The disempowering Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy

The eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government (JEDEM) has just published its Vol 3, No 1 (2011) featuring an article of mine, The disempowering Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy.

This paper is the latest, improved and merged version of two previous lines of work. On the one hand, a reflection on e-Readiness, digital literacy and its role in participation, which I presented at the 4th International Conference on eDemocracy 2010 (EDem10) in Krems last year. On the other hand, the reflections on how the distance between governance and empowerment has been increasing due to Information and Communication Technologies (Empowerment and Governance in the Information Society (I): the hourglass of information power, Empowerment and Governance in the Information Society (II): digerati, goverati and the role of ICT4D) and which later became my position paper for the Democracy and the power of the individual conference at the Ditchley Foundation.


When disaffection on political parties and politicians is pervasive, most argue whether it could be possible, thanks to the Internet – and Information and Communication Technologies in general – forget the mainstream political system and let the citizenry express their own opinion, debate in virtual agorae and vote their representatives and policy choices directly. In other words, the claim is whether the actual intermediaries can be replaced by citizen networks or, in the limit, just be overridden.

Our aim in the following lines is to (1) explain that some dire (socioeconomic) changes are actually taking place,(2) why these socioeconomic changes are taking place and (3) infer, from this, what conditions shall take place in the future for (4) another wave of changes to happen that could eventually a much acclaimed new (e-)democracy. In a last section, we will discuss that despite lack of data, the trend seems to be just in the direction of the impoverishment of democracy, partly due to the weakening of political institutions.

Citation and Download

logo of PDF file
Peña-López, I. (2011). “The disempowering Goverati:
e-Aristocrats or the Delusion of e-Democracy
In eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government, 3 (1), 1-21.
Krems: Danube-University Krems.


EDem interview: 5 Words to eDemocracy

Judith Schoßböck and Johann Höchtl interviewed me — thank you very much! — during the eDem10 Conference on the following questions:

  • 5 Words to eDemocracy?
  • The future of eDemocracy in a nutshell?
  • Your favourite eDemocracy project?
  • Prospects and risks of eDemocracy?
  • What will be the content of the EDem Conference 2020?

Find below the video and, after, short answers to the previous questions:

If you cannot see the video please visit

5 Words to eDemocracy?

eDemocracy is not about making democracy “electronic” (i.e. to use digital devices to perform our usual democratic participation), but how Information and Communication Technologies have transformed democratic institutions — mainly parties and governments — and what will be the role of such institutions and the role of the citizens because of the introduction of these ICTs, digital content, and the Information Society as a whole.

The future of eDemocracy in a nutshell?

The future of eDemocracy is about how to mainstream Democracy in people’s lives. It is usually said that (a) people are not interested in politics and/or that (b) people have other problems more important than democratic participation.

I think that we should be able to “embed” democratic participation in people’s daily lives so that participating (being informed, deliberation, voting, etc.) could be part of your daily “routines”, mainstreamed in your daily activity.

A simplistic though illustrative example of this mainstreaming — helped by ICTs and out of the democratic arena — is what Amazon does with your online behaviour and recommendations: you do not need to take any especial activity besides buying to build your profile upon which Amazon recommends books for you. Is that possible in political preferences?

Your favourite eDemocracy project?

One eDemocracy project that I know of and that I really like is Parlament 2.0, the Parliament 2.0 initiative by the Catalan Parliament led by its president Ernest Benach himself, a project that opens up the whole activity of the Parliament and really enables and fosters citizen participation.

President Ernest Benach wrote a book about this project and other “politics 2.0” reflections: #Política 2.0.

Prospects and risks of eDemocracy?

The main risks are, of course, the digital divide in all its senses (physical access, digital competences, etc.).

Besides the digital divide, we have to rethink political institutions… without necessarily destroying or ignoring or circumventing them.

What will be the content of the EDem Conference 2020?

  • Did we succeed in transforming political institutions and how?
  • Did we manage in how to mainstream democratic participation in everyone’s daily life?


PEP-NET interview on the Goverati

Bengt Feil — thank you very much! — interviewed me for the Pan European eParticipation Network (PEP-NET) to sum up in three minutes my speech Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the delusion of e-Democracy that I gave at the eDem10 Conference.

If you cannot see the video please visit

The main points I make on the interview are:

  • During the 250 years of our industrial society, capital owners (capitalists) have been the ones that have ruled the world, the ones that are in power.
  • Our democratic system is shaped according to this industrial society and its power relationships.
  • In the upcoming knowledge society, the ones that will be able to manage cleverly knowledge by means of digital tools (digerati) are likely to have a higher share or power in all the aspects of life, especially the government (goverati).
  • We need to work to make access to knowledge as widespread as possible — access to infrastructures, digital competences, effective usage — so to avoid replacing the existing plutocracy with a new e-aristocracy.


EDem10. e-Democracy

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.

Communications: e-Democracy

Župa – Grassroots Democracy Revolution on the Web
Alois Paulin

We have to find out a way to get rid of inefficiencies, lobby-influenced politicians or sheer corruption in governments.

