OP@LL Conference (IV): Actors in the Field of Online 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.

Actors in the Field of Online Participation

Mary K. Feeney | Arizona State University (USA)
What does e-participation mean for managers in small to medium sized cities? US trends and research challenges

Abstract: Since 2000, our team at the Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Studies at ASU has been collecting data on 500 small and medium sized U.S. cities to understand the adoption and management of technology in local government. Drawing from four surveys (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016), website content data (2010 & 2014), and Twitter data (2017), I present some technology adoption trends in small to medium sized US cities and managerial responses to those efforts. These data provide insights into the organizational, technological, and socio-technical factors that shape local government online participation efforts in the American context. I then outline the challenges facing managers who seek to engage internal and external stakeholders via online mechanisms – including financial limitations, technical capacity, legal issues, and perceptual barriers – and discuss next steps for advancing research in this area.

The research surveyed during 7 years the most common departments in small cities (700-900 small cities surveyed) in the US: community development, finance, mayor’s office, parks & recreation, police. There are consistent predictors of ICT usage and participation: city population, form of government, department type, technical capacity, resources, management.

What is the role of management of participation? Manager views affect e-participation.

Small cities are increasingly using technology, and using it better. But most of the times it is because they externalized the website to a firm that is using a market solution that has all the features one would expect.

Municipalities are entering the social media arena. But they are having quite hard times. Sometimes these tools clash with the laws and norms, and have to be used with wisdom.

Thus why management of ICTs, for communication and participation, is crucial. Most municipalities do not have the resources to run these tools, but they do have the pressure to adopt all of them.

Karen Mossberger | Arizona State University (USA)
Emerging Platforms for Online Engagement in US Local Governments – Who is innovating and how?

Abstract: While the use of social media is widespread in local government, more structured forms of online participation are also beginning to appear at the local level, using a variety of commercial platforms that have become available in recent years. Examples include Peak Democracy’s cloud-based platform for online town hall meetings, MindMixer’s community engagement platform, Budget Allocator’s participatory budgeting software, and Balancing Act’s online budget simulator designed to encourage citizen participation. A recent survey of cities and counties in the US revealed that local governments who use such tools are still very much in the minority, as only 17% of respondents reported using these platforms. Still, such tools are becoming more prevalent, compared with earlier studies of online engagement in larger (and generally more innovative) local governments (Mossberger and Wu 2012); and a closer look may help to predict how such platforms will affect citizen engagement in the future. Using a 2016 national survey of Innovations and Emerging Practices in local government that was conducted by the International City/County Management Association and Arizona State University, we explore the use of online engagement platforms, in comparison with social media and with a number of offline forms of engagement. What characteristics predict use of such platforms, in terms of city size, demographics, metropolitan status, fiscal capacity and form of government, among other factors? Are such cities more likely to report use of many forms of public engagement, to be early adopters for other emerging practices, or both? What are their goals for citizen engagement? And, how successful do they feel the experience was? This paper will consist primarily of analysis of the survey data, but will also propose a design for further qualitative research. Several cities in the Phoenix metropolitan area have used these platforms, and Arizona State University is also part of a national partnership with local governments called the Alliance for Innovation. Based on findings from the survey data, further research will be proposed to explore the types of questions cities have addressed through these platforms, how they conducted outreach and participation, and how effective they were in terms of representativeness and deliberation, among other critera.

How are local governments in the US using new online tools? Large cities are innovators, and in general social media has grown rapidly. It usually has to do with city managers wanting to experiment with whatever comes new, see if it works and what for.

Importance of public participation goals: provide the public with objective information, obtain feedback, work directly with the public, partner with the public, hear input/ideas from the public, place dedcision-making in the hands of the public.

Usage of citizen engagement tools: town hall meetings, city-appointed committee assignments, social media.

What predicts use of emerging online platforms? The size of the population is very important. It is also important pre-existing offline engagement actitivities, even more important than social media use.

Internet, Politics, Policy (VI). Digital Divides

Notes from the Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment conference, organized by the Oxford Internet Institute, and held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, on September 16-17, 2010. More notes on this event: ipp2010.

Digital Politics Divide: does the Digital Divide still matter?
Andrea Calderaro, European University Institute

From the Digital Divide (Norris, 2001) to the Digital Skills Divide (Van Dijk, 2009) to the Digital Participation Divide.

Wealth factor are still one of the main reasons why people use or do not use the Internet. But also there is an uneven distribution of ownership of web hosts and ownership of Internet domains [I wonder: cause or consequence?].

Concerning the political arena, there are cyber-pessimist and cyber-optimist points of view that need being bridged. The fact is that political parties are also unevenly on line depending on the country.

The reasons for that are the number of internet users, the level of democracy, and the GDP.

Unraveling Different Barriers to Technology Use: Urban Residents and Neighborhood Effects
Karen Mossberger, University of Illinois at Chicago

Uneven access to the Internet may have a negative impact in the opportunities of the people and thus drive them towards social exclusion. And living in poor neighbourhoods, having a low income or lower educational levels are reasons that explain lower access to the Internet.

When asked the citizens of Chicago why they did not had broadband at home, 30% said they were not interested, 27% cost, 9% difficulty.

Per neighbourhood, “not interested” is a reason much likely answered by whites and Asian-Americans (42%), then African-Americans (29%) and then Latinos (19%). By age, older people are more likely (30%) to say that the reason for not having broadband is “lack of skills”, the same ratio when looking at the income.

Neighbourhoods magnify these barriers to access the Internet, because they magnify cot and skill barriers for residents of areas with high concentrations of African-Americans and Latinos. There is a double burden of concentrated poverty.

Amazonian Geeks and Social Activism: An ethnographic study on the appropriation of ICTs in the Brazilian Amazon
Marie Ellen Sluis, University of Amsterdam

Instead of talking about access, talking about what means to have or not to have access: meaningful access. And the same for inclusion and meaning digital inclusion.

Projeto Puraqué is a collective of social activists using ICT as a tool for social inclusion, increasing critical knowledge on regional socio-political problems and issues. ICTs a tool rather than an end.

Examples: opening up the computre to demystify technology and enhance self-steem, raise awareness on e-waste and fostering reuse and recycling as gambiarra alternative,

The project operates in a certain framework that seeks social transformation in the long term and on a sustainability basis. It is the people who decide what is beneficial for them, and the project is a lot about the digitization of what Brazilians do most: social networking.

Indicators of the digital divide and its link with other exclusions
Jocelyne Trémenbert, Institut Telecom / Telecom Bretagne, Université Européenne de Bretagne, Marsouin

The goals of the research is to explore the polymorphism of the digital divide and its links with other forms of exclusion. Is the distance to the Internet different for different types of exclusion? Do we find within the digital divide expressions of exclusion?

Aage, gender, educational level, income, occupational category and localisation enable to predict with +70% accuracy the use of the Internet, especially the occupational category and the educational level. Non-users are often isolated people: the digital divide goes hand in hand with the social divide.

Five types (clusters) of non-users: the users to be (5%), the potential users (19%), probably / hesitants (41%), the resistants (16%), the excluded (19%).

We need new indicators of the digital divide, new elements about the specificities of some categories of non-users, and a new quantitative typology of non-users based on data on inhibitors,motivations, points of view and picturing.

Papers

Internet, Politics, Policy 2010: An Impact Assessment (2010)