E-participation/e-democracy begin with digital inclusion

4. December 2008 – 12:39 by Dan Jellinek

I was in Vienna on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for the EU digital inclusion conference.
It was a hugely valuable event, with a large number of people from all over Europe attending to share expertise and knowledge of some really interesting projects.

One of the highlights was the announcement of the winners of the digital inclusion awards, about which Rolf has already posted: us Brits were proud that two UK local authorities were among the seven winners, but in truth all the shortlisted projects on display were of a high standard.

The conference looked at digital inclusion in a very broad sense. It covers efforts to ensure that socially excluded or disadvantaged groups have access to new technologies such as the internet and mobile phones, looking at multiple factors including poverty; health; disability; education; geography; political exclusion; technophobia; language; usability; and many other factors. But it also covers the importance of ensuring that everyone continues to have access to equal services even when they are digitally excluded, so for example sometimes it might still be better to use a paper newspaper to consult, if more people will be reached. There are global and international developmental issues, too, not just projects within single countries.

One key point I realised is that digital inclusion is actually the starting point for e-participation and e-democracy. Unless as many people as possible have access to all e-participation projects, whether directly, through intermediaries, or through non-digital channels which can then be fed into the same process, then they are not democratic. Accessibility, usability, and all areas of digital inclusion should be part of every e-participation project and should play a central role in PEP-NET’s thinking.

In the next few issues of E-Access Bulletin (www.headstar.com/eab), our free email newsletter on access to technology by people with disabilities, we will be writing up many of the Vienna sessions.

And one further tip: the UK academic Paul Foley, professor of e-commerce at De Montfort University, showed me a new website in Vienna funded by the UK government which is a superb repository of best practice in the field of digital inclusion: ‘solutions4inclusion’.

Launched alongside the UK government’s recent action plan on digital inclusion, it did not receive much coverage, but is definitely worth a look. It covers not just UK but international projects in all areas of digital inclusion. You may like to add your own work to it as well.

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  1. One Response to “E-participation/e-democracy begin with digital inclusion”

  2. By Steve Harold on Jan 31, 2009

    It’s great to hear that two UK councils are up with the times and even showing some sort of lead particularly as far as technology is concerned

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