eParticipation is a hot topic on the internet currently. For people not knowing the concept yet, I looked it up and found the following definition on Wikipedia:
““the use of information and communication technologies to broaden and deepen political participation by enabling citizens to connect with one another and with their elected representatives” (Macintosh 2004)“
To cut short, it comes down to involving citizens in politics and governmental activities. In the light of the recent developments in web 2.0, which generally encompasses online activities in which the visitor is not only a visitor passively receiving information, but a participator actively spreading information and reacting/discussing content that is places on the web.
I recently read the book The Whuffie Factor by Tara Hunt a book that has an interesting view on the value of social media and the use of web 2.0 for both individuals as well as for organizations. Tara gives an interesting view on social capital as the new capital, which can even be compared to financial capital (for more on this view read the website). Tara Hunt explains how new opportunities for organizations can be identified for the web by using web 2.0 initiatives like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.
What can governmental organizations do with social media? I summed up a few of my thoughts:
- Identify needs. What is found important by citizens? What is the main priority for your citizens. Whether on national or local level, it is important to recognize the needs of the citizens. What is important for policy makers to focus on? What do your citizens find important in their neighbourhood or country?
- Identify problems. In the Netherlands we have e.g. the website “verbeterdebuurt.nl” (translated: improve your neighbourhood). Citizens can point on a map where problems in their neighbourhood are and politicians are given the opportunity to improve these problempoints. Whether these poins are improved or not is also reported on the website.
- Keep citizens informed. Ask for their advice on policy developments or general developments. E.g. a lot of governments use Twitter currently in order to keep everybody informed on interesting developments and give people the abillity to react and spread the word. In this way e.g. traffic problems or emergencies can be reported in a timely fashion.
- Increase visibility. Ever heard of the ivory tower? This is your chance to break the barrier and increase visibility of the government. Make yourself visible, show what you are doing for your municipality or country.
- Increase participation. The term says it all. eParticipation is mostly focused on online participation (therefore the “e” in “e-Participation”), but this can also lead to offline participation. There are a lot of people who want to volunteer for their neigbourhoods. Who want to help solve problems. Who want to think with you about solutions. Identify these people and be open to their help.
These five ways will help you, as a governmental organization, increase your Whuffie, or social capital. As cities, villages and countries are made up of people, this might be the most important thing a governmental organization can exploit.
Do you see more opportunities?