'E-democracy' to give public say

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2012
Electric Beehive
RICHARD PARKER
LINKED IN: The Government is exploring ways to improve public consultation over the internet.

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The Government is investigating ways to improve its ability to consult with the public over the internet in a possible step forward for "e-democracy".

However, it is not clear whether far-reaching changes such as allowing people to petition for referenda online will be in scope.

The Internal Affairs Department said government agencies did not have access to a "comprehensive tool" that let  them consult with the public online. But a new project, Government Online Engagement Services (GOES), had been established to see what was possible.

The department has invited software companies to provide advice and take part in workshops that will be held next month.

Labour's open government spokeswoman Clare Curran said, as much as possible, the Government should look for a local solution and it should be used as an opportunity to encourage innovation.

The goal should be to enable people who were most vulnerable to easily communicate with government in a way in which their privacy was respected, she said.

"If those were the basic principles, then Labour would support it."

Internal Affairs said in a note to prospective partners that the purpose of the workshops was to seek information from the market and provide suppliers with the opportunity to provide input into the "ultimate solution vision and design".

A spokeswoman said the department expected the service would consist of a "range of configurable online engagement tools" including surveys, forms, polls and discussion forums that local and central government agencies could select from depending on the requirements of their project.

Inland Revenue and the Police have both dabbled with using social media to formulate policy in recent years.

In 2009, Inland Revenue let people comment through its website on proposals to change aspects of the student loan scheme. Revenue Minister Peter Dunne described the experiment as an "outstanding success". Two years earlier, Police let the public comment on proposed changes to the Police Act through an online "wiki".

A report published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2003 said online consultation by governments tended to take place most frequently at the "agenda-setting" stage but a few countries had developed tools that were suitable at all stages of the "policy cycle".

The OECD report said the Treaty of Waitangi and the fact Maori were over-represented among people "on the wrong side of the digital divide" made it particularly important the New Zealand government did not race ahead "of what the public actually want and are ready for". 

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- The Dominion Post

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