The Haves and the Have Nots: Civic Technologies and the Pathways to Government Responsiveness

Paper by Jonathan Mellon, Tiago C. Peixoto and Fredrik M. Sjoberg: “As civic life has moved online scholars have questioned whether this will exacerbate political inequalities due to differences in access to technology. However, this concern typically assumes that unequal participation inevitably leads to unequal outcomes: if online participants are unrepresentative of the population, then participation outcomes will benefit groups who participate and disadvantage those who do not. This paper combines the results from eight previous studies on civic technology platforms. It conducts new analysis to trace inequality throughout the participation chain, from (1) the existing digital divide, to (2) the profile of participants, to (3) the types of demands made through the platform, and, finally, to (4) policy outcomes.
The paper examines four civic technology models: online voting for participatory budgeting in Brazil, online local problem reporting in the United Kingdom, crowdsourced constitution drafting in Iceland, and online petitioning across 132 countries. In every case, the assumed links in the participation chain broke down because of the platform’s institutional features and the surrounding political process.
These results show that understanding how inequality is created requires examination of all stages of participation, as well as the resulting policy response. The assumption that inequalities in participation will always lead to the same inequalities in outcomes is not borne out in practice…(More)”.