Benchmarking Electonic Democracy

Benchmarking Electonic Democracy

Francesco Amoretti (University of Salerno, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-947-2.ch032
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Abstract

Electronic democracy refers to the use of information technology (IT) to expedite or transform the idea and practice of democracy. (Street, 2001, p. 4397) From the beginning, a common assumption in many discussions of e-democracy is that ICTs have the power to augur in a new political order. There are of course different ideas about what constitutes as an e-democracy, but it appears to be taken for granted that ICTs have this constructive power regardless of the conditions and environment in which they are used (Barber, 1984). Whilst the most significant experiences in the field of ICTs have been generated by bottom-up processes rooted in civil society, a great deal of e-democracy projects are characterised by the political action of national and supranational institutions. The enormous resources spent on e-democracy initiatives and the institutional structure of democratic societies that place pressure on politicians and decision makers to justify their decisions in relation to those they represent both generate a need for public evaluation tools and shared instruments of analysis. Moreover, as information technology tends to create spaces of interaction that are easily accessible and interconnected on a global scale, the need for standardised empirical definitions and indicators is attracting more and more attention (Gibson, Ward, & Rommele, 2004; Trechsel, Kies, Mendez, & Schmitter, 2004). Benchmarking, in this context, is a method of analysis that comprises the identification of significant factors that influence the perceived quality of an interactive virtual space and that facilitates a constant process of comparative monitoring and evaluation of experiences. Many institutions and research centres are currently committed to this task, deducing empirical frameworks of analysis from theoretical reflections about computer-mediated communication (CMC) and democracy, whilst simultaneously seeking to improve theories regarding electronic democracy—and democracy tout court—by the observation and comparison of diverse projects. The output of this kind of research is often a set of best practices, intended to export successful approaches from one country to another.

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