Digital Civic Participation in Australian Local Governments: Everyday Practices and Opportunities for Engagement
Digital technologies and social media platforms are changing civic expectations surrounding interaction with government. Local governments hold key positions in the development of digital spaces for civic participation in the issues that directly impact citizens’ everyday lives. However, local practices largely prioritise information and services over reciprocal dialogue with citizens. This chapter explores digital civic engagement in Australian local governments. It draws from a nation-wide survey of councils’ digital practices to highlight that opportunities for civic participation are increasing, particularly through social media. However, substantial discrepancies exist between the digital practices of rural and urban local governments. This discrepancy is further examined through comments from seven rural councils that participated in a workshop on digital engagement, and the views of urban citizens (through focus groups) whose local government offers advanced digital practices. For the rural authorities, key challenges to digital development include limited connectivity, capacity, and financial resources, as well as the different expectations that citizens have in relation to social media use. For the (urban) citizens, participation in online spaces has gone unanswered by their government, which is creating a sense of disenfranchisement. While there is evidence of innovation in Australian digital local government, civic demand and government use largely fail to align. Councils need to reconceptualise current approaches to digital engagement by considering the purpose of participatory spaces and integrating their use into everyday operations. Moreover, greater government receptivity and responsiveness is required to enable civic participation to inform local decision-making. Such involvement allows citizens to develop a sense of connection with local government and facilitates increased civic engagement.
KeywordsLocal Government Social Medium Civic Engagement Discussion Forum Civic Participation
- Aulich, C. (2009). From citizen participation to participatory governance in Australian local government. Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, 2, 44–60.Google Scholar
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2012). Population estimates by local government area, 2011–2012. 3218.0 Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2011–2012. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/3218.02011-12?OpenDocument.
- Berejiklian, G. (2014). Transforming Sydney: Planning approval granted for $1.6B CBD and South East light rail [media release]. Randwick City Council. http://yoursayrandwick.com.au/lightrail/news_feed/media-release-transforming-sydney-planning-approval-granted-for-16b-cbd-and-south-east-light-rail.
- Bird, D., Ling, M., & Haynes, K. (2012). Flooding Facebook—The use of social media during the Queensland and Victorian floods. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, 27(1), 27–33.Google Scholar
- Bowles, M., & Wilson, P. (2012). Appraising the importance of the National Broadband Network in Australia’s race to compete in the digital economy. Australian Quarterly, 83(1), 11–19.Google Scholar
- Bradford, N. (2008). Canadian social policy in the 2000s: Bringing place in. Ottawa, Ontario: Canadian Policy Research Networks.Google Scholar
- Broadband for the Bush Alliance. (2013). Better telecommunications for rural and remote Australians: A Broadband for the Bush Alliance policy paper. Desert Knowledge Australia. http://broadbandforthebush.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Broadband-for-the-Bush-Alliance-Policy-June-2013.pdf.
- Bruns, A. (2012). Towards distributed citizen participation: Lessons from WikiLeaks and the Queensland Floods. eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government, 4(2), 142–159.Google Scholar
- Chun, S. A., Shulman, S., Sandoval, R., & Hovy, E. (2010). Government 2.0: Making connections between citizens, data and government. Information Polity, 15(1–2), 1–9.Google Scholar
- Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE). (2013). Advancing Australia as a digital economy: An update to the National Digital Economy Strategy. Canberra, ACT: DBCDE.Google Scholar
- Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) (2011a). #au20 National Digital Economy Strategy: Leveraging the National Broadband Network to drive Australia’s digital productivity. Canberra, ACT: DBCDE.Google Scholar
- Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE). (2011b). Digital local government program guidelines. http://www.communications.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/140307/Digital-Local-Government-Program-Guidelines.pdf.
