Letting the public in
Dialectic tensions when governments use ICT to engage citizens
Keywords:Open Government, Community Engagement, E-democracy, Action research
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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