The Župa — slavic for community — model aims at reducing the size of the government through an intensive usage of Information and Communication Technologies.

You can set up a profile (with your blog, ideas, etc.) and be elected as anyone’s candidate.

[this projecte reminds me of something Ethan Zuckerman explained to me two years ago]

E-Parliaments and novel Parliament-to-Citizen Services: An initial Overview and Proposal
Aspasia Papaloi and Dimitris Gouscos

If you cannot see the presentation please visit

Age group parliaments, social parliaments, thematic parliaments, alternative or counter parliaments, etc. have been initiatives to open up parlaments.

e-Parliaments are a new way, supported by ICTs, to open up the parliaments to their citizens.

IPU guidelines for parliamentary websites (2009). And a survey shows that the members of parliament mainly use digital assistants, laptops and mobiles.

Examples of activities taken up in e-Parliaments include participatory budgeting.

For these to work there is needed: political will, strategy planning, etc.

European Status of E-Participation and what is needed to optimise future Benefits?
Jeremy Millard and Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen

eParticipation initiatives are quite common all along the European Union, and they are especially relevant at the local level. And while eParticipation initiatives are important too at the national level, we still find crossborder initiatives, aiming at people that communte between countries, are immigrants within Europe, etc.

At the local level, e-Participation initiatives have much more users (in % of the targeted population) and participation decreases as we move up in the scale of the government (regional, national, international, etc.), though the latter are better funded than the former.

Among the tools, e-Voting or e-Petitioning are in the lower end of usage, being websites in the upper part. It is surprising that voting has such a poor importance in these initiatives.

How to optimise e-Participation?

  • Formalise and mainstream e-Participation as part of a coordinated ‘open engagement policy’.
  • Help establish or support independent, neutral trusted third party service for e-Participation.
  • Governments/institutions should listen to and provide frameworks for building citizen participation from the bottom (but not control it).
  • Unleash the empowering potential of easy to use Public Sector Information for re-use in machine-readable format.
  • Empower the civil servant.

Other reactions on this session


EDEm10 - 4th International Conference on eDemocracy (2010)

EDem10. Social Networking Tools supporting constructive Involvement throughout the Policy-Cycle

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.

Workshop: Social Networking Tools supporting constructive Involvement throughout the Policy-Cycle


The Policy-cycle is a simplified, ideal-type model of policy processes. It is useful to structure and systematise the complex, though in real-world policy-making does not follow clear-cut stages and chronological sequences:

  1. Problem definition;
  2. agenda setting;
  3. policy development;
  4. implementation;
  5. policy evaluation.

Most e-Participation initiatives focus on the first two stages, while other stages are largely ignored. Notwithstanding, we do not have to underestimate these first stages or the power of “non-decisions”: indeed, many projects went on or were prevented to evolve in these precise two stages. Indeed, agenda setting is but another way to decide what is to be dealt with and, hence, what is to be decided in the latter stages.

[interesting debate difficult to catch on these notes]

Other reactions on this session


EDEm10 - 4th International Conference on eDemocracy (2010)

EDem10. Transparency & Governance

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.

Communications: Transparency & Governance

European Citizens’ Initiative
Alexander Balthasar

Even if petition initiatives are interesting, there still is a very tiny minority that participate in any kind of petitioning, be it online or offline. Indeed, people do have the right to write letters to their governments or their representatives and actually nobody does.

[the speaker assumed that everyone at the audience had read his paper, included in the book of proceedings that was delivered yesterday, and based his speech upon that assumption — I wonder how many people could easily follow his reflections and without the help of visual support…]

Communication without borders
Evgeniya Boklage

The political blogosphere is about political blogs dealing with political issues, from a professional or non-professional point of view.

Public sphere: open communication system, based on exchange of opinions, free type of participation, and that includes three functions: transparency (input), validation (throughput) and orientation (output).

Transparency requires openness. But transparency is not about journalism transparency, as transparent journalism can be embedded in a non-transparent (political) system.

Is the blogosphere a significant asset to the public sphere or is it information overload? Is the blogosphere citizen empowerment or is it merely a symbolic tool?

How can blogosphere enhance transparency?

  • Media-watchdogs
  • Shed light to obscure topics
  • Observation of mass media, the political system and the society
  • Navigation, creation of an embedding context, providing additional materials, raise awareness on immediate and noticeable impact
  • Access to the public discourse
  • A tribune for NGOs, advocacy groups and politically driven citizens

Throwing the Sheep’s Long Tail: Open Access
Noella Edelmann and Peter Parycek

New Journal of eDemocracy (JeDEM), which will be an open access journal.

We can find a close relationship between open access publishing and e-democracy and transparency.

We can now publish all the information we can without anyone’s permission.

We have to force a policy change where openness is the default, and closeness the option you might choose.

Other reactions on this session


EDEm10 - 4th International Conference on eDemocracy (2010)