The adoption of digital tools for citizen participation: functionalities and implications for democracy

Ms. Cristina Herranz

ICTs are fostering alternative forms of communication, access to information and online participation, which is fueling a multifaceted transformation of political and social practices. In this sense, local governments are adopting and implementing new participatory platforms that facilitate interactions between diverse actors and government. These platforms are not only trying to develop new ways of interaction but also to generate and co-create public value through smart technologies. Because of that, the availability of new communication channels for social and political participation, and their implications for the public sector have emerged as research areas of increasing interest. Paradoxically, the literature has left some significant gaps surrounding the connection between the development of applications and functionalities and democratic theory´s principles.
Particularly, the digitalization of participatory practices was expected (at least theoretically) to endow citizens with similar capacities or opportunities to access and participate in online political processes. However, whether these novel elements are effectively achieving these results remains as an open question. In fact, while scholars acknowledge the potential positive effects of participation in public issues, the relation between participatory platforms and theory of democratic innovation are still to be tested and understood.
This paper explores the development and implementation of several online participatory platforms and the normative implications of the processes that they enable. The ultimate goal is to build a critical discussion about the processes that can emerge from the adoption of these platforms by embedding them within the framework of democratic theories. To do so, this work encompasses two main stages to communicate normative principles with the actual development of an extensive family of participatory platforms. The first stage aims at structuring the relations between several democratic innovative initiatives that are commonly present in online participatory platforms and contemporary democratic theory. The second one analysis the functionalities that are active in several institutional deployments of Consul, one of the most widespread and internationally recognized open-source online participatory platforms. With this, this paper tries to shed some light on the transformative perspectives for democratic processes through the lenses of the adoption of these innovative tools.