Internet and Citizen Participation: State of the Art, Factors and Determinants at Local Level in Catalonia

Internet and Citizen Participation: State of the Art, Factors and Determinants at Local Level in Catalonia

Clelia Colombo (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-083-5.ch015
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In general terms, analyses show that participatory experiences have increased hugely in the last years and most of them use the Internet for participatory purposes. Analyses show also that political party of the mayor or electoral abstention rate would be explanatory for the promotion of e-Participatory experiences, as well as the participative context of the municipality or the population size.
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When it comes to e-Governance and e-Democracy, what is the difference? To make e-Governance work it is important that local governments promote e-Participatory experiences. Thus, it is worth studying how and under which circumstances local governments promote these experiences, analyzing which factors explain that e-Participation is highly promoted in some municipalities while being almost inexistent in others.

The beginning of the 21st Century has been marked by a change of paradigm: from the industrial era to the network society (Castells, 2000). This has been caused by the revolution of ICT. Moreover it has also been marked by citizens’ democratic disaffection towards the old representative democratic system, which entails a lack of citizens’ confidence and participation in their institutions (Putnam & Goss, 2003). In this context, new participatory practices arise with the aim of approaching political representatives and citizens. We are talking about participatory experiences understood as citizen participation experiences in public decision-making.

The incorporation of ICT in politics has introduced fundamental changes in democratic political systems (Ciulla & Nye, 2002; Clift, 2003; Norris, 2004). Depending on the model of political management in which they are incorporated, we find models of e-Administration, e-Government or e-Governance (including e-Participation experiences). ICT are facilitating these practices with more extensive and direct information and greater communication between political representatives and citizens. Even so, we find important differences in the impulse and development of e-Participatory experiences. Thus, several questions arise: What fosters the promotion of e-Participatory experiences? Which factors enhance their development?

Literature related to the study of incorporation of ICT in politics has been focused mainly on e-Government (United Nations, 2004; West, 2004; Wong & Welch, 2004). However, there are fewer studies related to ICT incorporation in democratic innovation mechanisms such as citizen participation (Macintosh & Whyte, 2006; Finquelievich, Baumann & Jara, 2001). Furthermore, literature on e-Participation has been based mainly on case studies of concrete experiences (Coleman & Gøtze, 2001; Barrat & Reniu, 2004; Colombo, 2007) and comparative empirical studies are scarce and incipient (Pratchett, 2006; Jensen, Danzinger & Venkatesh, 2007). Moreover, the empirical existing research is mostly descriptive and evaluative and there is a lack of explanatory analyses.

This chapter analyses specifically:

  • Participatory experiences promoted online and offline, analyzing both participatory experiences and participatory functionalities opened in local governments web sites.

  • Explanatory factors related to the development of participatory experiences, such as population size, political colour of the mayor, electoral abstention rate, age, income and level of education in the municipality.

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