A key objective of the e-consultation research group is to develop e-consultation technologies to promote the concept of citizens participating in public policy discussions and debates.
The belief that using new technologies creatively can help citizens to get involved and this, in turn, helps policy makers keep informed of what the public think about important issues.
Each of the previous e-consultation experiments and trials, run by the team, had brought together people from different communities into the same virtual space to interact and exchange messages.
The research team met and decided on a short time frame, i.e. six weeks, and the use of electronic technologies only.
The target participants were young people between 12-14 years old, targeted though the formal education system’s electronic infrastructure.
The team set out to make an electronic call for participation. Lots of thought went into the invitation, in particular the language, mood, presentation, and variety of participation methods.
The trial tools consisted of:
- An on-line survey
- An on-line exhibition of true stories of encounters with diversity
- An on-line discussion forum
There were three groups of feedback:
- Teachers felt the exercise contributed to the educational experience of students, illustrated democratic values, and improved IT skills.
- Youth Workers, who represented the young people, felt that young people were enthusiastic and felt that more young people could be included.
- Technologically, there were concerns. Both a deficiency in typing skills and schools' not having access to broadband were key issues.
Two types of data was generated from
- Survey Data: This survey had eight-six week responses. It acted as a litmus test for how young people were being taught about diversity and conflict, and how they felt about diversity, and what actions they had taken or would like to take when difficulties were encountered dealing with difference.
- Participant Knowledge: Overall, the data suggested that encounters with diversity were interpreted as non-threatening cultural experiences wherein the young person expressed a sense of wonder and happiness with the differences they encountered.
The view was that the potential for e-technology was very positive and there was considerable excitement about the initiative from all who were contacted. It was only in the first days of running the trial the initial problems with the e-mail addresses and the blocking of the site mentioned earlier became apparent.
Issues of Participation
There were several key findings, both negative and positive, in relation to the participants' experiences:
- E-mail addresses were not used a lot and many were no longer active. There was also a lack of activity emerging from those e-mail points of contact.
- The security protection and the lack of broadband access created technological problems.
- The web site was easily accessible to young people regardless of their level of disadvantage.
- The survey, easily and readily, generated worthwhile information on encounters with diversity.
- The tools used opened access to all youths and provided new ways of directly communicating views and hearing those of others on the subject of diversity.