Editorial: Experiments in e-democracy

E-democracy remains the same tantalizing concept it was five or six years ago when government agencies began experimenting with ways to use the Internet to give people more of a voice in government. It is tantalizing, but nothing more.

In the latest example, the New York City Council held public hearings online to give residents a chance to speak their minds about how the city should spend money earmarked for public schools. Nearly 200 New Yorkers took part in online discussions, and another 165 sent comments by e-mail (see Page 50).

Previous e-democracy experiments have taken various forms. Some cities have set up online chats with their mayors, while federal and state governments have developed Web-based systems that allow people to read and comment on proposed regulations.

Each case is interesting on its own terms, but few have had an impact outside the responsible agency. If e-democracy is ever to fulfill its promise — and if we are ever to learn the extent of that promise — a new approach is needed.

One idea is to have an existing organization coordinate a series of experiments across multiple jurisdictions (on a volunteer basis, of course). Three cities might agree to hold public hearings online, for example, or run online chats with public officials. Here are a few thoughts on how the approach might work:

Before the experiments began, officials at the participating agencies would agree on the structure of the tests and the metrics used to gauge success or failure.

They would also develop the format for a report that captures the lessons learned from the experiments.

A second set of tests could then be staged to refine those lessons or try new variables.

A final report, based on both sets of tests, could be distributed to jurisdictions nationwide.

One problem with this scheme jumps to mind: Why should a small group of agencies bear the costs of developing a project meant to benefit others? That is a fair question, especially at a time when budgets are so tight. And managers at the participating agencies would likely uncover

other problems.

But everyone stands to benefit if government agencies can find a way to advance the state of e-democracy, or even decide it is not worth the investment. The idea is so tantalizing it is worth the effort of finding out.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group