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Archive for the Ch 05: E-Democracy Category

Political Communication Preconference and main APSA conference in Boston

Posted on Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 6:56 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Just a quick note to say that I'll be at the APSA conference in Boston next week. Nick Anstead and I are presenting our paper 'Parties, Election Campaigning and the Internet: Toward a Comparative Institutional Approach' (a chapter from the newly published Handbook of Internet Politics edited by Phil Howard and I) to the American Political Science Association Political Communication Section Annual Preconference, held at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, on August 27.

I'm the discussant for Panel 38-15: Political Communication Online at the main APSA Conference in Boston. Full details here.

Hope to see you there.

New Statesman New Media Awards

Posted on Wed, Jul 11, 2007 at 10:39 PM by Andrew Chadwick

New Statesman logo

Looking at the list of finalists for this year's New Statesman New Media Awards, I'm impressed by a) the mainstream political entries (Cameron and the Downing Street E-Petitions) and b) what we might call 'non-official but with a mainstream purpose' sites (18 Doughty Street, The Government Says, PlanningAlerts).

Reforming the UK prime minister's e-petitions system

Posted on Tue, Jun 12, 2007 at 3:39 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Petition image

At the recent RSA event on the Social Impact of the Web, there was some debate about how the UK prime minister's e-petitions programme should evolve, with much of the discussion centring on the problems of incorporating deliberative elements alongside the essentially push-button format. Tom Steinberg of MySociety, the organisation behind the site, called for a public debate about this. Here are my brief thoughts.

The main problem here is the format of any deliberation. Large scale moderation seems to me to be inescapable in any element of user-generated content on a site such as this, but forums make it that much more difficult to do.

Do we want additional extra user-generated content and (partly) user-controlled deliberation added on top of some of the e-petitions? If we do, perhaps a standard threaded forum might not be the way to go. The problem with forums is that:

a) they're designed to facilitate confrontation and therefore flaming is more likely
b) in an environment like this, they may turn people off who don't feel that they have the expertise to contribute (one of the rationales for the e-petitions site is to provide a facility for those who do not have the resources (economics, skills, contacts etc) to establish their own campaign sites).
c) they are extremely risky for politicians and public servants and this tends to make them costly to moderate.

Given this context, a 'story-telling' approach, with moderated comments, plus user ratings, might just work.

A successful example here is the BBC news site's user-generated content. Much of it based on a story-telling, reactive model. Stories are powerful, and people feel comfortable telling them.

Citizens could write stories of limited length about why the petition matters to them, and a sample of these could be opened up to comments and ratings. Activists will tell the stories, the less active will make brief comments, and the 'ordinary' supporters will rate. Highly rated stories will rise to the top of the list. Rating stories is different from polling - which is, after all, built in to the petition format in the first place.

Whatever you go for, being choosy about the petitions (say just the top twenty, defined in terms of signatory numbers sampled over a set period of time) to be opened up to the stories format also seems essential.

Introducing stories, comments, and ratings on those stories introduces some controlled deliberative interaction and makes it a more human and granular website. It encourages greater civility and is less risky but more innovative than forums.

What do you think? Are there better ways forward for the prime minister's e-petitions?

[Crossposted at the New Political Communication Unit blog]

Edited on: Thu, Feb 19, 2009 1:15 AM


Posted on Sun, Apr 01, 2007 at 3:57 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Politicopia is a new e-democracy initiative founded by Steve Urquhart and Utah citizens. It is a simple wiki based setup which enables debate on real and potential state legislature bills and other issues. As the site says, "Users create summaries of bills, pro and con arguments, comments, links, and more." My first impression is that the rigid formula for presenting the items might work against it, but it seems to working well so far. The idea of presenting contextual links is a good one.

Crossposted at the New Political Communication Unit blog.

Edited on: Thu, Feb 19, 2009 1:14 AM

Presenting the International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policymaking

Posted on Sat, Mar 31, 2007 at 7:52 PM by Andrew Chadwick

I'm currently at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard for the opening conference of the new, NSF-funded International Working Group on Online Consultation and Public Policymaking led by Peter Shane of Ohio State and Stephen Coleman of Leeds. The group consists of 17 members from around the world; a great mix of senior and junior colleagues with a diverse range of interests and concerns. The meeting has been extremely interesting and fruitful so far, with an excellent programme of future events and concrete outputs, including a special issue of the journal I/S and a jointly-authored book to follow. A list of the participants:

Professor Peter M. Shane, The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law
Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication, University of Leeds
Steven J. Balla, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Patrizia Bertini, independent practitioner and Researcher, European Internet Accessibilità Observatory, Manerbio, Italy
Andrew Chadwick, Royal Holloway College, University of London
Sungsoo Hwang, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Pittsburgh
David Lazer, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Jeffrey Lubbers, Washington College of Law, American University, Washington, D.C.
Laurence Monnoyer-Smith, University of Technology at Compiègne, France
Beth Noveck, New York Law School
Kerrie Oakes, Ph.D. Candidate, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
Oren Perez, Faculty of Law, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel
Vincent Price, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Alicia Schatteman, Ph.D. candidate, The State University of New Jersey at Newark, NJ
Polona Picman Štefancic, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Peter L. Strauss, Betts Professor of Law, Columbia University
Scott Wright, De Montfort University, Leicester, England.

