E-democracy centre: what do we get for our money?

Professor Stephen Coleman, blogging on citizenship in the digital age as I reported earlier, has now turned his attention to the Govenment-funded International Centre for Local e-Democracy (ICELE).

After listing a range of well-known e-democracy projects in the UK, he says they will be judged by the quality of their outputs.

In the case of ICELE it has been difficult to arrive at any judgments because I simply don’t understand what they are aiming to achieve. Is it new research and understanding? Or new tools to be used by governments? Or critical debate about the merits and values of e-participation? Perhaps someone can tell me what ICELE is for and why considerable amounts of public money should be spent supporting it?

The pilots that were funded by the national project for local e-democracy seem to have disappeared without trace, with the exception of the local issues forums (which survive largely because of the commitment of Steve Clift and his colleagues) and some rather under-used councillor blogging tools. What became of the other government-funded projects? How much money was spent on the now-abandoned Voice toolkit, described by ICELE as ’a web-publishing toolkit and an online community network rolled into one’? At the very least, a fully transparent evaluation should be made available.

Incidentally, I don’t write this in a spirit of negativity. Some projects will fail and we should learn from them. It’s the failure to be open about or learn from such experiences that worries me much more.

Ouch. It will be interesting to see whether anyone from ICELE ventures online to engage with Stephen. Their site has a “news” section, but I couldn’t see any opportunity to comment. The FAQ on ICELE’s vision runs to three items. Centre manager Fraser Henderson had a little difficulty recently with an over-zealous helper taking his name in vain. Their recent international symposium looked a bit Powerpointy. Beyond that I don’t know any more about ICELE than Stephen …