4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (VIII). Towards citizenship 2.0?

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session VIII

Round Table
Towards citizenship 2.0?

Eduard Aibar, Vice President, Research, UOC.

So, the landscape has changed… but have citizens? has the concept of citizenship so much shifted as, supposedly, has the Web?

Ana Sofía Cardenal, Professor of Political Science, UOC

We’re putting all our eggs in the Web 2.0 basket, but data seem to bring evidence that all the promises of the web do not seem to apply:

  • The demand for political information has not increased despite the supposition that it would be cheaper (in money, in time) to be informed on a digital socielty
  • The supposition that costs of information have decreased is at stake too
  • The participation does not seem to have changed either
  • Few sites collect most links: so information might be cheaper to diffuse… but only in specific sites

What’s the political blogosphere like in Spain? Hypotheses

  • Balcanization: atomization, decentralization
  • Few blogs get most audience, the rest remain invisible. But who are they? Are they influential?

David Osimo, e-Government researcher and activities coordinator, European Commission’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies

Web 2.0 is an opportunity, but it’s not taking up. So, where or what are the limits?

  • Limited take-up: how to reach the second wave of adopters (after the digerati)?
  • not so important
  • invisible because pervasive
  • not sustainable financially
  • no time for this
  • exclusion
  • social fragmentation
  • intellectual property rights
  • steered by vested interests
  • lack of trust
  • lack of accountability
  • etc.

Different kind of participation, of citizens’ involvement

  • Producing content (3%)
  • Providing ratings, reviews (10%)
  • Using user-generated content (40%)
  • Providing attention, taste data (100%)
  • … of all Internet users (50% of EU population)

It’s not about mass collaboration, it’s about involving specific users, the most relevant ones.

  • There’s a gap from what the Government expected from the Web 2.0 (mass collaboration) with the reality of it (qualitative, relevant collaboration)
  • It’s a new way of doing the traditional “find-contact-ask the expert”: it’s not representative, but highly qualitative
Eduard Aibar, Ana Sofía Cardenal, Joan Subirats, Helen Margetts, David Osimo
Eduard Aibar, Ana Sofía Cardenal, Joan Subirats, Helen Margetts, David Osimo

Helen Margetts, Director of Research, Professor of Society and the Internet, Oxford Internet Institute

Skepticism is about ignorance of the online world.

Evidence shows that people rely on the Internet to find all the information they do not want to force themselves to remember. And the shift towards this attitude has been huge. For instance, if we ask people for politicians’ names, they might not remember them, but this is not political disengage, but optimization of their (memory) resources.

Smallest actions just like using YouTube to upload presumably stupid political videos might not be a lot, but it definitely is something, and it was not there before the Web 2.0.

The Internet has the possibility to reconfigure the dynamics and logic of collective action: allows geographically disperse groups to gather; increases the visibility/exposure of free riders; etc.

Joan Subirats, Professor of Political Science, Autonomous University of Barcelona

Have we adopted a new concept of participation 2.0? Have the new tools or way of behaving?

More individualization, higher presence, constant flow of information that challenges the concept of representativeness. And, indeed, if the majority is more heterogenous, the minority can still represent that majority? And, with such an intense presence and changing scenarios, do the results of the elections (happened 3 or 4 years ago) still apply?

The Web 2.0 challenges the concept of a Government and an Administration designed as benevolent omniscient institutions, that know what’s better for the citizenry… but that now is informed and can have their voice heard.

On the other hand, voting is cheap in effort for the voter. It actually is the cheapest way of participation. So, do we want to increase the burden/costs on the voter? Does he want so?

The web 2.0 leaves plenty of room for autonomy, equality (being aware of the digital divide, of course) and diversity. Does poor in the reaching of consensus and the collective creation of a common, stable project.


Me: Have we to redefine what participation is? is uploading a video to YouTube participation? is forwarding it to my contacts list participation? What’s the blogosphere? A blog? A blog aggregator? A blog + youtube + Flickr + Slideshare +… +…? Is the blogoshpere an unmeasurable hydra? Isn’t it as important as the aggregate the non-aggregate, personal approach of the emitter that can now send the message, more efficiently, with more efficacy. HM: Indeed, the reasons why people participate are many and very different. Thus, it is important to take into account any kind of participation, despite its aggregate impact, as it is a gate to participation itself and to political engagement.

Marc López: how can we use the Web 2.0 to operate smallest changes (e.g. to decide the menu of my children at their school with the other parents) without having to focus on big impacts? What’s the role of the Government in enabling and fostering this? DO: From Fix my Street to Fix my School. HM, JS: there’s plenty of room for policy making in these issues.


4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (V). Helen Margetts: Government on the Web

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session V

Keynote speech
Helen Margetts
Government on the Web

A shift of paradigm in Government

Dunleavy, Margetts (2006) Digital Era Governance: the dominant paradigm of public governance reform (new public management) is dead. The digital-era governance is nigh… or just happening.

What happened during the New Public Management?

  • Disaggregation, into tiny decentralized government and quasi-government agencies
  • Competition within the daily tasks of government, its relationships with suppliers, outsourcing, financing, etc.
  • Incentivization: via privatization, performance related pay, charging, etc.

