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Connecting Democracy

Connecting Democracy: Online Consultation and the Flow of Political Communication

Stephen Coleman
Peter M. Shane
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Connecting Democracy
    Book Description:

    The global explosion of online activity is steadily transforming the relationship between government and the public. The first wave of change, "e-government," enlisted the Internet to improve management and the delivery of services. More recently, "e-democracy" has aimed to enhance democracy itself using digital information and communication technology. One notable example of e-democratic practice is the government-sponsored (or government-authorized) online forum for public input on policymaking. This book investigates these "online consultations" and their effect on democratic practice in the United States and Europe, examining the potential of Internet-enabled policy forums to enrich democratic citizenship. The book first situates the online consultation phenomenon in a conceptual framework that takes into account the contemporary media environment and the flow of political communication; then offers a multifaceted look at the experience of online consultation participants in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France; and finally explores the legal architecture of U.S. and E. U. online consultation. As the contributors make clear, online consultations are not simply dialogues between citizens and government but constitute networked communications involving citizens, government, technicians, civil society organizations, and the media. The topics examined are especially relevant today, in light of the Obama administration's innovations in online citizen involvement.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29880-3
    Subjects: Technology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1 Online Consultation and Political Communication in the Era of Obama: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)
    Peter M. Shane

    Picture, if you will, the imaginary nation of Agora. All permanent residents have affordable access to high-speed Internet connections whenever and wherever they need them. High levels of text and visual literacy are universal. Agorans are skilled producers of online communications and discerning interpreters of the messages they receive. They use email lists and community networks to deepen their personal connections to family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and fellow Agorans who share their interests and concerns.

    The government of Agora posts virtually all public records online. It makes available a large volume of social data about Agora that local governments, businesses,...

  5. I Online Consultation and the Flow of Political Communication

    • 2 Democracy, Distance, and Reach: The New Media Landscape
      (pp. 23-44)
      Stephen Coleman and Vincent Price

      To live in a representative democracy is to be spoken to, for, and about through channels of mediation. The sources of political mediation include parliaments, congresses, and town halls, as well as newspaper offices, TV and radio studios, press conferences, and public rallies. Although any of us might occasionally witness some of these directly (via a tour around the legislative chamber, a ticket to participate in a studio discussion, or a seat at an election rally), most of us encounter them only through the media. We are usually one step removed from the live voice of government. Because they are...

    • 3 Web 2.0: New Challenges for the Study of E-Democracy in an Era of Informational Exuberance
      (pp. 45-74)
      Andrew Chadwick

      Claims regarding the Internet’s potential to reshape democratic life have been made for nearly twenty years. Scholarship has proceeded through several waves—early enthusiasm (for example, Corrado 1996; Dahlberg 2001; Morris 1999), pessimistic reactions (for example, Hill and Hughes 1998; Margolis and Resnick 2000; Wilhelm 2000), and recent more balanced and empirically driven approaches of the post-dotcom era (for example, Price 2009; Shane 2004). Despite the increasing maturity of e-democracy scholarship, one inescapable fact remains: the reality of online deliberation (whether judged in terms of its quantity, its quality, or its effect on political behavior and policy outcomes) is far...

    • 4 Online Consultations in Local Government: What Works, When, and Why?
      (pp. 75-96)
      Joachim Åström and Åke Grönlund

      Many people are concerned that local democracy is not what it once was or should be. Declining interest in traditional forms of participation, manifested by distrusting citizens and declining social capital, afflict government at all levels. However, local government is one of the cornerstones on which subsequent participation develops. It has been argued that the vitality of broader democratic practices is contingent on the strength of local democracy and that local arenas are critical for learning the skills necessary for democratic practice. Another argument maintains that the issues demanding the most pressing political responses are everyday concerns that are the...