- Dobson, P., Jackson, P., & Gengatharen, D. (2013). Explaining broadband adoption in rural Australia: Modes of reflexivity and the morphogenetic approach. MIS Quarterly, 37(3), 965–991.Google Scholar
- Farman, J. (2012). Mobile interface theory: Embodied space and locative media. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Freeman, J., & McCallum, K. (2013). Public connection with local government: Desires and frustrations of articulating local issues. In J. Freeman (Ed.), Proceedings of the emerging issues in communication research and policy conference, 2013—Refereed papers (pp. 137–148). Canberra: News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra.Google Scholar
- Hilgers, D., & Ihl, C. (2010). Citizensourcing: Applying the concept of open innovation to the public sector. The International Journal of Public Participation, 4(1), 67–88.Google Scholar
- Holland, T. (2014). Social networks as sites of eparticipation in local government. In D. Bossio (Ed.), The Digital and the social: Communication for inclusion and exchange—Proceedings of the 2014 Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference. http://www.anzca.net/conferences/past-conferences.html
- Howard, A. E. (2012). Connecting with communities: How local government is using social media to engage with citizens. Canberra: ANZSOG Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra and Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government.Google Scholar
- Jimenez, B. S., Mossberger, K., & Wu, Y. (2012). Municipal government and the interactive web: Trends and issues for civic engagement. In A. Manoharan & M. Holzer (Eds.), E-governance and civic engagement: Factors and determinants of e-democracy (pp. 251–271). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kavanaugh, A., Krishnan, S., Pérez-Quiñones, M., Tedesco, J., Madondo, K., & Ahuja, A. (2014). Encouraging civic participation through local news aggregation. Information Polity, 19(1–2), 35–56.Google Scholar
- Macnamara, J. (2012). Democracy 2.0: Can social media engage youth and disengaged citizens in the public sphere? Australian Journal of Communication, 39(3), 65–86.Google Scholar
- Malina, A. (1999). Perspectives on citizen democratisation and alienation in the virtual public sphere. In B. N. Hague & B. D. Loader (Eds.), Digital democracy: Discourse and decision making in the information age (pp. 23–38). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Margo, M. J. (2012). A review of social media use in e-government. Administrative Sciences, 2(2), 148–161.Google Scholar
- Margolis, M., & Moreno-Riaño, G. (2009). The prospect of internet democracy. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.Google Scholar
- Meikle, G., & Young, S. (2012). Media convergence: Networked digital media in everyday life. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Mergel, I. (2014). Social media adoption: Toward a representative, responsive or interactive government? In J. Zhang & J. R. Gil-Garcia (Eds.), Proceedings of the 15th annual international conference on digital government research (d.go’14) (pp. 163–170). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
- Mergel, I. (2012). The social media innovation challenge in the public sector. Information Polity, 17(3–4), 281–292.Google Scholar
- Morris, R. (2012). Community engagement in rural-remote and Indigenous local government in Australia. Sydney: Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government, University of Technology Sydney.Google Scholar
- Norris, D. F. (2010). E-government… not e-governance… not e-democracy: Not now! Not ever? In J. Davies & T. Janowski (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th international conference on theory and practice of electronic governance (ICEGov’10) (pp. 339–346). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
- O’Toole, K. (2009). Australian local government and e-governance: From administration to citizen participation? In M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), E-government diffusion, policy and impact: Advanced issues and practices (pp. 171–184). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.Google Scholar
- Park, S., Freeman, J., Middleton, C., Allen, M., Eckermann, R., & Everson, R. (2015). The multi-layers of digital exclusion in rural Australia. In Proceedings of the 48th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Washington, DC: Computer Society Press.Google Scholar
- Purser, K. (2012). Using social media in local government: 2011 survey report. Sydney: Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government, University of Technology Sydney.Google Scholar
- Thomas, J. (2004). Horizons of expectation: Imaginary trajectories of electronic government. In G. Goggin (Ed.), Virtual nation: The internet in Australia (pp. 258–272). Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.Google Scholar
- Wilken, R., & Goggin, G. (2012). Mobilizing place: Conceptual currents and controversies. In R. Wilken & G. Goggin (Eds.), Mobile technology and place (pp. 3–25). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar