e-participation (also written eParticipation and e-Participation) is the generally accepted term referring to "ICT-supported participation in processes involved in government and governance". Processes may concern administration, service delivery, decision making and policy making. eParticipation is hence closely related to e-government and (e-)governance participation. The need for the term has emerged as citizen benefits and values have often received less attention in e-government development than those of the service providers, and the need to distinguish the roles of citizen and customer has become clearer.
A more detailed definition sees eParticipation as "the use of information and communication technologies to broaden and deepen political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their elected representatives" (Macintosh 2006). This definition includes all stakeholders in democratic decision-making processes and not only citizen related top-down government initiatives. So eParticipation can be seen as part of eDemocracy, whereas eDemocracy means the use of ICT by governments in general used by elected officials, media, political parties and interest groups, civil society organizations, international governmental organizations, or citizens/voters within any of the political processes of states/regions, nations, and local and global communities (Clift 2003). The complexity of eParticipation processes results from the large number of different participation areas, involved stakeholders, levels of engagement, and stages in policy making, which characterize the research and applications (Fraser 2006, p. chapter 2).
The term emanated in the early 2000s and draws generally on three developments.
- The general development in CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) and groupware directed towards collaborative environments to support human ICT-mediated interaction, both work-related and social.
- Developments in e-democracy since the late 1990s, where interest rapidly evolved from e-voting to several forms of ICT-supported and –enabled interaction between governments and citizens, including not only direct ones such as consultations, lobbying, petitioning and polling but also ones pursued outside of government itself, including electioneering, campaigning, and community informatics. To a large extent, the institutional framework conditions of the chosen democratic model define at which part of the democratic processes participation is permitted (such as direct or representative democracy, or any intermediate forms).
- The development in e-government towards increasingly complex service delivery. Complex services require considerable interaction including searching, selecting options based on multiple criteria, calculating outcomes, notifications, inquiries, complaints, and many other activities. There are several ICT tools for such tasks, ranging from FAQs to call centres, but there is a need to coordinate all these into user-friendly but powerful toolsets for client-organization encounters. Because interaction in such contexts is complex, and because goals have to be reached, the arenas where it takes places becomes social arenas for ICT-supported participation.
On the definition
The term participation means taking part in joint activities for the purpose of reaching a common goal. This encompasses both trivial situations in which participation mainly has a technical meaning, ”doing things together”. For example, a football team needs 11 players, and dancing often requires two or more people acting in a coordinated manner. But participation, even in trivial situations, also has a goal-oriented aspect which means decision making and control are involved. Participation in political science and theory of management refers to direct public participation in political, economical or management decisions. The two are not completely separated but belong on a spectrum of complexity and context. When participation becomes complicated, decision making becomes necessary. Hence, any participatory process is potentially important for the rule system governing the activities. In terms of points 2 and 3 above, this means that when service processes become complex, the implementation of them will not be in all details based on political decisions but also on what is found to be practical. Such decisions are made in many places in a situated manner. When such practical doings become implemented in government (e)service systems, they will affect decision making, as many changes will later be hard to make simply because exising procedures are implemented in ICT systems and government agencies’ procedures. There are many theories dealing with institutionalization, for example Structuration theory, Institutional theory, and Actor-Network Theory. These theories all, in different ways, deal with how "ways of doing things" become established or rejected, and how those that become established increasingly affect the ways we "normally" do things.
Models & Tools for eParticipation
A number of tools and models have emerged as part of the Web 2.0 that can be used or inspire the design of architecture for eParticipation. In particular, "the emergence of online communities oriented toward the creation of useful products suggests that it may be possible to design socially mediating technology that support public-government collaborations" (Kriplean et al. Zachry).
Tracking and analysis
European eParticipation Actions
European eParticipation Preparatory Action
eParticipation is the Preparatory Action lasts for three years (2006-2008). The EU is taking the lead in using on-line tools to improve the legislative process for its citizens. eParticipation which launched on 1 January 2007 will run as a series of linked projects which each contribute to a greater awareness and involvement by citizens in the legislation process right from the initial drafting through to its implementation at a regional and local level.
The individual projects will concentrate on ensuring that the legislative language and process is more transparent, understandable and accessible to the citizen. In addition the projects emphasis on the communication of legislation will be used to enhance and grow citizen’s involvement and contribution in the process of creating and thereafter implementing the legislation.
So far, 21 projects have been funded . In the first year six trial projects were selected in 2007 seven more as well as the support action MOMENTUM to coordinate and promote the eParticipation projects and in 2008 a further seven trial projects were chosen. The European Parliament, national parliaments and local and regional authorities are actively involved. State-of-the-art ICT tools are being tested to facilitate the writing of legal texts, including translation into different languages, and the drafting of amendments as well as making the texts easier for non-specialists to find and understand. New digital technologies are also being used to give citizens easier access to information and the more opportunity to try to influence decisions that affect their lives. A report (Charalabidis, Koussouris & Kipenis 2009). which was published as a MOMENTUM whitepaper highlights the major facts and figures of those project's while providing some initial policy recommendations for future use.
European eParticipation Actions
The European Commission has now launched a number of actions aiming at further advancing the work of supporting eParticipation.
- FP7 : ICT Challenge 7 : Objective ICT-2009.7.3 ICT for Governance and Policy Modelling . The European Commission has launched some call in this area to finance researches.
- CIP ICT Policy Support Programme (or ICT PSP). The European project has open a call in the programme CIP (Competitiveness and Innovation Framework) on the Theme 3: ICT for government and governance
- DEMO-net - The eParticipation Network of Excellence . The overarching objective of DEMO-net is to strengthen scientific, technological and social research excellence in eParticipation by integrating the research capacities of individuals and organisations spread across Europe.
- WAVE - Welcoming Argument Visualisation to Europe . The WAVE project "aims to improve the inclusiveness and transparency of EU decision making at the national and European level by using highly integrated, state-of-the-art Argument Visualisation techniques to make the impact of complex EU environmental legislation on climate change more accessible and easy to understand for citizens, special interest groups and decision makers alike".
- FEED - Federated eParticipation Systems for Cross-Societal Deliberation on Environmental and Energy Issues . The main objective FEED is to apply a new concept in e-Participation by allowing users to have seamless access to existing federated content that matches their needs for information on the several aspects of a debated issue as well as to informative material about the specificities of the deliberation procedure in the scope of which an issue is considered.
- Demos@Work - . The objectives of Demos@Work are to:address the issue of citizen disengagement from decision making processes, strengthen the EU fight against tobacco use, improve the quality of services provided to citizens, facilitate the work of MPs, accelerate transition to a knowledge society, increase the awareness of the Parliament activities among its citizens and leverage eRepresentative assets.