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.