    • 5 Neighborhood Information Systems as Intermediaries in Democratic Communities
      (pp. 97-122)
      Steven J. Balla and Sungsoo Hwang

      Organizations in dozens of municipalities around the United States have developed and implemented neighborhood information systems. Neighborhood information systems bring together and disseminate, via the Internet, regularly updated statistics on births, crime, educational performance, and other vital community conditions (National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership n.d. a; Treuhaft et al. 2007, 26). The basic idea is that these data, when combined with maps and other analytical tools, provide individuals and organizations with a means of monitoring trends and outcomes in geographic areas of interest (Kingsley 1998, 5–11). Neighborhood information systems, in other words, are technology innovations that aim to enhance the...

  6. II What Online Consultations Mean to Their Participants

    • 6 Playing Politics: The Experience of E-Participation
      (pp. 125-148)
      Vincent Price

      The idea that public policy should be grounded in public deliberation—in a careful, open search for well-reasoned solutions following a wide-ranging consideration of alternative views—is both intuitively and normatively appealing. Nevertheless, the use of the Internet for citizen consultation and the burgeoning interest in deliberative and participatory democracy have been greeted with skepticism. Notwithstanding impassioned arguments for the value of deliberation and the necessity of engaging ordinary citizens in policy making, critics contend that such arguments rest on wholly unrealistic assumptions about the political interests and capabilities of ordinary citizens. To some, using the Internet for consultation renders...

    • 7 The Participatory Journey in Online Consultations
      (pp. 149-172)
      Scott Wright

      Ensuring that online consultation exercises are inclusive poses serious challenges for governments. E-inclusion activities typically focus on the digital divide, which persists as a core policy issue across Europe. The strategies deployed in an attempt to overcome the problems have changed over the years as our understanding of the digital divide has evolved. Although it is increasingly accepted that the problem is multifaceted and not just about having access to computers and the Internet, further work is necessary to understand the implications for inclusive consultations. Rather than focusing solely on the digital divide, this chapter takes a holistic approach to...

    • 8 Democratic Consultation and the E-Citizen
      (pp. 173-190)
      Stephen Coleman, Rachel Gibson and Agnes I. Schneeberger

      There are two ways of governing. One is to assume that a government that has been elected by a sufficient number of votes to legitimize political authority bears the job of deliberating and deciding on every matter of policy and legislation. The other way is for governments to assume that it is their job to represent the interests, preferences, and values of a diverse population, that elected representatives cannot hope to have all the answers to every policy challenge, and that citizens’ experience and expertise are therefore necessary sources of both good sense and political legitimacy in policy making. Most...

    • 9 The Technological Dimension of Deliberation: A Comparison between Online and Offline Participation
      (pp. 191-208)
      Laurence Monnoyer-Smith

      This chapter explores how publics divide up between online and offline discussions and why they choose one modality or the other for debating. In the context of a controversial academic literature on the topic of inclusion and deliberation (Monnoyer-Smith 2009), the focus here is on the close relationship between the technological setup of a deliberative space and the form of participation through which citizens choose to engage with it. In line with the call in the introduction to this volume to “see how the [consultative] experience is constructed by social, political, and legal forces, including the design of the online...

    • 10 The Third Sector as E-Democratic Intermediaries
      (pp. 209-228)
      Scott Wright and Stephen Coleman

      A main focus of the literature on online policy consultation has been on direct relationships between government and individual citizens, but in reality, most attempts by governments to gather policy evidence and seek the views of grassroots experts are mediated via the third sector—nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations. Democracy requires intermediaries. Both political parties and mainstream media institutions (the press and broadcasting) have long performed important intermediary roles, opening up connective spaces between disparate communities, social interests, and ideological perspectives to the opaque web of governance. In an increasingly fragmented, decentralized, and networked society, can third-sector organizations (TSOs) serve as communicative...

    • 11 A Survey of Federal Agency Rulemakers’ Attitudes about E-Rulemaking
      (pp. 229-264)
      Jeffrey S. Lubbers

      In the United States, the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act (APA) contains the general requirements for the promulgation of regulations by federal agencies. This procedure is often called “notice-and-comment” rulemaking, based on the requirements of the operative APA section—(1) publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking, (2) opportunity for public participation in the rulemaking by submission of written comments, and (3) publication of a final rule and accompanying statement of basis and purpose not less than thirty days before the rule’s effective date (see chapter 13 in this volume).

