Pathways to Electronic Citizen Participation: Policy and Technological Arrangements in Korea

  • Hoa Thai
  • Hyesu Im
  • Younhee KimEmail author
Living reference work entry




Technology-mediated citizen participation to promote authentic democracy in government


Citizens access to government information and government responses to citizen inquires to exchange information and concerns


Deliberative interactivity between government and citizens to obtain initial inputs from citizens on pre-identified issues set by government and newly initiated issues raised by citizens in the public service cycle


Citizens’ joint contributions to produce the real needs of the individuals and the communities in the policy-making cycle


Participatory governance is one of the fundamental governing doctrines to empower citizens in political and government decision-making across countries. Its practices enable government to tailor specific issues and policies based on inclusive communication with citizens. The government, thus, has adopted institutional and procedural arrangements to create participatory environments, largely through the effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The Korean government has initiated a wide range of administrative and technological innovations to make more citizens actively engage in decision-making processes. These efforts have paid off to place South Korea as one of the leading countries for incorporating the functions of information technology and communications, which promote the public’s electronic participation (e-participation), according to UN E-Government Survey 2018 (United Nations 2018), Digital Governance in Municipalities Worldwide (Holzer and Manoharan 2016), and Global e-Governance Study (West 2007).

The development of e-participation has paralleled with the perspective of citizens in e-government in South Korea. As the e-government frameworks have been advanced to assist government functions, its priorities have moved from service delivery to shared governance in order to make citizens inclusive and empowered in the policy process. The quality of e-participation relies on institutional and technological supports to stimulate the effective course of action between government and citizens. The Korean government has initiated a wide range of policy agenda and launched multilayered channels to make e-participation matter to citizens, communities, and governments. How has the Korean government empowered citizens to be active participants in government? To what extent do government policies and technological architectures endeavor to broaden and deepen e-participation? This chapter discusses the development of the e-participation domain in South Korea, corresponding to changes of policy orientations and the use of technological applications staged into three phases: e-communication (1995–2004), e-consultation (2005–2014), and e-co-production (2015–present).

E-communication Orientation and Applications (1995–2004)

The early phase of the e-participation state promotes citizen access to government information and government responses to citizen inquiries. This stage of e-participation aims to proactively disseminate accessible information to the public and obtain citizen feedback and requests about what was working well and what could be important. The Korean government envisioned a participatory government by introducing new laws and policies. The Informatization Promotion Master Plan in 1996, New Korea Net-Government in 1996, New Korea Net-Public in 1996, and the Public Information Disclosure Act in 1998 have become the milestones to promote the public information disclosure and citizen access to governments (Kim et al. 2004). The Public Information Disclosure Act comes into force as one of the democratic reforms that the government implements to make Korea a more open society. The original and later revised versions of the Public Information Disclosure Act secure citizens’ participation through:
  • Ensured transparency: All citizens are allowed to demand information from state agencies, such as the central government bodies, municipal governments, and other public institutions.

  • Prescribed obligations and procedures for information release: State agencies must follow rules and procedures with more than 40 obligations for releasing data for the public. Another obligation is to proactively disclose information about public institutions.

  • Released information about state agencies’ activities and performance on a number of public online service websites and open data portals.

The Basic Plan for Informatization (1995–1998, 1999–2001) is another integrated and coordinated government-wide approach to facilitate the e-communication state. The Korean government adopts various technological tools to keep the citizens updated about what their governments do. ICTs connect the government with citizens and the other way around in conjunction with legal and policy frameworks. The government and citizen interactions were designed based on the government-centric approach, so that citizens are considered as passive information users and the audiences of the government.

The information management initiates high-speed information network projects to disseminate government information and increase citizens’ broadband Internet access, which overcame space-time constraints for the citizen-government interaction. The Internet has become a place to collect citizen opinion data about public services and policies. The government started Open Government Service in 1996 to bring citizens’ voice in government. An online bulletin board is first introduced to communicate between citizen and government. Cyberparty launched in 1996 allows citizens to give their opinions to revise existing laws, rules, and practices. The National Assembly Research Council on Electronic Democracy managed Cyberparty. The National Assembly members, field experts, and ordinary citizens are primary participants to share information and exchange individual inputs (National Information Society Agency 1998). The issues raised by the citizens varied extensively, from a tariff exclusion for digital instructional materials to current scientific technological subjects. The primary features of Cyberparty, as an opportunity zone for direct online citizen participation, are as follows:
  • Bulletin board systems: Direct communication between the government and citizens providing free access to political information and collect citizens’ opinions on policies.

  • Diverse discussion categories: Citizens can debate via bulletin boards on numerous policy categories, such as legislative consulting, financial forum, policy discussion, and citizen networking.

  • Selective agenda setting: The administrator represents the citizens in selecting which proposed policies for further discussions with the National Assembly members and policy experts.

