Social networks and services offer interesting possibilities for the future of e-democracy.
E-democracy is a combination of the words “electronic” and democracy.” E-democracy represents the use of information and communication technologies and strategies by democratic actors within political and governance processes of local communities, nations and on the international stage. Democratic actors/sectors include governments, elected officials, the media, political organizations, and citizen/voters.
To many, e-democracy suggests greater and more active citizen participation enabled by the Internet, mobile communications, and other technologies in today’s representative democracy as well as through more participatory or direct forms of citizen involvement in addressing public challenges.
E-democracy is a relatively new concept, which has surfaced out of the popularity of the internet and the need to reinvigorate interest in the democratic process. Access is the key to creating interest in the democratic process. Citizens are more willing to use Web sites to support their candidates and their campaign drives. In the United States just over half of the population vote, and in the United Kingdom only 69% of English citizens do so.
The goal of e-democracy is to reverse the cynicism citizens have about their government institutions. A key element of moving towards e-democracy is increasing the ability of citizens to engage their representatives to share their suggestions and opinions in a dynamic manner.
E-democracy is the first step in moving towards participatory democracy.
Participatory democracy, is a process emphasizing the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems. Participatory democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a political group to make meaningful contributions to decision-making, and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities. Because so much information must be gathered for the overall decision-making process to succeed, technology may provide important forces leading to the type of empowerment needed for participatory models, especially those technological tools that enable community narratives and correspond to the accretion of knowledge.
Both e-democracy and participatory democracy will evolve in steps. Each day we see government organizations providing more and more information and services online. We also see politicians’ increasingly reaching out to their constituents with new and emerging tools such as Twitter and Facebook to share information and solicit opinions.
New technologies will be a major factor in helping us collectively move towards e-democracy and participatory democracy — for example the widespread use and increasing adoption of online tools such as social bookmarking, social networks, social media are increasingly popula — and point to future possibilities for e-democracy.
I believe the evolution, adoption and proliferation of these new e-democracy and participatory democracy technologies will be driven by a new breed of politicians.
Political candidates looking to unseat incumbents will increasingly look towards e-democracy and participatory democracy as a means to reach out and engage disenfranchised voters and constituents. Using new technologies will allow these candidates to talk directly to what is important, to hear both the “silent majority”, as well as the “vocal minority”. Incumbent politicians, stuck in the old ways of engaging constituents and votes may well find themselves swept away by more progressive and innovative candidates. The beginning of meaningful e-democracy and participatory democracy will start at the polls in the coming elections.