Enabling Multichannel Participation Through ICT Adaptation

Enabling Multichannel Participation Through ICT Adaptation

Kawaljeet Kaur Kapoor, Amizan Omar, Uthayasankar Sivarajah
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJEGR.2017040104
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Online deliberation invests significant sums in priorities co-decided by inhabitants, and is mostly relegated to small and non-influential experiments. There is a gap between ICT solutions and participatory initiatives. E-participation is a broad, undefined space of opportunities that needs to be operationalized to prove if the many theoretical exercises emphasizing on the potential of ICT in increasing deliberative quality of participatory processes and security, are realistic or not. The EMPATIA platform seeks to radically enhance inclusiveness and impact of participatory budgeting processes in increasing multichannel citizen participation by designing, evaluating and making publicly available an advanced ICT platform for participatory budgeting. EMPATIA takes advantage of the fact that it surrounds an established and widespread social practice with clear and adaptable principles recognized worldwide, alongside a community of practitioners and researchers, and ICT tools, which only need to be adapted, refined and integrated into an adequate PB platform.
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Participatory budgeting (PB) represents one of the most successful civic innovations of the last quarter-century. At a time when voter turnout in Europe is low, and public institutions are struggling to maintain trust and legitimacy within a framework of growing budgetary cuts, PB has proved to be a powerful tool. It allows citizens to join in the essential tasks of governing, not only as voters, but also as decision makers (Norris, 2011). Currently, there is limited software designed for, or at least useful for, the implementation of PB. Existing solutions are usually developed for single PB initiatives (Sampaio et al., 2010) or are limited in scope. As a result, most PB initiatives disregard the potential of online participation, and limit themselves to Facebook, twitter, or other forums (Nitzsche et al., 2012). The state-of-the art on ICT applied to PB is thus limited and less advanced than the offline tools.

Many PB initiatives adopt improved and sometimes sophisticated forms of deliberative meetings, structured around consolidated methodologies, so that people with different ideas and opinions can meet, debate and collaborate towards common goals. It usually does not happen online, therefore redundancies and individualized participation tend to reduce the quality of deliberation, while new exclusions are created on the basis of different relationships of citizens with resources such as, free time or mobility capacity (OECD, 2003). If many people experiment and take advantage of these meetings and methodologies, they show severe limitations in growth to include the local communities (Bittle et al., 2009). This reduces the PB potential of completing the creation of that “virtuous circle” which is needed to restore trust and confidence of citizens in local institutions. This needs two central components of legitimation: the qualitative one (high level deliberation and in-depth debate of policies and projects advocated by participants), and the quantitative one (number and diversity of participants) (Fernández and Frances, 2012).

EMPATIA (Enabling Multichannel Participation Through ICT Adaptation) is a European commission funded project under the horizon 2020 program that aims at improving this critical gap by studying, designing, implementing, and evaluating new and renewed software tools for PB initiatives, gathered into a common framework. The EMPATIA platform seeks to radically enhance the impact of PB processes and increase the participation of citizens by designing, evaluating and making publicly available an advanced ICT platform for participatory budgeting, which is adaptable to different social and institutional contexts. It will not only improve existing tools, but will also create new software modules to increase the potential of these tools whilst reducing their limitations. The EMPATIA platform will not only ameliorate on-going and already tested PB initiatives (often scattered and not compatible in terms of technological components), but will also integrate their online spaces by defining and implementing new tools, and integrating interfaces and best practices. It reflects the simplicity and capacity of being used by a differentiated range of actors with different cultural skills and degrees of ICT alphabetization, and allowing local communities to interact with each other to possibly become a broader European community of practices.

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