The ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) General Conference is one of the most favorable academic venues for discussing democratic innovations. In 2022, several EuComMeet team members contributed to this discussion. The panel on “New Technologies for Deliberation” was among those most closely related to the theme of our project. Proposed by Paolo Spada (University of Southampton) and co-chaired by Anna Przybylska (University of Warsaw), it invited the academic community to reflect on various categories of challenges to facilitate large-scale deliberations with digital technology. The presentations not only reported emerging tools or compared them but also problematized the social limitations of technological intervention.
Anna Przybylska and Borys Tencer from the EuComMeet contributed to the discussion by presenting a comparative study concerning choices and compromises in the public consultation platforms’ design. In their presentation, first, they problematized the relationship between political communication models and the design of digital platforms operated by public authorities. Then, they presented the matrix of analytical criteria used in the comparative study of five multi-functional platforms supporting the conduct of formal public consultations. Although all platforms may seem to serve the goal of encouraging popular deliberation and participation in decision-making, their designers sometimes adopt distinct approaches to achieve it. The authors analyzed the features and tools of the five platforms to highlight similarities and differences and their relevance to political procedures.
While some platforms give much freedom to institutional users in choosing the tools, others require them to go through predefined stages. The modular approach seems to assume that institutions have the know-how for governing the decision-making process in a deliberative and participatory manner. At the same time, behind the linear organization of the process, there is a salient assumption that a platform provides guidance to institutional users or even controls their actions to avoid omitting critical procedural elements.
One of our observations is that gamification is primed for its potential impact on motivating civic participation. However, the transparency of public consultation’s management may at least equally impact positively social inclusion, which is worth rigorous academic testing. Undoubtedly, scholars and IT designers, often working collaboratively, need to further consider the political and social consequences of platforms’ design in various political cultures and systems in their pursuit of implementing values of deliberative democracy.
Anna Przybylska, Borys Tencer (University of Warsaw)