A while ago, KableNet brought an article about consultation fatigue among Northern-Irish citizens. In Sweden, one would probably rather talk about polling fatigue. The Swedish Minister for Democracy, Britta Lejon, called this “SIFOcracy” (SIFO was the name of Sweden’s “MORI”, that is, a survey institute).
Ann from the International Teledemocracy Centre in Edinburgh writes:
Governments are increasingly committed to giving citizens the ability to give their views and provide easier access to public consultation documents. However, the escalating number of consultations taking place, together with the number of people with diverse interests that need to be consulted, raises problems. For example, there is the increasing burden on governments to author clear, well-structured consultation documents that are accessible to a large number of people, there is the increasing burden on people being consulted to respond such that their response is informed and complete, and there is the increasing burden on governments to analysis the responses and provide feedback to the people making contributions.
Ann is interested in how government can effectively use technology to gather the opinions of the people they represent. Her work addresses some of the research issues concerned with e-consultations. She talks about two types of consultation:
firstly, consultation at the pre policy document stage and secondly, consultation on the draft policy document. The first is where there are a number of pre-identified issues that government wishes to gather opinions on before drafting a policy document and the e-consultation invites discussion on them – the aim is to get initial input so as to draft a more comprehensive policy document. This type of e-consultation potentially allows for more informal input from a larger target audience. The second is the consultation on the detailed draft policy paper itself and asks specific questions on the policy statements made in the paper. These consultation documents typically set out views regarding the nature, importance and aims of policy, and as such encapsulate a large amount of “technical” knowledge. Much research has been conducted on how to conduct these traditional consultations and a code of practice has been developed. This type of policy document consultation is considered the classic form of consultation, even though now it is increasingly read in electronic format rather than print. This switching to electronic document handling is perhaps facilitating dissemination but this in itself should not be considered as e-consultation.
It would be interesting to see a critical evaluation of tools like Ann’s e-democracy toolkit to support participation in the democratic decision-making process. Her toolkit comprises three web-based tools: e-petitioner, e-consultant and e-voter. I am unsurprisingly most interested in e-consultant.