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Electronic Government, Electronic Democracy
Jon Lebkowsky, 18 Sep 05

circuitboard.jpgWith increased global access to the Internet, ambitious electronic government projects are changing the relationship of citizens with government entities. The Global Development Research Center has a list of over 60 Case Studies on the Use of ICTs for Good Governance. DigitalGovernance.org link to
more case studies
, as well as a good overview of the Digital Goverance concept.

The best examples of e-government are sites that provide and/or collect data, such as India's e-Agricultural marketing or e-Krishi Vipanan (EKVI)initiative, which gives farmers access to current, prevalent agricultural market rates so that they can make informed pricing decisions. Giurgiu, Romania's Document Management and Tax Automation Systems is an example of local e-government that supports online tax collection and access to information including an archive of local council decisions and an online forum. The United Arab Emirates created a portal, available in English and Arabic, that provides access to government services, news and weather information, job notices, investment and visa information. It also handles transactions such as bill payments.

Electronic government connects citizens with services online, but the Internet could also theoretically connect constituents with leaders. However direct connection is difficult to scale and is only as effective as leaders are responsive. E-democracy.org, an organization based in Minnesota, has been effective in using information networks to facilitate public participaiton in elections and public discourse. The organization's energetic prime mover, Steven Clift, is also responsible for the Democracies Online Newswire at DoWire.org.

Some have hoped that technology could support more direct forms of democracy, but there are issues. Lack of access to relevant technology would be one significant barrier, and we can't assume that computers in libraries and community technology centers solve this problem. There's also the problem of authentication, of matching the vote cast with the voter. This is a question with voting machines, and would be even more of an issue with web-based voting systems. The vote is like the "last mile" of democratic process, and the logistics may never favor gathering final national votes online. However the future of online democracy promises greater participation in knowledge sharing, discussion, and debate. To extend this, we need more funding and support for community networks and community technology centers to provide access and training that will extend meaningful access to Internet services. Citizens need this, too, as more essential services are offered online.

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