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The implementation of e-participation platforms in Ireland: The case of OpenConsult

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posted on 2022-04-01, 13:47 authored by BERNADETTE CONNAUGHTONBERNADETTE CONNAUGHTON
Putting the ‘e’ factor into governance through e-participation represents attempts to actively involve citizens in deliberating the policy process so that ‘they can raise issues, modify agendas and change government initiatives’ (Davies, 2015). And yet, while e-participation is an important vision of e-governance, it is referred to as a disappointing concept (Bannister and Connolly, 2012) given the gaps between its aspiration of higher rates of citizen engage ment and its actual impact. Using the framework of e-information, e-participation and e-decision-making, the United Nation’s e-participation index indicates that Ireland’s perfor mance in this area is improving, rising from a ranking of 39/193 in 2016 to 29/193 in 2020 (https://publicadministration.un.org/egovkb/en-us/Data/Country-Information/id/81-Ireland). The question arises as to whether and how the public administration gives effect to all stages of this framework with the introduction of e-participation platforms? This chapter discusses emerging e-participation practices in Ireland and argues that, while the introduction of digital platforms in local authorities offers much potential, they remain at a nascent stage of development and are largely grafted onto pre-existing policy-making approaches. The initiative explored is OpenConsult, a platform designed by the research organization CiviQ to support involvement in online consultation processes and make them more transparent. The portal was introduced as a pilot initiative in 2014 and was used in 2020 by a number of Irish public service organizations, including 14 local authorities. The purpose of the discussion is to explore the implementation of OpenConsult and whether the introduction of a technologically enabled engagement approach has led to more meaningful participation with citizens and stakeholders and adaptation within the public administration. Despite its background in a new model of deliberative democracy (Liston et al., 2013), it would appear that the initial e-participation practices in local authorities via OpenConsult have been implemented as a by-product of e-consultation, i.e. making fragmented consultation processes in local government more streamlined and efficient. To date, it is not possible to observe e-participation initiatives which comprehensively affect collaborations both within the government and with non-governmental actors and which link e-participation practices with decision-making to demonstrably influence the policy-making process. The chapter commences by outlining the adoption of a stagist approach to present the spectrum of interactions between government and citizens arising from the expansion of e-government to e-participation and acknowledging the importance of contextual influences and organizational and individual factors in understanding the introduction of e-participation projects in public administration. The discussion moves to review the public administration context in Ireland for e-government/e-governance, which aligns with the Anglo-Saxon tradi tion in promoting public-sector reforms. From the late 1990s, the Irish government began to undertake investment in information and communication technology, and since then, the term e-government has generally been interpreted to straddle both efficiency and effective public administration systems – with more participatory decision processes seemingly tagged on. A background description of CiviQ’s development of OpenConsult is provided to present its mission and goal intentions in the delivery of the platform. The final section seeks to evaluate the platform’s impact by outlining how the platform is utilized as an instrument to improve policy-making processes, how its implementation is influenced by organizational factors within local authority settings and whether this is leading to more innovative and transparent participatory methods.

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Publication

Engaging Citizens in Policy Making e-Participation Practices in Europe, Tiina Randma-Liiv and Veiko Lember (eds);chapter 14, pp. 196–208

Publisher

Edward Elgar

Note

peer-reviewed

Language

English

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