E-consultation Study Group
E-consultation study group
brings together people from the public, community and voluntary sectors, university researchers and private companies intereseted in applying electronic communications technologies to improve consultation processess.
In Northern Ireland there has been a rapid growth in public consultations since devolution. Under equality legislation alone there could be 500 consultations a year. This lead to 120 public authorities each sending out 20-page consultation documents at the same time in 2000 to the same couple of hundred associations. They did this on paper, and then had to cope with paper replies. Consequently, the people dealing with the consultation in both the consulting and consulted organizations were overloaded with paper work, preventing either from spending much time eliciting the views of the public.
A number of people in both sectors thought there must be a better way of doing consultations. Given the spread of IT and the Internet in public authorities and community organisations in Northern Ireland, electronic consultation promises to make consultation more efficient, by reducing the time people spend retyping and summarising other work, giving more time to spend contacting more people who would otherwise never dream of reading, let alone replying, to 20 pages of bureaucratic jargon. Some people, such as youth, can be more easily contacted through the Internet than in public meetings.
At the same time, a number of innovators in Northern Ireland had been looking at ways of improving democracy, including via using software to support different aspects of e-democracy. On meeting up with some of the people affected by consultation paper overload, they realised the timeliness of studying electronic public consultation.
Together we have been meeting every month since September 2000 in this e-consultation study group.
Members come from many organizations, including Advice NI, CITU, CRTLC, de Borda Institute, Democratic Dialogue, East Belfast Partnership, Buchanan E-mail, Milward Brown Ulster, NICVA, North Down Borough Council, Newtownabbey Borough Council, Queen's University Belfast, United Hospitals, Workers Education Association, Womens Resource and Development Agency.