Few of the courses I have taken in grad school allow students to undertake projects with real value. One of these is the Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age at the Kennedy School. The Professor, Nicco Mele, gave us the option to choose between a research paper, a policy memo and a Wikipedia contribution for our final project. Taking into account the utility of all those upon my personal advancement and their potential application to my master thesis made this decision hard.
My thesis is an academic research exploring the notion of participation and how governments as well as corporations are looking to encourage citizen or employee participation in decision-making via on line platforms. Currently I am working on the development of a new participation classification model, and considering how this would become a useful tool to make both governments and corporations more participatory.
For the empirical part of my thesis, the objective is to examine if the application of this model would be possible in Greece. Challenges are numerous, notwithstanding the financial problems. Coming from Greece, I believe that writing a policy memo on how to increase digital participation is a unique opportunity. Therefore, the hypothetical client of my work will be the Greek Government and in accordance with John Bernoff’s POST format, the outline of my final paper will be as follows:
People: 73% of the Greek population claim to have never used the Internet which is a worrisome figure, taking into account that the average number of non actives in the EU is 43%. Last but not least, is the type of active Internet users, looking at the most visited sites in Greece, Facebook and Google are first followed by other social media such as Twitter or Linkedin and blog sites mostly related to sports news. Sites of financial interest and news start coming up on the 20+ ranking which is an indication to assume that most active users are digital natives rather than digital immigrants. At the same time, considering the number of non-users, this usage only reflects a small part of the population.
Objective: Increase citizen participation to government decision-making by launching tailor-made on line platforms. This is an objective that follows the history of Greece and democracy. Since the digital age allows for participatory schemes, this is an opportunity for the Greek government to enhance its relationship with citizens and incorporate them in the decision making process. Such change would significantly alleviate the constant political turmoil across the country because people feel the government is unfair to them.
Strategy: The end goal is to shift from the one-way communication of the government to participatory governance. Currently, government on line participation initiatives are non existent. On the other hand, Greek citizens have lost their trust in all kinds of authority and thus the likelihood of them embracing any government participatory initiative is highly questionable at the moment. To achieve the desired result a three level strategy is required. The first level concerns technology, the second is about the government itself and the third about citizens. The government must work to i) increase Internet accessibility, ii) create participatory schemes according to national goals, and iii) enhance the digital literacy of citizens. To enforce digital literacy an above the line marketing campaign will be considered to raise awareness of services already in effect. On line surveys and polls will be launched at a frequent pace to capture the citizen pulse and adjust accordingly. Once these issues are effectively addressed participatory governance will be naturally feasible.
Technology: Besides issues of trust and solidarity, the technological infrastructure in Greece is the main challenge since broadband connections may increase in the main cities but rural areas throughout the country continue to be far from digitally connected. Creating a participatory governance model would be impossible if some people have no means to participate. Assuming this technology issue is resolved, getting people to use digital platforms becomes the main challenge. Digital tools will be used to train citizens to use technology in their everyday life. This method will allow the government to measure citizen participation since on line activity is easy to monitor. Promoting existing on line services such as submitting the annual tax report will make people understand the utility of the Internet in their life. To address the digital divide, following the BBC Give an Hour Computer Literacy Campaign, schemes that encourage one citizen to train another will be introduced. By monitoring the usability of the pilot platforms is will be possible to adjust the governance platforms to be appealing and user friendly to citizens.