This is the second part of a series of discussion starters on contextual aspects of e-participation. Part 1 was on Institutional Backing. Contributed by our student intern, they are inspired by his master thesis research.

Some e-participation projects originate from within (or from outside) public institutions, but are not decided at the top. Initiators of e-participation projects can come from outside a public institution and remain so, but in many cases the initiative comes from outside and efforts are made to then relocate the initiative within a public institution (this might be the case where an advocacy organization, a citizens association or academics are the driving force behind an initiative). The other possibility is that somewhere within an institution, an office or individual acts as the policy innovator (but it is somewhere in the middle belly of the bureaucracy, not at the top level).

In both of these cases, enormous leadership and advocacy efforts are necessary to get buy-in. With buy-in, I mean that those leading an institution are convinced of the merits and goals of an e-participation project and fully back it as an official act of their institution, resulting in the proper institutional backing for such a project. Even more broadly, buy-in is at the core of what the entire open government movement seeks to achieve: to instill the awareness for open government processes within the public sector and the public at large. What is necessary is to find the right arguments for the right audience to convince them of the benefits of e-participation or its suitability for a certain problem or challenge. However, in most bureaucracies, it is not only risky to start an intra-institutional campaign for openness, there is also usually little resources for it.

Books on leadership exist plenty, but aside from leadership skills, what are really helpful tips for advocates of e-participation from within and from outside? What are success stories? Does it help to skip “a few ranks” and talk directly to someone higher up? Where does one need to find allies? How long would one want to foster and plan the project before “giving it away” to the institution to see it rot away in a drawer? Should outside actors be brought on board (without authorization)?

Many questions remain, as we are figuring out proper ways to open up public administrations for more participation and collaboration. This is a reminder that it is primarily about people, not about software. What are your thoughts?