Is dissemination/outreach the key to e-participation?

3. July 2008 – 18:08 by Dan Jellinek

In the past few weeks I have been writing a briefing for UK Parliamentarians on e-participation, on behalf of PITCOM, the Parliamentary IT Committee. PITCOM is a joint IT industry/Parliament grouping which is politically neutral, and set up by MPs (members of Parliament) and Peers (our word for the politicians in the House of Lords, our second chamber) to bridge the gap between politicians and the industry.

The briefing itself should be published in the next few weeks on PITCOM’s website, for free download, at: in the section headed ‘briefings’.

One of the interesting topics to arise in the report came from an interview with a politician, Margaret Moran, whom PEP-NET members are due to meet in London in November. Margaret Moran is an e-participation pioneer who over many years has led extremely valuable projects including ‘Womenspeak’ and ‘Kidspeak’, which are online consultation projects with women and children who are affected by domestic violence. Other groups involved in this work included the Hansard Society and a charity called Women’s Aid.

 Margaret told me that one of the keys to successful e-participation is to target ‘unheard voices’ - the hardest to reach groups within whatever area you are approaching. So for domestic violence, not only is this already a sensitive subject and a group of people who are hard to engage with because of anonymity and security concerns, but within this group their project also targeted for example women from the Bangladeshi community who might find it even harder to speak out for cultural and language reasons.

If you do not target such groups, she argues, then e-participation is just another way for voices to be heard that are already heard in other ways. But if you use the power of e-participation to allow remote, secure, anonymous consultation to target unheard voices, it is truly powerful.


Of course, such a task is not easy - by definition these groups of people are hard to reach. So outreach work is the key. You must go to where people are - whether it be school gates, community groups or whatever - and spread the wor about the online consultation or e-participation exercise. This is not a technology issue - it is spending time, money and effort in reaching people through ordinary channels, and also through partner bodies such as national charities that already work with marginalised groups of people.

This is an important message I think, and one that is developed in the report - I hope PEP-NET members will be interested to read it when it appears, and I will post another note on here when it is out. 

  1. One Response to “Is dissemination/outreach the key to e-participation?”

  2. By Simon Dalferth on Jul 3, 2008

    This is really a key question in all participation efforts, whether eParticipation or RL participation.

    If participation is to have any meaningful impact on the quality of our democracy (and there is this potential in my view), there must be mechanisms to empower those who have become alienated from politics. In participatory processes they can directly influence the outcome through their particpiation, rather than having to rely on the often rather abstract notion of trusting an agent/representative. When these groups in society remain excluded even in those processes, the danger is that the alienation deepens. Then it is going to be even more difficult to reach and convince them to help shape politics and policies according to their demands.

    This brings the argument out that an instrumental understanding of participation limited to better regulation and better citizen information cannot be sufficient. It is necessary to take the nomative democratic underpinnings of participative processes seriously. Participation processes carry too much potential to be ‘branded’ as a tool of those whose voice already shapes policy-making.

    Technology is not the key here, but in some cases technology might be used to simplify participation. I am thinking about interface design and process simplification. There is still progress to be made to reduce the obstacles for the less tech-savvy to use eParticpation tools.

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