changes the whole landscape.
Several access stages to be able to participate:
- Mental access
- Material access
- Skills access
- Usage access
- Civil access
- Democratic access
But the Internet itself won’t motivate me, but a wish. The Internet is not a motivation tool, but it certainly is a barrier/enabler.
And there is a huge gap between governments and online engagement, and technology. We need a brand new bunch of people to facilitate online engagement. We need a disruption in the system. We need to find people of both sides (i.e. governments and citizenry) to build it together. Governments need to understant citizen participation, and citizens have to understand the democracy cycle.
Two examples: NHS Website vs. Patient opinion, the first one does not work, the second one does.
Q: we are operating in a representative system and most e-democracy claims for a deliberative or even a direct democracy. How do we make this shift? A: There is a vested interest in keeping the actual system. It would be a more realistic approach to just aim for people to participate a little bit more. It’s not a revolution: it’s an evolution.
Q: People asking for more democracy and more participation are failing at educating people on what democracy is, represents and how does it work. A: We should certainly talk more about democracy than about the “e-“.
Other reactions on this session
EDEm10 - 4th International Conference on eDemocracy (2010)
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2010) “EDem10: Andy Williamson. Disruption and Empowerment: Embedding Citizens at the Heart of Democracy” In ICTlogy,
#80, May 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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