Many expected that Internet would create a democratic arena in governance, help hold governments accountable and increase input from citizens to decision-making in the public sector. The time proved different. We live in the age of fake news, social media determines what we think and if anything, the government now knowns everything about it. But is everything as bleak as it is painted nowadays, or was the vision of the Internet pioneers completely wrong?
A new research paper published in Environmental Science and Policy co-authored with my former colleagues at Utrecht University Carel Dieperink and Peter Driessen researches this very question. The paper is available for download on the website of the journal for free.
The uses of digital tools for a deliberative and a two-way communication, however, is rather rare. Overall, we can conclude that ICT helps more efficient water government, but not necessarily a more deliberative or participatory one.
We first inventorised all available in the literature projects which targeted the use of ICT to involve publics in urban water governance worldwide, this resulted in 32 projects. We have then categorised these projects according to a typology of 4 types of government-citizen interactions borrowed from earlier research in order to find out what type of ICT use is most prevalent in such projects. Finally, we applied the well-known “Democracy Cube” developed by Fung to our dataset in order to see if public participation is deep or shallow, broad in scope or exclusive, and whether it has had any impact on decision-making in the follow-up of public participation consultations and sessions.
We find that ICT has changed the landscape of urban water governance and public participation in it. Governments use digital tools routinely to inform citizens about the quality and quantity of urban (water) services. Next to it, there is a growing use of ICT for crowdsourcing information from citizens to government including life-saving information during natural disasters or pollution incidents. The uses of digital tools for a deliberate and a two-way communication, however, is rather rare. Overall, we can conclude that ICT helps more efficient water government, but not necessarily a more deliberative or participatory one. Figure below presents the case in view.
As Figure 1 above shows, most case studies fall within less authoritative and less deliberative modes of participation, which raises questions of how revolutionary the Internet has been for increasing public participation and democratising urban water governance.
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