This special issue aims to focus on attempts to apply theories and practices of e-participation to environmental policy-making and green development. This raises important methodological and theoretical challenges that we hope to explore through a collection of interdisciplinary papers.
While e-government refers to technologies that facilitate information and service delivery to citizens, e-participation refers to processes and technologies that enable communication among citizens and enhance their capacity to influence collective decision making, or to be engaged in collective action. Citizens can engage in e-deliberations, they can voice their public opinions, collect signatures via e-petitions and try to influence the outcome of decisions and rule-making at all levels of governance. E-voting, digital protests and e-petitions may support or oppose political decisions.
The use of blogs and new social media provide new opportunities to reform the ways that citizens communicate with governments. Networked communities can go beyond deliberation, voice and involvement in decision-making by actively participating in facets of governance such as community support, fund-raising, pledging, monitoring the implementation of policies or changing their own behaviour in ways that tangibly link individual acts with collective outcomes.
Recently, there has even been discussion of tapping into the structure of gaming communities to help resolve social problems. For example, in the World Without Oil game, eighteen hundred people from twelve countries were asked to re-imagine their lives in a world bereft of oil as an exercise in changing attitudes.
Environmental issues and policies, in particular, constitute a typical area where social media are used in some of the ways outlined above. Citizens’ rights to access environmental information have been strengthened through online disclosure. Green e-participation has improved the legitimacy of decision-making processes that have an impact on the environment. Pollution-monitoring sites have provided tools to inform citizens as well as help them take steps towards effective political action.
A number of features make green e-participation particularly interesting and important: the often strong public motivation in environmental matters; the fact that many environmental issues draw support across traditional political borders; the complex nature of environmental problems and solutions; the fact that environmental issues cover all levels of governance from local to global; the cross-jurisdictional and cross-departmental nature of most environmental issues; and the fact that environmental issues do not align well with traditional governance bodies.
The fluidity of informationally-rich forms of networked communities can potentially adapt more effectively and speedily to environmental challenges, whether these involve issues of local waste management; monitoring and reduction of pollutants; household energy conservation; or regional plans to combat climate change. An assumption to be tested in this special issue is that deliberative network technologies can more readily engage relevant stakeholders with the specific problem at hand.
The establishment of green networks of citizens, activists, researchers, business leaders and government decision makers is likely to have a profound impact on the nature of democracy and the forms of environmental governance. Numerous issues arise:
- What is special about the interface between e-participation and environmental governance?
- Can citizens monitor their representatives’ actions towards sustainable green development? Can e-participation tools make democracy more accountable and, at the same time, more effective?
- Does e-rulemaking, in particular, have the potential to level the playing field by opening up new avenues for the involvement of public interest groups for environmental issues?
- What are the barriers and opportunities to greater online citizen engagement in environmental policy-making and green e-participation? Can all citizens be equally represented via new digital media and online platforms? Can these tools also be used by NGOs, lobbyists and industries to influence the decision process?
- Online participation tools and deliberative processes, including e-petitions, e-campaigns, e-consultations and others, for environmental policies and green development
- Online strategy tools by NGOs, local administrations and governments for environmental policies and green participation
- Social media, Web 2.0 and emerging technologies and applications for green e-participation
- Theoretical approaches to global governance and inclusive policy-making via virtual spaces
- Success and failure stories, good and bad practices for green e-participation, addressing the barriers and opportunities for online citizen mobilisation on environmental issues
Deadline for paper submission: 31 October, 2011
Notification of review results: 30 December, 2011
Submission of revised manuscripts: 30 March, 2012