An analysis of eParticipation in Scottish local authorities
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Consulting the public in policy making is a statutory obligation for Scottish local authorities but ‘traditional’ forms of public participation such as public meetings are not considered to be effective for engaging a representative range of citizens. Developments in ICT have led to speculation about the impact of technology on citizen involvement in political participation with some arguing that eParticipation could attract a wider range of participants than ‘offline’ mechanisms. This thesis presents the findings of an exploratory study examining eParticipation initiatives in Scottish Local Authorities. The focus of the research has been to identify the extent to which eParticipation is being used and the benefits and drawbacks of these methods. In addition, the research investigated the enablers and barriers to the development of eParticipation in local authorities. Rather than examining eParticipation as a discrete phenomenon, the research examined the broader consultation strategies of local authorities and what role, if any, eParticipation plays within it. A grounded theory approach was adopted which utilised a combination of qualitative methods. Further, an analytical framework was developed based on Dahl’s criteria for ideal democracy to develop a conceptual understanding of how eParticipation is being used in Scottish local authorities. While it was found that Scottish local authorities were using eParticipation tools, their use was rather limited and the vast majority of tools identified and analysed were electronic questionnaires. Respondents reported that they foresaw eParticipation tools being used more extensively in future but in combination with ‘offline’ forms of participation and most did not report positive opinions on dialogic forms of eParticipation such as online discussions. The research findings show that eParticipation does not overcome many of the problems that lead to lack of public participation in policy making although some members of the public may to prefer to participate electronically for reasons of convenience.