The issue of information technology and communication for citizen participation and democratic debate is in vogue at the junction of need to renew democratic practices towards more openness and participation and the development of new uses of interactive tools from Web 2.0. The use of digital environments can encourage new forms of sociability, support, and usability or reactivate some forgotten dimensions of social ties.
Collective practices around digital or animation through digital space can help create a dynamic building and knowledge sharing on a given territory, which can help people to reclaim public space and to promote “living together” in general. At the Web 2.0, people looking for a more personal relationship, dialogue and more significant exchanges as well as rapid and constant accessibility of public services authorities. The use of digital tools can encourage new forms of exchange and dialogue between citizens and the various levels of government, as well as the establishment of more efficient public services. Their uses even offer the opportunity to increase citizen participation in various levels of management processes of local life. In addition, these new collaborative relationships help to strengthen the transparency of public action and increase its legitimacy.
Generally, the term “digital democracy or citizenship” indicates all digital activities that facilitate existing practices or create new practices in the field of “citizen participation” in the broad sense of the term. In other words, this concept refers to the idea that digital networks are likely to develop or enhance participation in political and social life. From simple information useful to citizens in the online debate, through citizen expression and co-decision in public affairs, this notion covers a wide variety of initiatives, devices and practices, based wholly or in part, on digital technologies.
The “International Association for Public Participation” distinguishes five levels of participation, depending on the degree of involvement of the public (individuals or collectives) in the process:
– Inform: citizens are simply informed of decisions.
– Consult: citizens are invited to give their opinions and / or provide alternatives to the decision.
– Involve: citizens are involved in the decision process. Decision makers are invited to observe a certain degree of commitment to take into account the proposals of the stakeholders.
– Collaborate: citizens actively participate in the decision-making process and are recognized as actors in the whole process.
– Empower: the decision making process is simply guided or facilitated by the initiators. Decisions are fed and taken by all citizens participating in decision making.
A wide variety of tools and platforms have been developed in recent years. Some are related to local policies and aim to inform the public about democratic realities, encourage and help people to get involved in community projects of general interest and value to local initiatives. Others gather eGovernment services. And others still collect local news and offer chat rooms. Some organize hikes while others engage further in the discussion of society: national and international platforms petitions, recovery and protection of heritage, promotion and protection of heritage, debates and questions of elected…
The content of these platforms fully utilize current technologies: WebTV, WebRadio, Wiki, blogs… Bondy Blog, for example, aims to understand and tell the French suburbs through stories, life stories, interviews and other items. The blog was opened in November 2005 by the Swiss magazine L’Hebdo, during the riots in the suburbs. L’Hebdo withdrew experience three months later and the association took the blog. It publishes the work of thirty young people, youth training, early career or job search. Individual or community initiatives emerging from all sides, in line with the cultural effervescence of DIY: Wikidébrouillards develops participatory encyclopedia on science of everyday life. Taxinome proposes a geolocation biodiversity inventory.
Digital tools valorize citizen initiatives concerned with urban sociability, territory, and some of them hightligh the various sustainable alternatives (mode of financing: crowfunding, alternative economy and producer groups…). The majority are from the associations and use digital tools to support, above all, expression systems and citizen participation. In other words, digital technologies are harnessed to an improvement of “living together” within a given territory.