On the international level, online channels create new possibilities for overcoming barriers to participation, such as a lack of human and financial resources, or environmental constraints, which may affect both non-governmental actors and actors from diplomatic services. Platforms for e-participation enable those who are not physically present to be actively involved in a discussion in an interactive and real-time way through the use of appropriate technology. Discussion about this topic will continue in the e-participation day on 19 June. See how to get involved in this event. This blog summarises our most recent webinar on the subject.
In the webinar that took place last week, Marília Maciel discussed the advantages and challenges related to the introduction of e-participation mechanisms in International organisations. She noticed that organisations have been using various forms of remote participation for some time now, when meetings are organised between staff members based in different locations, for instance, so this process is not new. But there is an additional benefit when the strategies for e-participation target a broader audience and foster interactive involvement in international meetings, since it increases transparency and accountability. At the same time, reliable and timely information give e-participants the opportunity to contribute more meaningfully to the discussion. Ultimately, this dynamic strengthens the public perception of legitimacy of organisations and helps to mainstream the issues on their agendas.
The strategy for e-participation that has been put in place in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/) was discussed as a practical example of the implementation of these mechanisms. The IGF has adopted the model of remote hubs - local meetings that take place in parallel with the IGF in cities around the world. Hubs are frequently organised through a partnership between government, academia, and civil society in each country. This coalition of sectors is important to increase mobilisation and the impact of these initiatives. Figures on e-participation in the IGF show how it has fostered the involvement of the developing regions of the world. It also allows officials, such as policymakers and congressmen, to participate in the IGF as remote panellists, helping to bridge gaps between international and national levels.
Practical aspects were discussed during the webinar, such as how to choose a platform for e-participation, how to facilitate the inclusion of non-native-English speakers, how to effectively include the inputs of e-participants and the need for capacity building and training. Some challenges were also mentioned, such as the need to adjust the meeting dynamics to e-participation.
Another interesting issue that emerged was that remote participants frequently use a combination of e-participation mechanisms with other platforms, such as Skype, in order to stay informed about negotiations that happen outside the meeting rooms and to influence 'corridor diplomacy'. Skype has also proven to be useful for diplomats who want to stay in touch with their capitals during meetings.
Some interesting questions were raised about the experiences of e-participation in other organisations, the tension between e-participation and the control of information flow by some governments, the technologies that could be used in low-tech environments, and the use of telepresence.