Active citizen participation online : a typology for evaluating online civic participation projects

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2011-12

Authors

Hennigan, Sean Christopher

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Abstract

Communications scholars recognize two related trends in twenty-first century politics: the rise of information and communications technologies promising major changes in civic participation and a growing disconnection between citizens and their governments. The coexistence of these trends raises some interesting questions about the role of ICTs for enabling new forms of civic participation. How can new technologies better enable civic participation? This report proposes a typology for evaluating online civic participation projects that allows researchers to analyze the goals, designs, and outcomes of particular projects. The typology also incorporates Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation in order to enumerate the relationships between the project’s goals and its outcomes and to provide a flexible model for understanding the democratic conceptualizations manifested in particular projects. The report analyzes three online civic participation projects, highlighting their innovations and discussion their levels of citizen participation. The analyses suggest that a project’s goals, designs and outcomes are related to, and inform, its desired and realized levels of citizen participation. The review also suggests clarifications to Arnstein’s ladder for future use in understanding online civic participation. The report’s evaluative typology can aid in the interpretation of past online civic participation projects and guide the conceptualization and implementation of future projects in order to facilitate the development of more direct connections between citizens and governments and more open and transparent democratic governance structures.

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