Central government and e-participation

5. June 2008 – 13:27 by Dan Jellinek

Here in the UK, central government has been quite good overall in funding e-participation projects and trials compared with many other European countries, from what I understand from talking to fellow Pep-Netters.

However, responsibility for e-participation policy has tended to be quite fragmented, with many different government departments and agencies having some interest and putting in some funding.

Those with some involvement in this field, for example, have included the Cabinet Office and various of its agencies; the Ministry of Justice (after the transfer of the former Home Office team looking at community cohesion); the Department for Communities and Local Government; and around the fringes, others including BERR for business involvement.

Work has been further fragmented by it being split between various one-off funds such as Digital Challenge, the Innovation Fund, and the former National Projects for Local E-Government, as well as other funds handled by the Ministry of Justice.

So while there has been a great deal of good work going on, it has often been confusing for organisations working in the field to know where to focus their efforts to obtain funding; and the highest profile casualty of the confusion looks now to be ICELE, the International Centre of Excellence for Local E-Government that was born out of the former National Project for Local E-Democracy.

Over the past year or so ICELE has been aware that its funding would be coming up for review, and more recently it has emerged that the government is considering finally pulling together the strands of its e-participation work into a new cross-government agency. What this has meant in practice however is that the whole thing has ground to a health, mired in internal political and bureaucratic debate; ICELE’s owner council, Lichfield council, has run out of time, money and patience; and the chair of ICELE Matthew Ellis has had to pull the plug on the whole project while the government works out what to do.

While in many ways it is a logical thing to try to pull all the strands together across government, and it was always a bit odd for a UK-focused body developed from a national project to become something termed ‘international’, it would be a huge shame if the good work ICELE has carried out over the past few years were to be lost, and the team that has been assembled disbanded altogether.

ICELE is a member of PEP-NET, and I understand that Fraser Henderson and others from the team will be able to continue participation in this project by working through Lichfield Council, whatever happens to ICELE. That is good news, and hopefully we can play a part therefore in ensuring ICELE’s legacy is a strong one.

We at E-Government Bulletin (www.headstar.com/egb) will track what happens with ICELE in ours news coverage as well, so those interested can follow it there; and perhaps ICELE will also post updates to this blog.

I would also be interested to hear what the situation is in other countries with regard to how the funding and encouragement of e-participation is handled (well or badly) by central government.

All the best,

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  1. 3 Responses to “Central government and e-participation”

  2. By Fraser Henderson - ICELE on Jun 5, 2008

    Thanks for the heads-up, Dan. We’re still talking to CLG to find a way through this - like you say, the disappointment is that continental Europe is hotting up while the UK is now cooling down.

    Ironically the ICELE brand tends to have a better exposure/reputation abroad than it does at home - despite 90% of effort being ploughed into ‘home affairs’. Our UK operations seem to be constantly battling cynicism in what I can only describe as ‘feuds’.

    Ignoring local government in what is still a representative democracy can’t be a sensible way forward…

  3. By Rolf Lührs on Jun 11, 2008

    Hi Dan,

    What I can tell is that the existence of something like ICELE, funded by the central government, underpins the importance of eParticipation to administrations outside the UK. As a candidate for the ICELE award Hamburg’s (former) Senator for urban development , Axel Gedaschko, attended ICELE’s International eParticipation Symposium. He was impressed by this event and felt inspired to increase Hamburg’s eParticipation activities. It would be definitely the wrong signal to close ICELE down without having anything in place that could play this role.

    Regarding the situation in Germany, there has been very little engagement by the central government to integrate eParticipation so far. This has also been mirrored in the UN e-Participation Index (https://tinyurl.com/634zh4) where Germany ended up even below Burkina Faso and the Capverdian Islands. However, in recent times the Central Government financed two studies to evaluate the current state of eParticipation and eInclusion in Germany. The minister for the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, stated the Germany will strive to use eParticpation to re-connect citizens in the near future.

    Currently there are a lot of different eParticipation trials and pilots in Germany, but they can only be found on the regional or local level. Some of them have been listed and described in English language at https://www.e-particpation.net.

  4. By Fraser on Jun 18, 2008

    It’s official - Parmjit Dhanda (https://www.parmjitdhanda.co.uk/) has finally pulled the plug :(

    To quote:

    On the 13 June 2008, the Minister for local e-democracy, Parmjit Dhanda M.P., announced in a letter to the International Centre of Excellence for Local eDemocracy (ICELE) Chair, Cllr. Matthew Ellis, that ICELE as a sponsored entity of CLG, would no longer receive any
    further funding beyond the agreed life-span of the programme.

    In the letter, the Minister stated, “I would like to place on public record my Department’s gratitude for all of the good work ICELE has
    undertaken during the stewardship of you and your colleagues, Cllr. Bill Brookes and Cllr. Mary Reid, and to your support staff during the
    programme’s life-span.

    I recognise that ICELE has taken forward the work of several components of the local e-Government programme including the Local
    e-Democracy National Project and disseminated these through your award winning website. In addition, ICELE has won some European funding to enhance understanding and good practice around eParticipation and ensured that assistance to local authorities has been available on the complex issue of local e-democracy when required.

    However when ICELE was established, CLG gave a commitment of funding up to 31 March 2008 with a key objective for the Centre to “build a
    model for long-term sustainability beyond the programme life-span”.

    Regrettably, sustainability has not been demonstrated despite the successful bids for EU grants.

    My Department remains committed to encouraging the use of ICT for empowerment in partnership with others to facilitate and enhance local
    democracy. As part of the Government’s work on the forthcoming Community Empowerment White Paper, we are actively considering how
    best to utilize new technologies to support community empowerment.

    ICELE has been very active in responding to recent consultations on a number of issues linked to the forthcoming White Paper and these have been gratefully received. However, in looking at this broad agenda, we have to assess the value, sustainability and potential benefits that other organisations could also offer in taking forward the work in
    this area.

    In conclusion, I am of the opinion that ICELE, as a sponsored entity of CLG, should cease operations on the 30 June 2008 [other than core
    staffing support activities related to the Review].

    I have instructed officials to conduct a further review in partnership with ICELE on the tools and products produced or managed by the Centre. This review will also seek to establish how best any successful elements of ICELE’s work might be taken forward and how sustainability might be achieved.

    Finally, I hope that Lichfield District Council and all other users of the local e-democracy tools will continue to play a role in taking the agenda of empowerment using ICT forward. Improving public services and strengthening democracy by encouraging active citizenship is a shared political goal and offers real opportunities to revive our civic society.

    Your continued support and enthusiasm for making this happen at the local level, either through your blogging as a local councillor or through your advice and guidance to others as Chair of ICELE, is testament to your understanding and leadership over the past two years.”

    For information:

    • ICELE was officially launched in October 2006 by Communities and Local Government Minister, Angela Smith M.P., at the United Nations
    CIAPR Conference.

    • CLG has provided core funding to ICELE of £386,000 for the Centre’s activities over the past two years and £234,000 to make the VOICE
    product fit for purpose.

    • The Review of the ICELE portfolio will be conducted to investigate how best to take forward any of the tools currently being used. We cannot however continue to indefinitely support non-sustainable or non-viable e-democracy products or tools for which there is no demonstrated need. No decision will be made in respect of any of the tools and products until this has been completed.

    • CLG, in partnership with other Government Departments, are actively considering how best to promote and utilize new technologies to support community empowerment as one of the strands in the forthcoming Community Empowerment White Paper.

    ..look out for the response from LDC…

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