Web 2.0: New Challenges for the Study of E-Democracy in an Era of Informational Exuberance
Type of work: Article (academic)
This paper seeks to broaden the debate about edemocracy. Since the emergence of the e-democracy movement, most projects and analyses have used rich and sustained deliberation on an often-romanticized “Athenian” or “public sphere” model as a yardstick to both judge and empirically measure outcomes. This approach, heavily influenced by an ideal of rational critical discourse, has proved notoriously difficult to embed in political organizations. As a consequence, the use of digital network technologies to shape public policy is generally met with incredulity by most politicians, public servants, and citizens.
Following a brief critique of the assumptions underlying the literature to date, this paper sketches out an alternative approach—one based on the incentive structures that seem to shape how public servants and citizens now behave online. The approach is derived from preliminary observations of the low threshold co-production behavior characteristic of what has come to be known as “web 2.0.” While it may not live up to the high ideals of the deliberative public sphere, some of this behavior has real value in online consultation and public policymaking. We should acknowledge that successful e-democracy programs may require a plurality of different sociotechnical values and mechanisms.