What are we likely to see during the Digital-era governance?

  • Reintegration, going the way back of atomization that the New Public Management achieved adn that showed not being always efficient
  • Needs-based Holism, focusing on the client and client structures, including co-creation and co-production. This can lead to government doing less and citizens doing more.
  • Digitalization, of documents, of deliveries, of processes, of communications, etc.

But things are happening slowly: e-government lags behind e-commerce, web-based provision still weak, low interaction at the G2B and G2C levels.

Government on the Web


While most government sites are roughly steady in the amount of visitors they have, Directgov, the global, cross-level, cross-government, portal for e-Government in the UK has a huge increase, which brings interesting reflections both about the successful strategies and also the related threats. Directgov, for instance, as an impressive amount of inbound links, even if outbound links are not much higher than other Government sites. Reasons are many, but an accuracy to define a profile and links from other countries and initiatives are two of the most important. On the other hand, Directgov is one of the smallest (in number of pages and documents) sites of all, being the tax agency and the education department on the other end. A correct strategy would be for these heavy sites to bring their content — or links — to Directgov, acting the latter as a hub and the former ones as the store.

Generally, the cross-government site got and retained more users looking for specific content (15 questions on a survey) than search engines.

Some conclusions

  • Sites are well rated and quality has improved, but the design and heavy-text makes can make them being near obsolete in the short run
  • Despite the amount of money spent, more should be put in improving the existing information
  • Centralization strategy seems to be working
Digital Era Governance

Main characteristics:

  • Risk: adding up to the creation of a super-state that the New Public Management began
  • Risk: setting up a chaotic, poorly designed, digital strategy that is built on the run
  • Use of pervasive information
  • De-coupling information analysis from control
  • Customer orientation and segmentation
  • Proactive
  • Isocratic government: help citizens do it themselves
  • Co-production: the government sets the frame, the citizen fills it
  • Co-creation: government provides capacity or facility, citizens design own projects using it
  • Peer production: government benefits from social production
  • The change of the public management regime increases the autonomy of the citizen and the level of social problem-solving.
  • If the government does not provide the information and services, people would find it anyway

e-Government 2.0

  • Rich information and content
  • Highly specific “deep” search
  • Giving information back to the users about their own use of the service
  • Creating part-finished products
  • Co-production leading to co-creation
  • Customer segmentation
  • Broadening the amount of stakeholders implied
  • Para-organizations can blossom, where users are into front office

e-Health 2.0

  • Performance data freely available
  • Managers can be customer oriented
  • Direct voice for patients
  • Co-production, co-creation
  • Patient input replaces controls

Risks of remaining in e-Government 1.0

  • Ignore young people
  • Text-only communications is under-investment
  • People go where they want to go
  • Loss of visibility, loss of nodality for not being there


Me: Does Web 2.0 poses a threat to representative democracy? Why should I be engaged if it is really comfortable, efficient, to be represented? HM: Engagement has now less costs, and the impact of being engaged is now higher, so the net balance of engagement is much higher, as costs are lower and benefits are higher.

Eduard Aibar: What happens if all skills and human capital is placed at the private sector? where is the limit of outsourcing public services? HM: Is is a threat to the enforcement of the social contract. The Government has a need for public-private partnerships, but should leverage the learnings in its own benefit and also be aware of imbalances.

Eben Moglen: what happens with data security, citizen privacy, spending on privative software, etc.? What happens with the politics of public services? Maybe Google will always be superior to any e-strategy from the UK Government. HM: Incompetence adds to politics in this case, and sometimes personal agendas — Eben Moglen absolutely disagrees.

Mònica Vilasau: is the citizen more concerned about security or privacy when he addresses a government website than when he uses e-commerce? HM: Normally yet, people are more concerned of giving their data away to governments than to private services, maybe because they’re unaware of the benefits of the public service and the government (cleverly, responsibly) using their data.

Michael Jensen: Implications of the process of co-production and co-creation. HM: The citizenry are creating with their searches, with their comments… they are whatever they do. So the Government should not permit himself being set aside from this conversation.

Me: what’s the risk of mashups and websites run by para-governmental organizations? who’s liable for the quality of the information? who’s to assess its accuracy? HM: Of course there’s a risk, but if the Government is publishing the right, correct, needed, information for the citizen, good practices will be more than the bad ones. And these sites put pressure on the Government to issue its official and original information to the wide public in an easy, quick and accessible way. On the other hand, we should distinguish about websites with low level of identification with high level ones, where more “important” transactions take place.

Rosa Borge: What makes Directgov so different? How can these metrics be developed?. HM: Metrics were gathered by coding brand new free software for the research project. The big difference of Directgov it is that it was brand new in many ways, especially the concept. But its main problem is that it is really centralized, and that central office could not now everything about the UK Government. This is being corrected, and is shifting towards a more Web 2.0 approach.

David Osimo: Quite often we see “cool but useless” sites from governments, that are reluctant to give away their information or “power”. What to do about this? HM: There’s a need for a cultural change inside institutions, where they realize that they have to innovate in this area, and begin to listen, and aim towards (an unwanted) change.


4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)