Today, global citizens use the Internet effectively for all types of interactions, including those with their governments. In fact, most transactions between citizens and governments can now be completed easily online. I see this “e-participation” as essential to preserving and growing democracy. In a world where rising, geographically dispersed populations threaten people’s sense of connectedness, e-participation can provide a new way for citizens to remain active in their government.
Four shifts are driving e-participation in nations around the world.
1. Greater government transparency
Through open government initiatives, such as those embraced by the 62 countries in the Open Government Partnership, leaders are providing new tools for citizens to view and use previously unavailable government information. These tools—including 43 Data.gov websites developed recently by countries from Australia to Uruguay—provide unprecedented government transparency, increasing citizen participation and facilitating democratic processes.
2. More focus on citizen needs
The United Nations notes in its most recent E-Government Survey that “countries in general have improved their online service delivery to cater to citizens’ needs.” The survey lists the Netherlands, Korea, Kazakhstan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Israel as the world’s e-participation leaders. These countries all are strong in e-information, e-consulting, and e-decision-making—providing at least 70 percent of the e-services critical to participatory government in the UN study.
3. Increased citizen involvement
Social media has emerged as a powerful e-participation platform with 40 percent of governments taking advantage of it, according to the UN survey. On channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and MySpace, citizens can share their views with each other and their leaders. These channels also can be used by government officials to provide regular information updates, broadcast council meetings, and solicit citizen input about local government activities. In this way, citizens—whose willingness to participate is critically important—can find plentiful opportunities to get involved and be heard.
4. Improved government responsiveness
In successful democracies, governments respond to their citizens. On the We the People website created in the U.S. by the Obama administration, citizens can create petitions for issues they want the government to address. Other citizens can vote for the petitions, and the ones that secure 100,000 votes within 30 days receive a response from the White House. So far, this has resulted in more than 130 direct responses to citizen concerns, demonstrating to citizens that when they participate, the government listens.
Essential to every nation’s future, progress in these four areas improves everything from a government’s policy development to its legislative decision making. But most importantly, increased e-participation allows nations to create a connected citizenry in which democracy thrives.
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