E-Democracy from the Perspective of Local Elected Members

E-Democracy from the Perspective of Local Elected Members

Zahid Parvez (University of Wolverhampton, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-918-2.ch017
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Although efforts for developing e-democracy have been underway for over a decade, recent literature indicates that its uptake by citizens and Elected Members (EMs) is still very low. This paper explores the underlying reasons for why this is so from the perspective of local EMs in the context of UK local authorities. It draws on findings reported in earlier works supplemented with primary case study data. Findings are interpreted through the lens of Giddens structuration theory, which assists in drawing out issues related to three dimensions of human agency: communication of meaning, exercising power and sanctioning behaviour. The paper abstracts categories of agency from the findings and uses these to formulate eight propositions for creating an e-friendly democratic culture and enhancing EMs uptake of e-democracy. These propositions provide an indication for future e-democracy research direction.
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Efforts for developing e-democracy (or electronic democracy) have been underway in many developed countries across the world, particularly since the early 1990’s (ever since the Internet based technologies became widely available to people). Over this period, literature in the field notes many innovations in e-democracy tools (e.g. Abrahamson, Arterton & Orren, 1988; Van de Donk, Snellen & Tops, 1995; Tsagarousianou, Tambini & Byran, 1998; Bellamy & Taylor, 1998; Hague & Loader, 1999; Hacker & Van Dijk, 2000; Hoff, Horrocks & Tops, 2000; Kearns, Bend & Stern, 2002; Clift 2003; Macintosh, Coleman & Lalljee, 2005; Mahrer & Krimmer, 2005; Coleman & Norris, 2005; Robinson 2005; Norris, 2005; Maria and Micelli, 2005; Pratchett, Wingfield & Polat, 2005, 2006; Mackintosh and Whyte, 2006). These innovations include: e-discussion forums, e-consultations, e-petitioning, e-voting, weblogs, webcasts, e-panels, e-groups, and websites providing information on Elected Members and for accessing remote democratic political information. However, despite many years of efforts in this direction, very few local Elected Members (EMs) and citizens are actually choosing to engage in the democratic process through e-democracy (e.g. Coleman & Gøtze, 2001; Pratchett, Wingfield & Polat, 2005; Robinson 2005; Cross 2006; Evans 2006; Parvez 2006b). This article explores the underlying reasons for why this is so from the perspective of local EMs.

Recent literature explains this low uptake by drawing attention to structural factors and barriers surrounding e-democracy. The agency of actors (i.e. the purposive actions, why and how actors engage through e-democracy) has not received the same attention and, thus, been insufficiently researched. Pratchett, Wingfield and Polat (2005), for example, highlight four barriers that affect the design and implementation of e-democracy tools: the particular democratic understanding held by e-democracy designers and implementers, organisational constraints (resources and conceptual), structural limitations (i.e. external factors that shape or constrain opportunities for developing e-democracy), and citizen restraint (demand for e-democracy). Coleman and Norris (2005) identify four similar barriers: political, participatory, organizational and technological. Others have pointed to the digital divide (e.g. Norris 2001; Chadwick 2006) as another key barrier in the low uptake of ICT enabled practices. Likewise, Parvez (2006b) highlights two structural factors that shape e-democracy tools as well as facilitate and constrain actors in e-democracy engagement: institutional mediation structures and ICT mediation structures.

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