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e-Governments and Citizen Participation

The Internet and new technologies have impacted all of society since their arrival. An interesting facet of the Internet has been its extensive and intensive use by governments to improve democracy, transparency, and citizen services.

The United Nations has identified five e-government presence evolution levels: emerging, enhanced, interactive, transactional, and networked. Our work herein will focus on the final level, as it is the most sophisticated and challenging. It can be characterized by an integration of Government to Government, Government to Citizen, and Citizen to Government (and reverse) interactions, and it considers citizen interaction to be the most important goal. Therefore, it is not only about transactions but also about the capacity of citizen influence and active participation in the democratic system.

Traditionally, e-government has been characterized by three basics stages: informational, transactional, and interactive. The first two levels concentrate on the governmental agency as the principal actor. At the informational level, almost all local or national governments develop websites orientated to providing information to their citizens and to providing information about their work. It is easy to find this kind of site, especially at the local level in developing countries, where governments design and use web spaces as marketing platforms and as support for their future reelections.

The focus of the second stage is to provide services to citizens: transactions. This includes administrative activities such as access to birth records, taxes, grant applications, etc. Online services are the predominant trait of this stage.

The third stage is the most powerful stage at the moment, and it poses a challenge to new democratic relations and new forms of citizen participation. These new relations are not only related to the government; citizens are also, and maybe more importantly, related to new forms of association between people, towns, and groups that before were divided by geographical borders. Right now, with the Internet, the globalization paradigm is increasing daily their effects in the world and it is giving space to new subjectivity structures and new relations that are, without a doubt, the most challenging experience for the new world order and its governments.

As is frequent in the Internet discussion, there are many open opportunities to innovate, create, and design new communication forms between governments and citizens and, of course, between citizens too. However, the most important challenge is to motivate the citizens to engage in the participation.

Currently, we are experiencing a crisis in civic participation. Also, youth populations are more and more reticent to engage in formal political actions. Nonetheless, at the same time it is possible to observe the emergence of new virtual communities, which are focused on common interests, such as ecology, human rights, or networking. Engaged communities have common objectives, goals, and motivations in bringing together a variety of resources, expertise, and knowledge. Their work is organized following the idea of a network, without strong hierarchies, stratifications, or roles. This organizational style is diametrically opposed to the governmental bureaucratic style. Moreover, the high citizen participation and engagement comes with the least amount of bureaucratic power.

Without a doubt, the Internet is changing the traditional styles of citizen participation, and governments need to adapt their strategies and relations to their citizens. On the other hand, as governments introduce these technologies and tools, it is necessary to focus on building a strong sense of community among citizens instead of debating technical issues. That is, civic engagement is more of a cultural and political issue, and although the Internet and new technologies can contribute to civic engagement, they should be seen only as means to this end. Hence, definitions and uses of these tools should be defined by citizens.

On this page, you will find some tools that are currently in use and examples of e-government sites and on-line resources on/related to these topics.

 

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