See also David Lazer's blog entry at the Kennedy School Program on Networked Governance.

(Crossposted at the New Political Communication Unit Blog).

Hansard Society's Digital Dialogues project

Posted on Fri, Mar 23, 2007 at 10:00 AM by Andrew Chadwick

Digital Dialogues

Just before last Christmas I was lucky enough to be at a conference at the OII which involved some discussion of the new interim report of the Hansard Society's and UK Department for Constitutional Affairs' excellent new e-democracy initiative, Digital Dialogues. The report is now publicly available and the project continues. One of the main themes that emerges is the lack of marketing in several of the initiatives, but there are some good examples of small-scale successes. The other thing I like about the approach is that it doesn't rely on just forums, but encompasses blogs and chats. Phase Two is now underway.

(Crossposted at the New Political Communication Unit Blog).

MySpace Impact

Posted on Tue, Mar 20, 2007 at 7:27 AM by Andrew Chadwick

MySpace now has a dedicated politics portal.


Posted on Mon, Mar 19, 2007 at 2:32 PM by Andrew Chadwick

OpenCongress - the latest excellent example of context-rich web media.

UK prime minister's e-petitions

Posted on Thu, Nov 23, 2006 at 3:57 PM by Andrew Chadwick

The UK prime minister's site now features an e-petitions section. Use has increased in a very short time. The main problem is that there are no deliberative elements - no forums, no blogs. Just individualised, push-button e-democracy of the 'consultative' kind discussed in Chapter 5. Seems ironic, given that Matthew Taylor, the outgoing chief advisor to Blair, recently criticised the Internet for fostering this style of politics. Still, it is significant. See a lively thread on the Association of Internet Researchers email list and commentary in The Times by Peter Riddell.

Update: Thanks to Steven Clift for posting a link to the ongoing debates at DOwire.org in a Comment.

Edited on: Thu, Dec 07, 2006 4:01 PM

UK Liberal Democrats' online policy consultations

Posted on Wed, Sep 20, 2006 at 9:41 AM by Andrew Chadwick

Lib Dems Policy Consultation image

Some interesting developments over at the UK LibDems' website, including a new online policy consultations section. This features consultative documents and comments forms. The discussions do not feature threads but provide for a simple list of comments (presumably heavily moderated behind the scenes). It's essentially a blog with commenting, and not a discussion forum. In that sense it is based on similar principles to the US Democrats site.

MySpace and politics

Posted on Mon, Jun 05, 2006 at 10:38 AM by Andrew Chadwick

I was slightly surprised to read Victor Keegan in The Guardian mentioning the role of MySpace in campaigning during the recent National Union of Students elections. Having Googled around a bit it seems there is something bubbling under. I've been working on a project with my colleague James Sloam (a long way from seeing the light of day) about whether parties can adapt to young people's changing modes of political participation and this is intriguing. Watch this (My)Space.

Update: See the Comments on this post.

Edited on: Wed, Jun 14, 2006 5:52 PM

IPDI PoliticsOnline Conference 2006

Posted on Thu, Apr 06, 2006 at 4:00 PM by Andrew Chadwick

This looks like it was excellent. Maybe I'll have the days free to attend it next year.

Web 2.0 in e-government

Posted on Sat, Mar 11, 2006 at 3:03 PM by Andrew Chadwick

Good little article by Ellen Perlman in Governing Magazine about the rise of blogs and wikis in US state and local governments.

Legislators and the perils of supposed anonymity

Posted on Wed, Feb 22, 2006 at 3:36 PM by Andrew Chadwick

An amusing story has emerged about the British Conservative MP, Iain Liddell-Grainger, who attempted to hit the big time by ramping his profile on Writetothem.com.

What was he thinking? Seriously though, the finding that Conservatives are more e-responsive than Labour is intriguing. An incumbency effect, whereby those seeking power are more likely to see the benefits of an online strategy while those in power drift along complacently? A hypothesis is lurking in there somewhere.

Congress Votes Database

Posted on Sun, Jan 22, 2006 at 12:52 PM by Andrew Chadwick

The Washington Post's Congressional votes database is an excellent resource.


Posted on Fri, Jan 13, 2006 at 10:57 AM by Andrew Chadwick

Bristol City Council have launched Campaigncreator, a website and set of basic tools to get citizens started. It is quite similar to the BBC's Action Network, launched a couple of years ago. But take a look at Campaigncreator's 'Terms and Conditions':


CampaignCreator provides users with access to information and online tools intended to be used solely for the purposes of community campaigning (“Service”). You understand and agree that the Service is part of a pilot project and is provided "as is" and that CampaignCreator assumes no responsibility for failures within the system.

The Campaign Creator application and guidance can only be used to support “community campaigns”.

