Putting Pen to Paper: Electronic Democracy, Write On! – By Steven Clift – 1996

Putting Pen to Paper:
Electronic Democracy, Write On!

By Steven L. Clift, clift@publicus.net

Founder and Board Chair, Minnesota E-Democracy
Written in May 1996 – Short and sweet.

Imagine a world where the only communication tools are paper and pens. In this society there are only three actors. They are the business-media, the government, and the citizens.

There is plenty of paper to go around. However, only the business- media and the government have pens and therefore the ability to distribute written words. It only takes one a moment to realize who has real power and a voice in agenda setting in this world.

Citizen-based “electronic democracy” is about getting pens to the people.

It is about making the online communication tools for many-to-many civic discussions, organizing, and public involvement widely available. It is based on the belief that open communication and participation is the foundation of democracy. Electronic democracy is also about the important need to prepare people to communicate effectively and responsibly in this interactive medium. The value of citizen exchange and public communication is contingent on each individuals contribution and respect for others and their expression of views. It is where citizens see themselves as active producers of ideas and opinions not just consumers of information.

At this very moment electronic democracy is a part of our “real democracy.” It is not a replacement, however it is changing its nature. It will only thrive and lead to improved democracies across the world if individuals and organizations come together to build shared online “civic participation centers”. An online civic participation center requires a local/regional base that has relevant appeal. Experience shows that long-term individual and organizational commitment and participation must be built one person at a time.

The civic participation center is built through the use of online tools like electronic conferencing and the shared development of civic content through the World-Wide-Web. It represents a third ring of electronic communication that is in part overlapped by the business- media and government rings on either side. The civic participation center gives electronic democracy its citizen-based authenticity and relevancy. Building on the strengths, tools, and content of the other rings, it is where electronic democracy will grow and thrive.

This essay was also available from the G7 Government Online Project’s – Online Support for Democracy sub-project. The fact that it was there for a year is an example of electronic democracy itself.

Copyright 1996, Steven Clift. This posting may be freely redistributed in its entirety. Permission to redistribute this essay to public e-mail lists or publication in print is granted immediately upon notification of the author at: clift@publicus.net
Version 2.2 – August 10, 1996

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