E-consultation and Web 2.0

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Compare these two sites:

  1. Northern Ireland Departments Consultation Register
  2. The Wheel's Active Citizenship Consultation
  1. A very traditional web site that,
    • puts on-line the paper-based process,
    • requires people to read long PDFs in sometimes difficult language
    • in most cases expects written replies on paper.
  2. A story-collecting site that,
    • collects personal experiences of what it is to be an active citizen in Ireland,
    • used to build up a more subtle picture of today's citizens,
    • to include in a submission to the Taoiseach's Taskforce on Active Citizenship.

Collecting stories

The second is the Web 2.0 approach. It encourages ordinary people and workers to tell stories of what they think is important, rather than just answer the questions that officials worry about. Here we see reflective citizenship at its best.

To succeed, such approaches require:

  • A willingness to listen to stakeholders in their own words, and reflect on what you hear.
  • Publicity to establish awareness among the stakeholder group.
    • (in this case, via the community and voluntary sector members of The Wheel)
  • A clear web site inviting visitors to participate.
  • Very easy ways of submitting content
    • (in this case, multiple channels: web forms, e-mail, SMS text messages and voice mail recordings)

Other examples:

Discussing issues

Once you have discussions on a site, people can explore problems and suggest solutions.

Childs play.jpg
  • Chat rooms
    • allow immediate reactions, show feelings and collect new ideas.
    • Used by East Belfast Partnership Board for a discussion between schoolchildren on human rights.
      • Internet only neutral venue in East Belfast (before the Odyssey)
      • Moderated by 16-year old youths (picture shows then teaching civil servants how to chat over the Internet).
  • Discussion forums
    • Allow time for more reflection, building up ideas, exploring problems and solutions
    • E.g. Issues forums
      • have been developed for people to discuss local issues,
      • some of which are then taken up by officials or councillors,
      • to raise officially in council debates and committee hearings.

Mapping opinions

Pbni map shankill.jpg

We tried comparing conventional consultation with a Google maps mash-up.

  • The topic was the Probation Board consulation on their estates review.
    • Which probation offices or reporting centres should be closed, moved or opened.
  • They wanted the views of ex-offenders,
    • some of whom could barely read or write.
  • We compared:
    • the conventional consultation document and response form, with
    • getting ex-offenders to add comments to markers on Google maps.
  • Community Walk map of NI probation office locations
  • They found it much easier to follow Google maps than fill in the consultation questionnaire.

Collaborative writing

Many people can work together writing documents using Web 2.0 tools.

Wikiwiki sites

  • allow groups of people to easily edit web pages, as on:
  1. Log in, click on edit, write something in a box, save, and the page is updated.
  2. The next person puts in another edit.
  3. And so on until you get a consensus version.

But this doesn't work if people aren't willing to work towards a consensus.

  • David Milliband set up a wikiwiki site at DEFRA, inviting people to write an environment contract between citizens and government.
  • The Guido Fawkes bloggers group edited it to satirise New Labour.

Other group report writing software

More sophisticated tools can be used where there is conflict.

  • GRASS was developed by Aldo de Moor so that loggers and environmentalists could co-write a forestry policy for British Columbia.
  • The software encourages each stakeholder group to write down own position on each issue,
  • rather than fake a consensus.