E-consultation Orientation and Applications (2005–2014)

As active citizen participation in governmental decision-making has been demanded, the government prioritizes greater interactivity and collaboration between government and citizens for gaining public trust in government. E-consultation presents more sophisticated forms of citizen-centric approach that allows citizens to personalize policies and services. Citizens have perceived themselves as partners rather than information consumers at the e-consultation stage. For an effective e-consultation relationship, the government creates competent online policy communities to promote a collaborative e-participation supported by E-Korea Vision 2006, Broadband IT Korea Vision 2007, and E-National Assembly in 2003–2007. E-Korea Vision 2006 aims to enhance the quality of e-participation and creates more user-friendly conditions for policy participation by information sharing services. Broadband IT Korea Vision 2007, a modified road map of E-Korea Vision 2006, adapts an active approach to cultivate meaningful participation through electronic voting and public opinion polls (Ministry of Information and Communication 2003). E-National Assembly constructs primary institutions of e-participation that targets to achieve internal managerial innovations within the governmental bodies. These institutions are the knowledge management system, the electronic submission, and the portal for e-participation (Special Committee for e-Government 2003).

As the experience of emerging participatory institutions continues, messages produced by the citizens exist in a massive amount and trigger online discussion and online consensus building. Thus, a new participatory mechanism is designed to facilitate deliberative discussion and mediation of conflicts. The implication behind it is that an effective participation can only be generated through harmonization and conflict resolution. The Conflict Prevention and Resolution of Public Entities 2007 supports government-citizen unity by managing conflicts through:
  • Conflict management scheme: Quasi-legislative process to engage public deliberation, participatory budgeting, and open policy-making

  • Establishment of conflict management agencies: The Conflict Management and Deliberation Committee and Conflict Management Support Center

  • Evidence-based management of participation: Conflict impact analysis and participatory decision-making process

The technological development focuses on real-time information transmission, automatic data collection, and expansion of Internet protocol capacity. This development enables the government respond directly to the citizens’ needs. It also actively engages citizens in government (National Information Society Agency 2013). Besides that, the broadband network facilitates e-participation through high-speed Internet access to every household. The Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission 2005 launches e-People, known as Sinmungo, to take a wide range of citizens’ complaints against the government administrative actions and adjudications, government agencies’ corruption, and policy proposals, featuring dispersed administrative bulletin platforms (Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission 2011).

The Seoul Metropolitan Government, the capital of South Korea, continues compliance and collaboration with the central government to support e-government and e-participation projects. Oasis of 10 Million Imagination is a primary platform in Seoul to promote meaningful e-participation for citizens started in 2006. Its purposes are, first, to reduce residential barriers to policy suggestions; second, to enhance efficacy and feasibility of Seoul policies from citizens’ perspectives; and third, to foster a creative and accessible environment of policy domain (Seoul Metropolitan Government 2016). Once the public opinions are posted and discussed on the platform’s website, selected issues would be handed over to the Seoul metropolitan government based on measures of public attention and recommendations from citizen committees. Then government experts, public officials, and citizens assess the feasibility of these selected ideas. After that, an online policy adoption meeting chaired by the Mayor of Seoul City would finalize the decision with these stakeholders. Some examples of policy ideas are parcel service storages in subway stations for women, Han River park forest trails, air quality signboards in subway stations, Braille notices of address for visually impaired persons, etc. The speed of policy decision-making process is still insufficient, but Oasis of 10 Million Imagination has increased the political efficacy of citizens to become consultative partners with government through:
  • Transparent administration: The policy adoption process is opened through transparent online processes.

  • Effective e-participation: The platform reduces conflicts and dissatisfaction by thoroughly and publicly collecting policy suggestions from the public.

  • Prompt government response: Strong readiness and fast consulting speed from the administrative experts and civilian administrative assessors in consulting process.

E-co-production Orientation and Applications (2015–Recent)

The growing focus on the co-production lens in public sector further advances e-participation ideology to customize citizens’ contributions to policy decisions. The e-co-production state requires the government’s commitment to innovate participatory tools and employ citizens’ co-production outcomes. Citizens can negotiate with governments to challenge their existing policy practices and service delivery. The government begins to respond directly, not selectively, to the opinions of the citizens through social network services. Throughout the 4th and the 5th Basic Plan for Informatization Promotion in the e-consultation stage, the government attempts to mature online participatory culture. These e-participation road maps focus on citizens’ co-production roles in the decision-making processes, aiming authentic participatory governance. In 2018, the government releases the 6th Basic Plan for Informatization Promotion and the Comprehensive Plan for Government Innovation that prescribes to:
  • Personalizing service-oriented government: Integrates cross-agency services to create one-stop service for each citizen, individual mobile services

  • Citizen-government governance: Pushes e-participation throughout the entire policy processes and fosters collaborative governance to become a partner with citizens

  • Smarter administration: Transforms administrative systems from ministry-centered (stovepiped style) to user task-centered, mass knowledge sharing through cloud computing, championing evidence-based decision-making to analyze user-generated data