      These requirements may be exceeded by agencies voluntarily or pursuant to...

    • 12 The Internet and the Madisonian Cycle: Possibilities and Prospects for Consultative Representation
      (pp. 265-284)
      David Lazer, Michael Neblo and Kevin Esterling

      The Internet has the potential to transform our democracy—a potential that has received substantial scholarly attention (e.g., DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, and Robinson 2001; Hindman 2009; Bimber 2003; Mayer-Schönberger and Lazer 2007). This attention has focused on the potential transformational effects of the technology on civil society and, in the political realm, on the ways that the Internet might transform political discourse. Researchers have devoted less attention, however, to how the Internet might transform existing institutions for connecting citizens to elected officials. This relationship is the fundamental building block of a representative democracy, and it has come under increasing strain...

  7. III The Legal Architecture of Online Consultation

    • 13 Legal Frameworks and Institutional Contexts for Public Consultation Regarding Administrative Action: The United States
      (pp. 287-306)
      Peter L. Strauss

      The electronic democracy to which this volume is addressed finds reflection at all levels of American government (federal, state, and local), and its tools can be employed by any political actor—legislature, executive, or administrative bureaucracy. This chapter addresses online practices in the national government of the United States and only in relation to essentially bureaucratic (administrative) actors. The U.S. Congress maintains a remarkable database giving the public near simultaneous access to all records of its actions,¹ but it has yet to develop regular electronic means for consultation with the public about its legislative agenda—contrasting sharply, in this respect,...

    • 14 Legal Frameworks and Institutional Contexts for Public Policy Consultation Regarding Administrative Action: The European Union
      (pp. 307-332)
      Polona Pičman Štefančič

      The European Union’s use of electronic consultation by executive branch actors engaged in policy making differs considerably from United States practice. In the EU, the most prominent use of information communication technologies (ICTs) to support public consultations occurs through the EU’s executive body, the European Commission.¹ The Commission has provided central coordination for the use of electronic consultation venues from the outset. Its Your Voice in Europe Web site and other resources began as centralized resources, so there is less variation across the various directorates general (DGs) than is commonly observed among federal agencies in the United States, although some...

    • 15 The Legal Environment for Electronic Democracy
      (pp. 333-356)
      Peter M. Shane and Polona Pičman Štefančič

      When government officials sit down to plan the possibilities for online consultation, they are likely to find that law significantly shapes their prospects for moving forward. Some of that effect will stem from relatively esoteric features of the relevant law of public administration. In the United States, for example, federal agencies are ordinarily required to get approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before they engage in the “collection of information,” defined as “obtaining, . . . facts or opinions . . . for an agency . . . calling for . . . answers to identical questions...

    • 16 E-Democracy, Transnational Organizations, and the Challenge of New Techno-Intermediation
      (pp. 357-376)
      Oren Perez

      One of the main dilemmas facing the global community today is the growing democratic deficit of the transnational legal system. The expanding power and reach of new transnational regimes—including the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Criminal Court (ICC), and private, hybrid organizations like the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Basel Committee—have made this dilemma more critical. The perception that this new transnational governance network is highly detached from the global citizenry it purports to serve, both in its democratic sensitivities and in its accountability, is generating a crisis of legitimacy (Castells 2005; Keohane 2003). Resolving...

  8. IV Conclusion

    • 17 Making the E-Citizen: A Sociotechnical Approach to Democracy
      (pp. 379-394)
      Stephen Coleman

      Rather than thinking of citizenship as a single set of norms and practices, it makes sense to understand it as comprising a diverse range of potential characteristics—from less to more democratic, participatory, deliberative, managed, autonomous, nationally rooted, and legally prescribed. Civic actors are in an open-ended, historically reflexive relationship to their political position in society. As Engin Isin (2008, 39) has put it: “Acts of citizenship are those acts through which citizens, strangers, outsiders and aliens emerge not as beings already defined but as beings acting and reacting with others.”

      Given this nonessentialist conception of citizenship, technologies cannot be...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 395-398)
  10. Index
    (pp. 399-424)