I need to actually define my research question so that I can get going on the research proposal (have had close encounter with an exam this week and intend to never ever leave something so acutely to the last minute again).  I am currently looking at the following wording:  “Is it possible to deliberately create online spaces where citizens are participating in the formal democratic process“.  Two words need clarifying here:

  • Deliberately:  A large part of my thesis is the idea that it is possible to deliberately engineer online spaces – or rather an exploration of this idea.  This is in contrast to the idea that there are already online spaces where democratic conversations are taking place but have not been deliberately created to support this.  This then gets developed into the idea or acceptance that we are trying to socially engineer the space rather than observing an existing effect.
  • Formal:  The end point of the process in this project is intended to be the participants actually taking part in the formal demcratic process.  I will need to define this as part of the proposal but it is essential to make the point that this is not a virtual environment project.  This is a project using online spaces as a way of building participation in democracy .  The measures for this are in the main part in the physical world – for instance council meetings.

Building from this central question are the more instrumental questions about how you go about moving people through the experience to the ‘end point’ of having participated in the formal process.  I plan to do this by looking at the specific trigger points:

  • What is the starting point for the process?  Is it the first stakeholder meeting (i.e. with no technology in place) or does the online space need to be created in order to engage people?  More simply put – how do you get them there in the first place?
  • Can you create the right conditions to encourage people to register and not just read content?
  • Can you create the right conditions to encourage people to create content
  • Can you create the right conditions to encourage people to become active – ie as moderators, lead petitioners etc etc

In answering these questions I hope to create an repeatable set of actions that can be shown to equip and motivate people to engage with formal democracy.

This is work in progress – these questions need more work!!