This post is part of a series of discussion starters on contextual aspects of e-participation. Contributed by our student intern, they are inspired by his master thesis research.
In deciding if and what kind of e-participation processes to initiate, it is important to consider not only the capacity available on the side of the host or convening institution (mostly in terms of budget, time, people and technology), but the full backing on the side of the institution as well.
There is a difference between such processes initiated by someone within an institution acting in the name of the institution (but maybe only in the form of a pilot project) and processes where the institution is standing for it from top to bottom. It makes an enormous difference whether participants do not know to what degree their city/government actually backs their e-participation initiative, or knowing that from the mayor down to the city hall desk clerk everyone is informed about it and instructed to recognize it as actual city/government policy. And with that, the capacity question is logically directly connected.
However, even given proper backing, not all types of processes can be realized with the same degree of capacity. The question is what effect does institutional backing have on an e-participation process in terms of legitimacy, expectation management, and most importantly: proper feedback into the policy cycle. Token participation can be a result of just plain bad e-participation processes, but they can also come from insufficient institutional backing. Examples might include outstandingly well organized participatory budgeting processes with a high degree of activity, but they go nowhere because the city in which they were exercised insufficiently coordinated the time frame so the proposals came too late to be considered for the current budget cycle. Or even worse, the legislature had no idea there was a participatory budgeting project going on!
What are your experiences with institutional backing? Do you know of any strategies, success stories or high-profile failures we can learn from? How can institutional backing be enforced where it is lacking? I welcome your comments!