Letting the public in
Dialectic tensions when governments use ICT to engage citizens
Among the raft of information systems (IS) applications developed for use by local governments are those that attempt to introduce more open community engagement (CE) and facilitate e-democracy. In this paper, we report on a longitudinal study that reveals how the open nature of e-democracy challenges the practices of government bureaucracies. In 2012, we partnered with the Community Engagement Team of a Local Government Council in Australia, to study their planning for, and use of, IS for CE. Our study involved an action research intervention to gain a rich understanding of the contradictory demands of the bureaucratic imperative of the Council and the informal activities of the community. This was the first step of a longitudinal qualitative study of the Council’s e- democracy efforts over the ensuing seven years. Our analysis has been conducted through a dialectic lens, informed by the Cynefin sense-making framework. Our theoretical contribution is an e-Democracy Framework that incorporates the dialectic between the ordered environment of government and the community view that is ill-defined and unordered. As a practical contribution, government organisations can use the Framework to assess the current status of their CE and design a CE strategy to make interactions with civil society more meaningful.
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