Information Technology Reference
In-Depth Information
This chapter focuses on the Italian public administration's use of web-
based experiments in participatory democracy designed to address citi-
zens' questions and needs. The chapter aims at investigating why, despite
their massive use, such forms of consultation have been largely unsuccess-
ful. A number of causes are identified for this, including the following:
(a) lack of access to the web from large parts of the citizenry, (b) mis-
calculation of the costs from public bodies, and (c) inadequate use of
information and communication technology in public administrations.
The chapter is divided into three parts. Sections 4.1 through 4.5 provide
informational background on the topic of participatory democracy and
e-government. To this end, Sections 4.1 through 4.5 begin by focusing
on the international scenario; it then turns to describing and classifying a
number of Italian experiments of online participatory democracy (at the
administrative level). Sections 4.6 through 4.8 introduce and speculate
the causes behind the failures of such web-based experiments in partici-
patory democracy. Five reasons are identified: The first consists of the
scope of experiments in digital participation; the second involves the tar-
get of participants; the third relates with the current state of the Italian
digital market; the fourth links to the digital divide in public administra-
tions; and the fifth, and final, argument concerns the budgetary bounds
on public bodies. To conclude, Sections 4.9 through 4.11 of this chapter
aims at, first, understanding why the advent of the large-scale Internet
did not fix the democratic deficit of Italian contemporary politics and
public administrations, and second, aim at speculating on possible future
evolutions of web-based participatory initiatives in Italy.
Keywords: ICT, democracy, participation, digitalization, online democ-
racy, networking, online polls
4.1 introductory Remarks
Commentators on civil society's activism have always regarded the spread of new
technologies enthusiastically. Already, in 1841, François-René de Chateaubriand
wrote that technological advances could be expected to bring about an interna-
tional society. Few years before, in 1827, Sismondi, in the Revue Encyclopédique ,
celebrated the acceleration of communications that brought the disappearance of
distances and speeded up the circulation of thought (Sismondi, 1827). In 1999,
Scott Kirsner reported in the article entitled “Nonprofit Motive” in Wired maga-
zine: “The new breed of Silicon Valley Philanthropists would make Mother Teresa
crunch the numbers” (Kirsner, 1999, p. 22). The article echoed the excitement that
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