Information Technology in Support of Public Deliberation
Springer London, Dordrecht Amsterdam
Increased citizen-to-citizen discussion and deliberation is an important potential of digital government initiatives. This paper presents findings from a longitudinal study of such outcomes using household survey data, focus groups and one-on-one interviews from a mature community network - the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) in Blacksburg, Virginia, and surrounding Montgomery County. It addresses the questions of who is using computer networking for civic participation, what impact the Internet has on their involvement with other people and local community, and the design problems that citizens experience with local e-government initiatives. A pattern of Internet use is emerging in which local formal and ad hoc groups of interested citizens distribute information on issues of interest among themselves and use online tools to raise awareness and educate, and under some circumstances to deliberate on public policy. Modified tools are suggested to facilitate deliberation and to integrate citizen feedback more effectively into local government decision-making.