Are online forums dominated by techies and geeks and, if so, does this deter wider citizen participation?
The European Citizens’ Consultation 2009 (ECC09) might provide an interesting case study. ECC09 is an ambitious project which is seeking the views of the citizens of Europe on the economic and social future of the EU. The overarching aim is to involve citizens of EU member states in discussion on its economic and social future, bringing citizens closer to Europes institutions and creating the space for citizen voices in the European policy making process. Involve are not-for-profit participation specialists and are the UK National Partner for the ECC09 project.
The project has three main stages
(1) the online stage
(2) the National Consultation
(3) the European Citizens’ Summit.
Stages (2) and (3) are both offline featuring face-to-face deliberation between randomly selected citizens. The online stage (1) on the other hand is open to all citizens, MEPs, pressure groups and NGOs and requires participants to be self-selecting.
At Involve, we are interested to see who will take part in the online discussion and at what stage in the project they do so. While in-depth knowledge of European issues is not a prerequisite for joining the discussion, the citizens posting in the first instance have tended to polarise debate, limiting discussion to single issues with strongly pro-Europe or Eurosceptics slant. Will this stimulate wider discussion in the long term or will the dominance of geeks create a barrier to “lay” citizens to joining the debate? A number of MEPs have contributed their visions for the economic and social future of Europe which are easily accessible for people not schooled in the mechanics of the EU and it will be interesting to see whether the Party political dimension of MEP contributions will stimulate citizens, who are otherwise not motivated by techie talk, to contribute their own ideas about the future of Europe. The online debate runs throughout the duration of the project. You can view and join the debate at www.european-citizens-consultation.org.uk
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