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Remote is far, far away: Online is inclusive collaboration

11 December 2014

How to improve inclusion in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) process through online resources, tools, and facilitation was one of the points of discussion at the IGF 2015 Open Consultations and Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) meetings in Geneva during the week of 2 December. A small but significant semantic point clearly highlights a change in attitude and perception of what has often been called ‘remote’ participation.

If we all live around the world, where is ‘remote’ actually located? I live in the Americas, so Geneva is remote for me. Few of the meeting participants are actually located in Geneva. Although Geneva is an important hub for IG policy activities, we cannot all live there year round.

During the meeting, one of the retiring MAG members (Izumi Aizu) gently insisted we use the term ‘online participation’ instead of ‘remote participation’, and the card held up by the remote moderator to indicate a(n) remote online intervention was corrected with a black marker, to reflect the strong intention to incorporate this change, which was incorporated in the meeting comments, with the occasional relapse, which was laughingly corrected by others in the room, as it was acknowledged.

Another term often used to refer to online participation is ‘e-participation’. The prefix ‘e-’ in reality, refers to ‘electronic’, not online. Though semantically incorrect, it does usually communicate the user’s intent, and that is very important. Nonetheless, for example, the difference between e-voting and online voting is particularly significant, and illustrates why we must be careful with this usage.

E-government refers to the use of digital tools to improve processes, and includes many information and communications technologies (ICT). It might or might not include online tools and resources that citizens can use to pay their taxes, find information, or carry out other activities.

E-banking is often a misnomer, referring to online banking, not the use of computers in banking. And unbelievable as it may be, I remember a time when banks in Venezuela noted all transactions manually, because computers were not yet trusted (yes, electronic calculators were in use).

This trend is exciting: it indicates that remote online participation is being recognised as full participation (not just observation, or limited participation) and is evolving into an even more important way to ensure inclusion of less-heard voices. But is it time to clean up our terminology, and use e-participation for electronic participation and tools, and remote online participation for online tools? What do you think? Please take this short survey to express your opinion about remote/e-/online participation terminologies. We will publish the results of the survey after the poll closes.

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