Communicative Mechanisms of Governance: E-Democracy and the Architecture of the Public Sphere

Communicative Mechanisms of Governance: E-Democracy and the Architecture of the Public Sphere

Lori Anderson (Radford University, USA) and Patrick Bishop (Lancaster University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-159-1.ch003
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Significant claims have been made that developments in Information Communication Technology (ICT) can lead to e-democracy. The league tables that are regularly published rating different governments’ performance and the laudatory tones in which governments identify their own actions as more democratic in the field of e-government need to be treated with some caution. This chapter starts with a review of some of these studies of e-government and e-democracy trials. Finding these studies largely unsatisfactory for determining advances in democracy, the chapter then looks at the kinds of communication that are needed to facilitate the political conversation of deliberative democracy. In particular, the chapter introduces a communication typology, based on the work of David Bohm, to see how the new technology might be used to shape the architecture of the public sphere to create political conversation.
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Evaluating The New Technology

Initial predictions of the reach of the new technology were overly optimistic, especially in regards to how it might impact on the practice of democratic politics. Early enthusiasts such as Dick Morris saw the new technology as dispensing with the need for parliaments or the US Congress. (Morris 1999) These ‘New Athenians’ saw in the possibilities of the new communication technology an answer to representative democracy’s status as, at best, a compromised ideal. While this early enthusiasm has died down, or at least the claims are becoming less dramatic, there is an eagerness to make progress that pervades discussions around e-government, leading to an apparent tech race between national administrations. This is captured in the series of Brown University studies that has now had seven iterations. The methodology from the initial survey in 2002 onwards focuses on website functionality. In the first year 1,197 websites from 198 countries were tested and evaluated in terms of citizen accessibility. By the most recent survey the figure has risen to 1,667 from the same 198 countries (West 2008) The data collected covers an extensive list of features including reference to physical addresses and phone numbers as well as facilities to pay online, online databases, online publications, video and audio clips, foreign and non native language translations, commercial advertising, links to non-government sites etc. The system was also tested for functionality by utilizing any email request systems with a test email.

The flavour of the way in which this study has been promoted emerges in a press release to announce the second report in 2002.

Last year’s global leader in digital government, the United States, dropped to fourth place (60.1), behind Taiwan (72.5), South Korea (64) and Canada (61.1). Chile moved up to fifth place with 60 points, followed by Australia with 58.3 points. (Brown University 2002)

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