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Research Phase 4. E-consultation trials

The models of good practice developed in earlier phases need to be validated in full-scale trials. Not all issues can be researched in small-scale experiments. The partners will find at least two organisations that wish to carry out e-consultation trials. We will then advise and assist them in setting up and carrying out an e-consultation component of their consultation exercise, and evaluate the trials. We anticipate that the some of the technical parts of the consultation can be run on our own equipment, but that for the larger scale consultations we will need to buy in professional services from computing and market research companies.

The exact nature and distribution of the trials depends upon the organisations willing to work with us. Ideally, we would like to evaluate a large-scale e-consultation run by a public sector body, a community or voluntary group’s consultation of its own members, a local planning consultation, and an online dialogue between political opponents on a contentious issue (such as an online citizen’s panel reviewing the Good Friday agreement).

The technological and process advice will come from all the partners, while the evaluation will be carried out jointly by NIRSA and QUB. The evaluations will some of the following techniques:

To find out: Technique Lead partner
Participation levels Server log analysis QUB
Argumentation styles Content analysis + data mining QUB
Opinion shifts, consensus building Questionnaire NIRSA
Preferendum QUB
E-consultation effectiveness Interviews and focus groups NIRSA
E-consultation efficiency Data analysis + questionnaire QUB
Participant satisfaction Questionnaire NIRSA
Non-participants’ evaluation Focus groups NIRSA

The evaluation techniques will be tailored to the nature of each e-consultation trial, as different techniques work better in assessing the views of different types of participant, and more or less data is collected by different e-consultation technologies. A follow-up series of focus groups will seek to derive the political implications of our project. Preliminary results of the study will be fed back to focus groups drawn from communities and relevant policy makers and they will be asked to discuss and comment on the emerging process. Thus the concept of e-democracy in the context of citizenship building will be tested, refined and developed in this phase.