OP@LL Conference (V): Online and Offline Participation

Notes from the OP@LL Conference: Online participation on the local level – a comparative perspective, organized by Düsseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy and held in Dússeldorf, Germany, on 13-15 December 2017. More notes on this event: opll.

Online and Offline Participation

Herbert Kubicek | University of Bremen (Germany)
How to combine online and offline forms of participation?

Abstract: Expectations have been high that offering online, i.e. electronic or “e‑“communication channels in public participation will improve its outreach and quality. However, so far there is no empirical evidence that confirm these hopes. Applying a variety of research methods thea European Cooperation Project e2democracy presents empirical findings on the advantages and disadvantages of online communication compared to face-to-face communication in six consultation processes and seven collaborative citizen panels. To control for contextual differences, one of the consultation processes has been set up paralleling online and face-to-face meetings. In this case organizers showed a preference for face-to-face meetings as regards the content of contributions and the style of discussion. For the citizen panels collaborating with local governments to achieve climate targets, impacts in terms of CO2e savings and dropout rates have been compared for parallel processes online and via telephone. These comparisons, however, do not deliver clear performance profiles of the communication channels or a generalizable assessment of their appropriateness for particular objectives. The factors influencing the choice of communication channels are complex and the analysis shows that assessments depend on the type of participation and the role of an actor in the process as well as on time frames and contexts in which the assessments are made. Showing that none of the channels offers clear advantages over the other, we conclude that practitioners are well advised to follow a multi-channel strategy and offer a media mix of online and traditional modes of participation.

ECRP project: comparative assessment of e-participation in the context of sustainable development and climate change.

When we evaluate offline vs. online participation, we have to look at outputs, outcomes and impacts.

To be able to do this, a quasi-experimental project was created so to be able to compare participation processes with the same subject and target audience online and offline.

A public consultation was initiated on SDP’s programme in the state parliament election campaign in Bremen.

People said that online takes less effort, but that the quality of deliberation is better offline and that local meetings create better community building. Regarding to content analysis and participation observation, we see that local meetings promote more reasoned arguments and that online forums are more biased towards expression of opinion.

No big differences between civility (trolling) or innovativeness (new ideas) between local meetings and online forums. Online consultation did not attract significantly more voters, but it did provide higher legitimation, as there was full approval of the programme on the assembly without a single dissenting vote for the first time.

When comparing the 7 cities of the project on CO2 savings, and how they compare in their results, there is no clear conclusion. There is no evidence for the assumed advantages of online participation. But there is no evidence either on why in some cases online seems to be better or even much better than offline. What seems clear is that the combination of offline and online participation seems to be, so far, the best bet.

Discussion

Paolo Spada: how did you communicate/invite the citizens to register to the online platform? Kubicek & Royo: there were several channels used to invite citizens to participate, offline, telephone and online.

Ismael Peña-López: how did you facilitate the deliberation? how was the platform designed for such deliberation? Or was only a simple online forum? Kubicek: there was no analysis on how facilitation was similar or different in offline and onine platforms.

Sonia Royo | University of Zaragoza (Spain)
How to Keep Citizens Engaged? Advantages and Disadvantages of Online and Offline Citizen Participation

Abstract: The objective is to help governments foster citizen participation. Therefore, it addresses the following issues: How can citizens be motivated to participate? What can be done to reduce abandonment rates? Are there any differences between offline and online participation regarding enrolment and abandonment? In order to answer these questions and provide policy recommendations, the authors rely on two case studies of Spanish cities allowing both online and offline participation.

Objectives: to determine why and when do citizens abandon citizen participation projects that require long-term collaboration between citizens and administration; and to ascertain whether differences exist between online and offline citizen participation projects (especially in enrolment and drop-out rates.

Internet facilitates weak ties and contributes to maintain strong ties. But is also true that network participants are more individualistic and shift their attention more quickly than offline.

An initiative to reduce one’s own CO2 emissions was deployed in Zaragoza and Pamplona (two Spanish cities). People enrolled online or offline. Online participants were younger and had much higher educational levels. People enrolled in the project and more of them said they would participate online. At the end, there were more people participating offline rather than online: there were much more dropouts online rather than offline.

In this case, the design of the participatory process was very simple and there does not seem to be a reason in differences of facilitation between the online and the offline versions.

Most of the people offline were retired people, and would not dropout because of time reasons; on the other hand, more than half of the online participants that had dropped-out stated that it was due to lack of time.

Most people will abandon in the very beginning of the initiative and will do that for the amount of time required to participate. There are other reasons for drop out, but they seem [personal opinion here] to be very related to the devotion of time: engaging in interaction, reading complementary resources, etc.

Discussion

Ismael Peña-López: it seems to me that the problem in dropping-out was not that people prefer offline to online, but the very different profile of he participants: elderly retired people offline, young working people online. When asked for the reasons for dropping out, more than 50% of the later stated that they had issues with the time they had to devote to the project; only 2% of the offline participants said it was because of time.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2017) “OP@LL Conference (V): Online and Offline Participation” In ICTlogy, #171, December 2017. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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