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Local eGovernment in the city of Casey: political barriers to citizen engagement
conference contributionposted on 2012-01-01, 00:00 authored by Julie FreemanJulie Freeman
This paper outlines the impact of political contests and negotiations on the development and implementation of participatory e-government practices at the local level. Drawing from a grounded research approach, this paper discusses findings from an Australian local government case study – the City of Casey (Casey). Like many Australian local governments, Casey’s online practices are predominantly limited to one-way information dissemination through its website (www.casey.vic.gov.au). While the council has attempted to provide new methods for citizen engagement online, these offer only limited and largely tokenistic means of participation rather than spaces for discourse and deliberation. Insufficient policy documentation currently guides Casey’s online initiatives and shapes councillor decisions regarding e-government development. In-depth interviews with Casey Councillors suggest that the actions and motives of political representatives also restrict the incorporation of participatory elements into the council’s online practices, as well as the use of citizen participation (on and offline) in decision-making. Political affiliations and divisions, and councillors’ divergent understandings of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the role of citizens in the democratic process, inform a reluctance to cede control of communication online. The interactivity and transparency associated with participatory e-government are perceived by Casey Councillors as risks that will require greater accountability of political performances or potentially jeopardise councillors’ political futures. These broader political contexts of the City of Casey and its councillors currently undermine the council’s policy processes and impede e-government development. This paper suggests that participatory e-government within Casey requires supplementary education amongst policy-makers on ICTs, the value of civic involvement, the potential benefits and risks associated with ICT-enabled citizen participation, and the importance of e-government policy documentation. Such strategies are needed if Casey’s e-government is to progress to facilitate civic engagement.