In a research strategy involves analyzing the levels

In
order to evaluate the depth of participation, a research strategy involves
analyzing the levels of e-participation’s intensity. There are several models of
participation classification. The four stages model proposed by Sarah White- nominal, instrumental, representative
and transformative 1
is an important theoretical contribution. This model implies the
e-participation in the narrowest sense focusing on the cooperative elements of
steps three and four, representative and transformative steps. Information is
the essential foundation for participation, providing the basis on which
continuing activity can evolve. Transparency increased through the use of ICT
forms an indispensable basis for informed decision-making, citizen engagement
and new forms of public private partnerships (Macintosh, 2006).
Consultation enables the involved parties (citizens, companies, NGOs) to
express their opinion on questions posed, or to make proposals or official
statements on submitted drafts. Cooperation between the state and civil society
allows participants to discuss issues with decision makers and actively
collaborate with the state. High impact in this regard requires intense,
electronically supported communication between all stakeholders, including the
persons responsible for planning and the public. Participation can finally
culminate in codetermination, when citizens make a decision, typically in
conjunction with the politicians in charge.

a.     
Assessing
the potential of e-participation process

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Using
ICT in the democratic participation process is particularly useful to a number
of users, including citizens living and working abroad, younger generations,
and companies and organizations, which would otherwise not be able to
participate. However, ICT also offer a number of other advantages.

One
of the main benefits of e-participation is the flexibility it offers in terms
of time and location, as well as the choices made available to the
participants. This flexibility can be geographical – in this sense, electronic
participation combines the advantages of centralization and decentralization –
but flexibility can also be understood in terms of time. Online services can be
set up quickly, can easily be adapted to different needs and are more up to
date than offline (Córdoba-Pachón &
Ochoa-Arias, 2010).

The
use of ICT in participation can also offer different forms and levels of
information. For instance, allowing users to decide themselves, which services
to use, how to access them, and what depth of information they wish to have.
Personalization allows the users to customize, and personalize their profiles,
thus increasing the usability of online services and applications.

Certain
groups can be reached more easily online including citizens living abroad,
so-called digital natives (tech-savvy young people), and companies and groups
with low financial or time budgets. Interactivity is another major advantage. Users
can give feedback in several ways. Most important are non-linear features such
as maps, construction documents, Web 2.0 modules, or computer-supported
cooperative work. Interactivity also improves the services offered by public
administration, as it allows quick reactions and the ability to provide further
information when required, thus improving the relationship with users.

Modern
and interactive ICTs offer a number of opportunities to communicate
synchronously as well as asynchronously at the individual or mass level. The
Internet’s particular strengths are its many-to-many communication, hypertext
linking and networking (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010).
The user is not restricted to the recipient role, but is able to coproduce and
broadcast information. Thus, the utilization of several communication channels
can strengthen a (democratic) discussion; while transparent discussions, comments,
and feedback allow for user evaluation and control, which in turn can increase
trust and acceptance. Finally, the cost-benefit ratio is relatively favorable2.

2.     
Internet’s
Role in Democratization

In
studying initiatives to re-vitalize democracy, the role of Internet and the ICT
is much debated, yet undeniably crucial.

 Among the advantages, notably is the spread of
information around the world, much better access to information and the capability
to mobilize demonstrators. Beyond these determinants, the Internet can foster in
depth and neutral or balanced analysis, the diffusion of frees information with
greater transparency, and increased free speech with lower barriers of entry.

1 Sarah White (2010)
distinguishes four forms of participation: nominal, instrumental,
representative and transformative. In a seminal work Sherry R Arnstein, “A
Ladder of Citizen Participation,” (1969) distinguish 8 forms or stages of
citizen participation and describes how power structures interact in society. A similar
model with 8 types of participation is proposed in a report by European
Technology Assessment Group (ETAG), a study commissioned by  European Parliament – Science and Technology
Options Assessment. See Lindner, Beckert, Aichholzer,
Strauß, and Hennen (2010).

2 For a review of the
evidence of the public participation see the chapter “Initial scoping of the benefits of public participation” in Smith (2008: pp.2-5)