Van Der Merwe, Rean D. and Meehan, Anthony S.
e-Governance: Supporting pragmatic direct deliberative action through online communities of interest.
In: Proceedings of the 3rd International IDIA Development Informatics Conference, 28-30 October 2009, Berg en Dal, South Africa.
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Authors often report on the limited success of e-Government initiatives in developing nations. Top down, national strategies are developed to target improved government services, but maintain hierarchical, citizen-state conceptions of governance through representative democracy. An alternative conception, direct deliberative democracy, frames the potential role of the internet in governance differently. Web based platforms might support locally animated deliberations, which target pragmatic outcomes, while the resulting social networks afford collective learning through connections across traditional boundaries. This paper presents an investigation of direct deliberative governance as it occurs in online 'communities of interest', and is based on research with such a community in southern Africa. We investigate contributions to the online governance process and develop an action typology distinguishing between degrees of 'agency freedom'. Network analytic techniques are then used to understand how acts of varying degree are expressed in terms of the structure of a social network. The aim, more broadly, is to understand how the environment shapes acts of direct deliberative governance, and, in turn, how the acts shape the evolution and effectiveness of the community. The preliminary results suggest design considerations for online governance communities, and highlight their role to not only provide deliberative space, but to mediate social network connections.
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