A “community campaign” in the context of this project is recognised to be separate from

(1) a “political campaign” (which is primarily concerned with securing stated party political objectives or has the aim of securing political office),

(2) a “marketing campaign” (whose primary objective is increasing take up of a specific product or service) and,

(3) “national” or “international” campaigns (whose initial intent is to operate over the widest geographical area).

In the context of this project, “a community campaign” is likely to concern an issue, idea, proposal, policy or action that is intended to bring benefits or improvements to

(1) a local geographical area (a street, ward, neighbourhood or small geographical area within Bristol, UK) or

(2) a community of interest such as a demographic group (older people, younger people, disabled people etc) or a group linked by a shared concern (use or non-use of a service etc).

Where there is a question as to whether CampaignCreator is being used to support a “community campaign” the Project Manager, or representative,will seek to establish agreement with the principal campaigner. Where agreement cannot be reached the judgement of the project board will be final."

I can see what they're trying to achieve, but I'm not sure if it's wise to try to circumscribe things in this way. How many 'local' campaigns do not touch on 'party political objectives'? They're going to lose quite a few potential activists if they strictly enforce the 'non-party political' condition. Also, how many local issues in a unitary political system like the United Kingdom are untouched by 'national' or 'international' policy domains? Think of environmental issues, for example. They're going to lose quite a few potential activists there too, especially among younger citizens.

Wireless and "great good places"

Posted on Wed, Nov 30, 2005 at 12:10 PM by Andrew Chadwick

A fun little interview with William J. Mitchell got me thinking about social capital - one of the themes of Chapter 05. In this I discuss Ray Oldenburg's "third places" theory. Oldenburg argues that since the 1950s, planners and architects have failed to incorporate what he terms "great good places" in their suburban development schemes. Great good places provide meeting spaces away from work and the home. They may be public or perhaps semi-public spaces, such as cafés, bars, and hair salons, but the key point is that they regularly bring us into contact with others, and encourage serendipitous encounters that extend our social ties.

The interesting thing about Mitchell's theory of the wirelessly-powered urban environment is that the "great good places" become significant not for what they actually provide in the way of face to face human interaction but rather as venues where it is acceptable to connect with others not present. How many times have you walked into a Starbucks, looked around, and realised that everyone in the shop is communicating with someone physically absent, via phone, text, or email? The urban environment provides a sort of skeletal architecture for these things to occur - chairs, coffee, heating - but do these "great good places" now actually work in the way Oldenburg wants them to?

Nice quote

Posted on Thu, Nov 10, 2005 at 11:07 AM by Andrew Chadwick
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth"

Oscar Wilde

E-democracy and e-government in Singapore

Posted on Tue, Nov 08, 2005 at 11:18 AM by Andrew Chadwick

Singapore is often held up as an excellent example of managerial e-government. It's often mentioned in the same breath that its model of e-government fits with its (relatively) authoritarian political system. It's doubly surprising therefore to find that this Government Consultation Portal appears to be thriving.

OSU and UEA conferences on e-democracy

Posted on Tue, Nov 01, 2005 at 5:04 PM by Andrew Chadwick

This looks like an interesting conference. It is partly organized by Peter Shane, who edited a very good collection of essays on e-democracy, published by Routledge last year.

In the same vein, but on the other side of the Atlantic, there's a conference at De Montfort University, organized by Lawrence Pratchett and Scott Wright. No website yet, but it's on Wednesday November 23rd.

Hopefully the papers will be available online in due course.

Open source and governance

Posted on Tue, Oct 04, 2005 at 2:07 PM by Andrew Chadwick

There's a brief interview on opendemocracy with Geoff Mulgan (former adviser inside Number 10, now at the Young Foundation) about open source as a democratic principle to guide governance. This comes on the back of his and Tom Steinberg's Demos pamphlet earlier this year. See also the paper I published (pdf) as part of a symposium on Jane Fountain's book Building the Virtual State in 2003, especially the sections towards the end. But more importantly, see the excellent book by Steven Weber which goes beyond the 'open source is inherently democratic' view. Some bits of open source method are democratic, some aren't.

E-voting dead in the UK?

Posted on Fri, Sep 09, 2005 at 11:17 AM by Andrew Chadwick

There appears to be something of an emerging consensus among party politicians in the UK that the security fears over e-voting are enough to kill it off as an idea. The British electoral machinery has gone through quite difficult times of late, with several high profile cases of voter fraud during the May 2005 general election, so it's not surprising that this sort of experimentation is being frowned upon.

How to interpret the significance of this is less easy. E-democracy advocates tend to be divided on the issue of push-button style e-voting. Some simply define e-democracy that way, others have a more deliberative approach which values the processes leading up to the actual decision. Still others see the convenience of, for example, voting by mobile phone, as something symbolically significant that will spark off more general interest in Internet forms of consultation and participation.

There's certainly something in the view that there's little point in online deliberation unless, at some stage, this is tied to some form of decision-making. But this would appear to be better suited to local or small scale decision-making on discrete issues, with specific time limits in place. These pull people into the deliberative process and the decision. Giving people the opportunity to spend ten seconds texting their vote at a general election provides an opportunity to decide, without any obligation to deliberate.

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