More and more municipalities count on digital communication services to involve the public. Hence, many municipalities have already created or plan to establish online participation and consultation platforms. However, can these measures help increase public participation?

More transparency = more public participation

The internet offers various possibilities to take part in different debates and discussions – including political ones. Many associations and initiatives have found their way into the digital world already and present their ideas online.

In addition, municipalities and states now offer forums where citizens can inform and exchange themselves. The idea behind all these initiatives is more transparency resulting in increased interest and credibility – thus, an increased public participation. However, can the digital debate reach everyone?

Not everyone is online

Still, not everyone is connected to internet in 2017. Studies show that especially older people with a low level of education and difficult social circumstances have no access to the internet. Moreover, there is a relevant difference between people living in the city and the countryside.

This means that one must assume that online polls would only reach part of the public. Only views from one particular group would be reflected which does not present the variety of opinions existing in society. Nevertheless, there is hope.

At the moment, governments plan to provide more, faster and better internet connections. Additionally, educational policies slowly adapt to the new challenges of digitalization and online society. Today, children learn from an early age about the internet and gain important skills for their future. However, this area in particular will need a lot more work from politicians.

Digital public participation: model for the future

Offering more participation opportunities and increased digital transparency by the government does not seem to result in increased participation. Yet, digital opportunities to participate are a way to get the attention of people and test public opinions. Examples could include:

  • Online petitions
  • Digital referendums
  • Campaign platforms
  • Public polls

Studies suggest online referendums are more cost-effective and easier to initiate that regulars polls and petitions. This means that they can take place more often and are used to get accurate opinions on certain topics.

This development in the context of providing better internet and early introductions to the internet should give us all hope. So in the future, public participation in the political context could increase further. Studies show that online voting and digital channels can increase the voter turnout in democratic decisions.

Learn more about online voting here.

However today, digital platforms can be added to traditional methods of polling to reach digital natives. It could be useful to start working intensely with this model and try out e-democracy projects to be ready for the future.