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E-deltagelse i praksis - Politikernes og forvaltningens medkonstruktion og konsekvenserne heraf

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This thesis is about how different e-participation user groups co-constructtechnology through the use in practice. It is studied how technology is used on amunicipality level for citizen-communication and -participation with an onlinedebate forum as a case in point. Users of online debates are citizens, politiciansand the administration. In this thesis, I have chosen to focus on how politiciansand the administration use online debates. I show how politicians and theadministration participate in very distinct ways on the debate forum and therebycreate specific forms of citizen communication and participation. Everybodycan participate in the online debate as long as they give up their name and email.Periodically, citizens write quite a lot of contributions on the debateforum. But politicians’ and the administration’s perception of what is happeningon the debate influence which role the citizens’s contributions will have for thepoliticians and administration, as well as forms of interaction between users. Inthis thesis, I argue that the users’ (politicians’s and administration’s)sensemaking about online debates as well as the mediation of the use of onlinedebates have a crucial influence on which types of practice of online debate candevelop.Online debate is perceived as an equivocal technology in the sense that theuse of the technology is not clear cut but a result of the user’s sensemakingabout the technology and thereby the sensemaking about possible acts and interactions with the technology and other users. Sensemaking is the primarytheoretical frame with a special focus on situation-specific cue-frame-relations.The Municipality of Odder is the case and a unique one with its 11 years ofexperience within municipally facilitated online debate. The empirical data arecontributions written from September 3rd, 2005 to April 15, 2008 (a total of1983 contributions), 17 semi-structured interviews of ½-1½ hours length withadministration and politicians in the municipality as well as different writtendocuments from the municipality.In this thesis I show that politicians and administration act as users of theonline debate in four different ways: Political candidate, councilor,administrator and mediator. The political candidate run for the municipalelection and is only present in the debate the last three months before theelection. The political candidate see online debates as a good opportunity tomake him/herself visible to voters and competing candidates, and therefore (s)hewrites a lot of contributions during this period. The political candidate rarelyanswers ordinary citizen’s contributions but instead decides to write newcontributions or answer contributions started by competitors. The politicalcandidate rarely gets involved in real discussions on the debate but insteadchoose to give his/her visions for the future of the Municipality of Odder.The councilor see the debate as the citizen’s opportunity to voice theirmeaning and therefore rarely participate in the debate, as this could have anegative effect on citizens motivation to write on the debate. The councilorreads the citizens’ contributions and once in a while the contributions act asinput for internal council discussions. When the contribution reflectmisunderstanding and when it is not only a few citizens who share themisunderstanding, the councilor chooses to write a report for the debate. It isusually the relevant committee chairman or equivalent who writes thecontribution.The administrator believes that the majority of the contributions on thedebate are political and therefore (s)he should not participate in the debate. Theadministrator sees citizens and business as partners. It is groups of professionals,which cover associations, organizations etc. and does not necessarily, see theindividual citizen as a key stakeholder. The groups of professionals use othermedia, such as mails and letters, in their communication with the administration,as their input is often long reports and technical judgments. The administrator chooses only to answer factual misunderstandings in ongoing processes or moregeneral issues in the municipality.The mediator, which is a role only a small part of the administration acts in,generally works with the implementing and forming the use of technology in themunicipality. (S)he sees ICT as a way of increasing openness and effectivenessin the municipality. Online debates is a solution which the mediator believesespecially increases openness and (s)he works with the aim of ensuring acontinued debate. The mediator focuses on maximizing the number ofcontributions, on making it easy to participate and to make it possible to discussanything, which is why the debate is in no editor or guided use of the debate.The result is that the individual user – political candidate, councilor andadministrator – mediate the use of the debate and develop filters for their ownand others’ ability to act on the online debate.That politicians and administration appear in these four roles in relation toonline debate problematic several aspects of the use of e-participation practicesin a municipal context. One aspect is that the four roles develop differentpractices for the use of the debate which function parallel on the debate withoutthe development of a common practice. A second aspect is that a mediator roleis established. An actor who mediates the interaction between citizen andpolitician, and thereby an actor who has a high degree of importance for whatonline debating becomes in practice. A third aspect is that the administrationtakes the mediating role and becomes a political advisor or an administrator ofpolitical decisions. A shift which neither the politicians nor the administrator areaware of. At the same time, the way the technology is mediated creates bothsynergy and conflict between the councilor, the political candidate and theadministrator. Synergy and conflict which primarily can be related to the focusof the mediator on the increased use of the technology and the missing focus oncontextualization of the online debate.

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Christine Secher

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