As you might remember, I am involved in the discussion about ICT research needs on eParticipation in the framework of the EC research programme.

First I believe that the key challenges for public participation where ICT could help are:

lowering the cost of participation
augmenting the benefits of participation by making it more relevant   
– making it easier, for the casual participant, without the need for “a manual” (like a Mac, a Wii…)   

How can ICT help?
By acting on functionalities such as collaborative filtering, context awareness, and emphasis on usability.

Concretely: if I were a wizard of software, here is what I would invent for eParticipation.

1. Creating engagement by sharing mark-ups of a document.
I would like a tool that when reading a policy document, it will allow me to comment it by underlining, highlighting, giving values such as “interesting”, I like it, i dislike it. Something like the consultation on the OFCOM review of public service broadcasting.

It will allow me to see which sentences are more commented, and which are having stronger disagreement. Like the discussion on GPL licence .

It will allow me to connect to people who is interested in the same parts which I underlined, and see what other things they are interested in. That way, it will enable me to build further motivation to participate.

It will have to work easily. People don’t read documents on the computer, usually. So it should be used outside the computer. It could be using a reading device such as Amazon’s Kindle, or similar. So this would be the interface between the person and the document.
Or it could be a small highlighter/scanner to be used on traditional paper. I would highlight a document, maybe with a preset of feedback distinguished by colors: i like it, it dont like it, i dont understand it.
The metadata related to my mark-ups and underlining of the document should be analysed through a collaborative filtering algorythm such as Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought…”.

So for example, if I download the EU constitution, I could:
– underline, comment the document on a reader or with a special pen-scanner
– visualize which parts people underlined, commented and disagreed more and add my comment to theirs (or maybe read only those parts!)
– see what other issues were interesting for people who underlined or liked or disliked the same things that I did (for example, what parts they underlined in the EU service directive)

This would benefit: engaged citizens to get involved even more; not engaged citizens to look only at the most debated issues; civil servants to gain further insights into the problem; politicians to get a quick feeling of people’s feedback. You can easily detect in this the collaborative filtering, context awareness and emphasis on usability, that I mentioned in the beginning.

This could be applied not only to high-level political debate, but also to day-to-day issues such as for example the EC consultation document on “governance and policy modelling” (the paper distributed for consultation).

I’ll add other ideas in further posts.

Please add your ideas here or in your blog (using the technorati tag “egov2research”) or even better in the ePractice community

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