Democracy is constituted by democratic processes that follow rules. For a working democracy it is crucial that citizens have trust in the effectiveness and efficiency of these processes. Here, effectiveness means that democracy reaches its goal by representing the peoples' will, while efficiency means that this is achieved promptly and with little cost. Both effectiveness and efficiency can be increased by digitising democratic processes.
Howlett et al. (1995) describe democratic processes as recurring cycles of the following steps: (i) agenda setting, (ii) policy formulation, (iii) decision making, (iv) policy implementation, and (v) policy evaluation. Digitisation and Big Data analysis can support each of these steps, improving participation of citizens and making it more efficient.
However, Big Data and digitisation raise new issues. The US presidency election in 2016 revealed how agenda setting can be manipulated by Social Media and how this may result in ethically problematic policy formulation. The Brexit vote in 2016 showed that without understanding the consequences, decision making can work against the peoples' intentions. Furthermore, public administration must be digitised in a way that eliminates any unauthorised or unethical spying on citizens. Finally, digitisation and Big Data provide opportunities for policy evaluation, but they require new technologies such as Open Data.
In the E-Democracy project we investigate how Big Data and digitisation can shape tomorrow's democracy. The project consists of three layers:
- Politically relevant online discourses
Citizens, organisations, politicians, and others engage in politically relevant online discourses. We aim to analyse these discourses and develop new tools that allow for understanding misinformation, "healthy" vs. pathological discourses, power, and violence. Based on selected discourses we investigate the communicating actors' social and political profiles, their motivations, their objectives, and the effects of their communication.
- Political participation
Online communication extends existing forms of participation and creates new opportunities. Participation can be direct (such as co-creation, co-production, or expressing one's opinion) and indirect (e.g. when citizens provide data). We investigate how new and changing opportunities of digitisation affect the democratic awareness of citizens and how the Web changes the way in which citizens participate in society. Psychological and technical parameters affecting the acceptance of online participation tools will be examined. Based on the resulting understanding of the processes and interrelations we will develop guidelines and tools for citizens and organisations that support online particiation. Big Data will be used as a vehicle for indirect participation (e.g. citizens donating data).
- Supporting decision making
Direct and indirect participation affect how voters ("Whom should I elect?"), elected representatives ("What should I vote for?"), and participants ("How should I take part?") make democratic decisions. We analyse the factors that affect the decision making of both citizens and politicians in the Web. And we develop tools that digitally support the decision making process (e.g. discussion tools, policy modeling and policy simulation, serious games) as well as tools for e-participation (e.g. e-voting, liquid democracy, participation platforms, use of Big Open Data).
We aim for an interdisciplinary understanding of our democracy's modes of action in the age of digitisation. Hence, researchers from three different faculties work together in the E-Democracy project.