e-Participation case studies

Taking an in-depth look at a few more case studies, my initial list of good examples is dwindling fast. Many have been discontinued and the data is not readily available (TalkSwindon and BBC Action Network, for example) and some are woefully underused (such as HighlandLife). Three more examples are worthy of note here though: Ask Bristol, a local government example of consultation and e-participation; the Communities and Local Government Forum, a UK scoped moderated forum; HeadsUp, a UK-wide youth-oriented debating site.

Bristol City Council has a long record of innovating with regard to public online participation. The website e-participation.net lists their offering as Viewfinder Bristol but the latest incarnation seems to be AskBristol, a wordpress.com site that allows BCC to converse with the public via a forum based platform. Single debates are held at a time with results of previous debates scrutinised and published on the site. Information in the form of text, data, webcasts etc. is presented about different threads within a debate and a space for public contributions can be found beneath. Comments are moderated against a set list of fairly standard rules (e.g. “Don’t be too offensive…”) and a ratings system allows users to show support for comments they like and opposition to those that they don’t. Most popular comments and ideas are easily viewed via a simple rollover. The content is not particularly deliberative, there are no explicit social features of the interface, ratings aside, but there does seem to be a level of integration of content into policy and a good level of feedback. Collated reports are available in pdf format showing responses to each “idea” submitted and summaries of public responses as well as details of how the ideas were integrated into policy. There are also links in each page to other methods of communication such as email, links to surveys or details of offline public consultation. It’s also interesting to see that there is a facility to comment on how the council could engage with the public online better!

The Communities and Local Governments forum is an interesting example of a simple platform as it is heavily moderated – nothing is published without prior approval – and moderation only occurs in office hours. This has the result of limiting active participation, other than individual comments, to those times. The system is not particularly interactive but does allow input to be structure as a reply to previous input and allows discussion threads to be “tagged” by users to help categorise the conversations. The content is surprisingly deliberative for such a strictly controlled environment. It would be interesting to analyse the ethno/demo/sociographic makeup of the community of users to see what effect the barriers to use (moderation and “opening hours”)  have on the participation. It would also be interesting to find out the effect of the moderation on debate. It can only be assumed that moderation silences certain voices but the effect to which this improves or degrades the debate is unknown.

HeadsUp is an interesting site for youngsters that contains a lot of information about how to debate as well as reasons to, and how to, contribute to debate about society. The site employs a simple messageboard platform to debate one theme (with sub categories) at a time. Other than customisable avatars, the system does not provide explicit social features (such as reciprocity) but it does have the novel feature of a board of “heads” – facilitators and moderators that have a presence on the messageboard of each discussion to help the debate move along. The debates seem to be slow to build but I need to investigate further as the current debate is new and closed debates do not seem to be readily available for scrutiny, though in-depth reports do provide a good summary of content.


About birchallchris

Research Associate in the School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds, teaching digital media practice and theory to students on the BA/MA New/Digital Media programmes. I research digital citizenship, using innovative digital methods; trying to bridge the gap between vary large scale phenomena and the individual human.
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