The presidential office known as Cheong Wa Dae launched a petition website on August 17, 2017. Cheong Wa Dae provides an accountable platform to ensure the presidential office’s response to citizen requests. A Cheong Wa Dae petition which garners over 200,000 signatures compels the government to respond, while previous platforms do not require compulsory duty of the government to issue an official response. The high quality of government response is expected to increase e-participants’ satisfaction with the government trust and motivate citizens to keep participating in the policy process (Kim and Lee 2012). As of April 2019, Cheong Wa Dae has responded to 90 agendas. Cheong Wa Dae petition reinforces active citizen participation through:
  • Comprehensive agenda suggestion: Citizens can suggest any opinions among 17 categories including political reform, diplomatic unification, environment, human rights and equality, health care, and others.

  • Social media usage: Citizens can propose petitions or consent existing petitions through social media.

  • Strengthened government response: Government and Cheong Wa Dae officials including directors of ministries and agencies and presidential secretaries are obliged to answer questions and petitions that have received 200,000 consent.

Another case of a participatory platform is Gwanghwamoon 1st connecting both online and offline, which was first launched in 2017 but later restructured as an online policy engagement bulletin board in July 2018. Gwanghwamoon 1st incorporates previous participatory platforms, such as e-People and the Cheong Wa Dae petition, to build an advanced e-participatory channel. Furthermore, the government has continuously adopted a citizen-centered approach for better e-participation by searching innovative and new technologies, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence systems, and Community Mapping (Ministry of Public Administration and Security 2018). Table 1 summarizes the major policy frameworks and technological applications in three phases of e-participation in South Korea.
Table 1

E-participation framework of institutional and technological arrangements





Policy agenda

Gov. 1

Gov. 2

Gov. 3






Public Information Disclosure Act (1998); E-government Act in 2001

E-government Act in 2007, 2010, 2014; Conflict Prevention and Resolution of Public Entities 2007

Strategic road maps

The 1st and 2nd Basic Plan for Informatization Promotion (1995–1998, 1999–2001); New Korea Net-Government (1996); New Korea Net-Public in 1996; Enhancement of the freedom of information (2003–2007)

Electronic government road map (2003); The 3rd Basic Plan for Informatization Promotion (E-Korea vision 2006: 2002–2006); The 4∗ Basic Plan for Informatization Promotion (2008–2012); Broadband IT Korea vision 2007; E-National Assembly (2003–2007); Enhancement of e-participation (2003–2007)

The 5th Basic Plan for Informatization Promotion (2013–2017); The 6th Basic Plan for Informatization Promotion (2018–2022); Government innovation comprehensive plan 2018

Key priorities

Accessibility, communication, transparency

Collaboration, consultation, networking

Co-production, customized networking, negotiation


Telecommunications, web, email

Broadband networks, bulletin board, e-voting

Social media, mobile applications, cloud, GIS


Open Government Service, Cyberparty

e-People, Oasis of 10 Million Imagination

Cheong Wa Dae petition, Gwanghwamoon1st, Community mapping


The Korean government has provided various policies and information technology tools to elevate the country to one of the top e-participation enabled countries. The exemplary growth of e-participation in South Korea is the result of the government’s desire to be at the front of the information revolution and the commitment for democracy through democratic participation. E-participation has been started as an extension of the conventional participation and further evolved as a transformational form of participation. The government-driven participation is an early approach to enact and design participatory decision systems led by governments, and the citizen-driven participation is a networked approach to develop greater democratic participation supported by citizens and communities.

The e-government frameworks and information technology infrastructures promote democratic discourses, so that the practices of electronic citizen participation in South Korea have been far more inclusive to empower citizens in government processes. With multiple technological supports via web interface and mobile applications, the emphasis on e-participation has accelerated a paradigm shift from e-government to e-governance. E-participation channels should be well-designed to motivate a broad range of citizen participation, since the quality of e-participation can be evaluated by the impact of citizen inputs in decision-making. Corresponding to major revolutionary changes in technologies, Korean government has continuously incorporated new tools and sophisticated the use of existing applications. While technological advancements do not guarantee active, meaningful citizen engagement, these tools help Korean citizens to get more untapped opportunities to practice their contributions in actual decision-making processes.

The orientation of e-participation in South Korea has gone beyond ensuring basic access to government. It has focused on empowering citizens themselves in delivering their opinions to government and publicizing their concerns with government. Given the substantial changes in government-citizen interactions in South Korea during the past three decades, active e-participation has become a reality. The e-participation movement should be citizen-centric rather than government-centric. Citizens should acknowledge their leading roles to empower their participation in government. The Korean government has applied smarter approaches to initiate feasible policy agendas and design the user-friendly web-based and mobile applications responding to fast-evolving technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, analytics algorithms, and data-driven analytics. These types of technological advances should be used to minimize challenges and gaps in current e-participation practices and move it to a new level of the participatory state.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AffairsPennsylvania State University HarrisburgMiddletownUSA