Logo: e2democracy

Comparative Assessment of E-participation in the Context of Sustainable Development and Climate Change

In this project, which is funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF), the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, we will investigate the impact of electronic compared to traditional "offline" citizen participation exemplified by the participation of citizens in the field of climate change. The aim is to find out what the added value of electronic participation is compared to traditional participation and to show how sustainable participation as such is by regularly measuring the improvement achieved by participation by means of so-called CO2 calculators during a period of two years.

The German Institute for Information Management Bremen (ifib) together with the Austrian Institute of Technology Assessment and the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the University of Zaragoza/Spain is preparing an international comparative study on the systematic and comprehensive evaluation of quality and impact of electronic citizen participation. To ensure comparability of subject and target groups, we will monitor three cities in each country, which actively engage in climate protection by involving citizens and business in their efforts. In this project, we will especially investigate participation processes dealing with the avoidance of unnecessary energy consumption and better mobility with less traffic.

CO2 reduction by energy saving, changing nutrition and consumption behaviour and ecology-minded mobility behaviour is only possible with the active involvement of citizens and business. Local participative processes with these actors are indispensable, if the issue of climate protection is to be addressed seriously.

But citizen participation has not yet become a matter of course in local climate protection programmes. It has to be activated and cultivated. But the effects that can be achieved are disputable and have not yet been researched.
This is the focus of the research project. Concerning problems of electronic participation, experienced researchers of different disciplines combine their know-how on the evaluation of the usability of electronic services, the assessment of the content quality in a forum and the representative survey on attitudes and behaviour, in order to identify quality and impact of electronic participation offers as compared to traditional offline offers carried out in parallel.

Besides various forms of civic engagement, a certain kind of participation will be compared in all participating cities: A panel with citizens and businesses based on a contract with the local government on energy saving measures and CO2 reduction, which will be regularly checked by data collection.

The basic idea is that climate protection policy can only be successful if not only constructional and technical measures are taken, but also the behaviour is changed. Instead of shifting the responsibility from citizens/consumers to businesses and to administration/local government and back, a kind of local contract might lead to the desired results. With this contract, the three groups commit themselves to take all the measures they can to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emission in a verifiable way that is transparent for all participants.

This verification will be carried out online and offline by regularly entering the data in the CO2 calculator and comparing them with the energy consumption data. The aim is to use "smart metering", which is currently being tested nationwide by the energy supply companies. Besides the transparent monitoring, the panels are accompanied by information on saving possibilities, online forums as well as public meetings for the exchange of experiences.