Especially over the past couple of years, the power and perhaps risk of social networks and similar public fora in shaping opinion and indeed affecting elections have been increasing apparent. At the same time, it is recognised by most policy makers that the virtual world, not just in terms or reach, provides an ideal platform where engagement with the electorate can be initiated to understand their views as well as to gauge their response to potential policies. But participation in online citizen participation platforms is not just the straight-forward transfer of offline processes nor about getting the technology right. Further, encouraging increased numbers of participants may not necessarily lead to improved quality or reach of political decision making or discussion. Instead, there is a real need to encourage open and transparent debate to motivate citizen participation and corresponding engagement from policy makers. All of this is about developing trust across the parties and accepting responsibility.
The complete roadmap whitepaper is provided here. A summary for each level of analysis is provided below.
The role of technology
Understanding the real role of technology, including appropriate regulation, relates to human and machine agency within the network. Technology is no longer simply a communication aid, allowing discussion across a more widespread population. Bots suppressing or re-transmitting content can affect or skew opinion.
How and why do people participate? This relates to encouraging participation either through incentive, allowing internal fulfilment or understanding how the HMN operates.
How do we demonstrate that it’s worth doing? This relates to how best to ensure transparency about what happens in the HMN.
What encourages participants to trust others and the system? Regulation is only part of the story when it comes to encouraging citizens to engage. They also want to feel empowered and listened to; they want to feel their own competence and understand the capabilities of the network.