Democratic tools for local government – new report

While early discourse on the internet was optimistic about the potential for technology to improve democratic life, what has since become clear, is that digital tools for democracy do not provide easy shortcuts to better quality democratic engagement or outcomes. The design, implementation and marketing of these tools is important in shaping their impact.

This new report examines the role digital tools can have in helping democratic participation in local government – and the obstacles to success.  As a companion paper to a review of current academic research in this area, this report examines how digital tools can be used by local authorities. 

Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Equal participation
  3. Multi-authority collaboration
    1. The complex landscape of local government in the UK
    2. Service intermediation
    3. Collaboration between authorities
  4. Accessing information and services
    1. Council websites
    2. Freedom of Information
  5. Digital collaboration
    1. Silent collaboration: FOI and 311
    2. Broadening consultations and engagement
    3. Participatory budgeting
    4. Civic crowdfunding
  6. Conclusion

Digital approaches can dramatically lower the cost (either in money or time) of communication. They can allow simple transactional actions to be performed more cheaply, can make it easy to engage with individuals simultaneously based in different geographic regions, shift what was previously one-to-one communication to one-to-many, and such a shift opens up opportunities for novel forms of participation to be explored.

This report considers how digital tools may help local authorities create more effective communication and collaboration, but importantly, also examines the downsides and potential issues in implementing some of these approaches, demonstrating how the context around their implementation is key. 

The report can be downloaded as a PDF or read online.