Jason Currell on 7 Feb 2001 04:59:53 -0000

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<nettime> Re: [Broadband]: Re: [CPI-UA]: Reform Democracy for the Internet Age

     [orig To: broadband@vcn.bc.ca; and CC: cpi-ua@vcn.bc.ca, 
      dotforce <dotforce@vcn.bc.ca>, CI <communityinformatics@vcn.bc.ca>]

On Tue, 6 Feb 2001, Michael Gurstein wrote:

> I've been thinking about issues of on-line participation and democracy quite a
> lot recently and so I guess, have a lot of other people.
> What I think is clear is that the Field of Dreams approach--build it and they
> will come is just that, a Field of Dreams... lot's of folks are building them
> (on-line processes for consultation/participation)
> but not many folks are using them...

How is this different from the Democratic process in general?  It is
fairly well understood that even in the most open democracys participation
is often minimal.  Look at the US presidential elections.  United states
citizens are inundated with information for months on end so that everyone
has at least a cursory understanding of the issues.  Even with all this
hype they still can only get something like a 50% turnout to the polls...

> The question is how to draw some useful conclusions/direction from the
> participation (or lack of participation) in these
> and on a different level, to ask the question does the lack of (low level of)
> participation overall mean that this
> approach doesn't work and should be abandoned.

Low participation in online democracy doesn't mean it doesn't work any
more than low participation in the democratic process in generall doesn't
work.  Democracy works better if the population belives that their votes
make a difference.  Democracy gives a poplulation the illusion of control.  
If a population believes that they are in control then they will not
rebell.  Revolution occurs because of a lack of control by a particular
group.  The larger the group of people who belive that they have no
control over their situation the larger the group of possible
revolutionaries which further means the larger the possiblity of revolt.

In order to increase a populations happyness and decrease their need to
revolt you must increase their belief that participation in the democratic
process will cause real change.  So even though there may be certain
democratic processes put in place if they appear like they won't cause any
real change they are useless...

> My personal conclusion is that we are just at very early stages in this process
> and we are just testing out different technologies--physical, social,
> emotional--for how these things can, or can be made to, work.  We are collecting
> examples of how they won't work (Fields of Dreams) but there are also some
> interesting examples of how they can be made to work--the anti-MAI and anti-WTO
> initiatives,
> C4LD in Toronto, even GKD and the GDG discussion are very good examples...  The
> failed examples are too numerous to even try to list...
> Some personal observations:
>     * if you want specific kinds of outputs, you need to work at them and this
> doesn't come for free... If someone wants to use ICT's for consultation it is
> not enough to just set up an email list and expect the consultation to flow...
> It needs care and nurturing--facilitation and animation--time and attention

	- People are not going to participate in a discussion unless they
feel that the discussion has the possibility of producing change.

>     * web consultations work even less well than email consultations except in
> highly constrained spheres or environments

	- Web consultations have almost no feedback and definetly don't
seem to be sending a message to anyone who is capable of making changes.

>     * to a very considerable degree silence is consent.  Around any single issue
> or area of concern, there will be a rainbow of responses--from those with a
> passionate interest to those with only the vaguest knowledge.  If the issue
> matters enough to them, people will begin to pay attention and respond.  If
> those with the passionate interest are diverting the process then they will
> elicit a response from those with a less passionate interest and so on... This
> happens on the net just as it does IRL...
>     * we have no idea at this point how to link Net democracy/participation into
> Real Life democratic participation... what has been done in this area to date is
> the political equivalent of the DotCom craze/crash people threw a lot of
> unsustainable models at the problem and when they weren't sustainable they
> crashed... it doesn't mean that E-Commerce (E-participation?) is a dud, only
> that figuring out how to make it work is going to take more effort/resources
> than people originally expected

The way to make Net democracy work is to link online activity with real
world change.  If every politician had a webpage where they outlined votes
that are comming up, stated how that they were going to vote and gave some
sort of online process for their constituents to voice their opinons and
to have the politician actually respond to those constituents then this
would seem like online activity that causes real world change.

>     * we need some theory on participation/democracy on the Net and we need some
> significant re-analysis of current theories of participation/democracy in the
> light of the Net as participation prosthetic.
> However, IMHO the technology is fundamentally supportive of democratic
> participation.  It has the capacity not only to facilitate communications,
> information/knowledge sharing, and multi-logues but also to enhance and extend
> these and thus by any definition they can only lead to greater democratic
> participation (political disintermediation) rather than less.

The technolgy is there but it will only work if it appears to be listened
to by "the powers that be".

> There are of course, issues of access, but probably even now in developed
> countries and in many parts of developing
> countries, more folks have more access to broader political and participatory
> processes via computer communications than through any other available means.

 System Administrator for the Vancouver Community Network
 Jason Currell           |  currell@vcn.bc.ca
 voice #: (604)257-3811  |  modem #: (604) 638-0189 

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