ICT for Dialogue and Inclusive Decision-Making

by Anna Przybylska (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 212 Pages


Public consultations are a weak but institutionally embedded form of civic participation in political decision-making. Their input and output are often a cause for concern. This has motivated the authors to design the inDialogue platform to help transmit knowledge about the methodology of public consultations. It follows the deliberative public consultation model, and recognizes the value of social inclusion in knowledge-sharing and argument exchange in building an open political community. In this book, researchers as well as practitioners, in their respective fields, discuss various aspects of the inDialogue software’s development and implementation. They document the complexity of the work that was carried out in an applied interdisciplinary project in the area of democratic innovation.
«The value of this volume is not only in its presentation of inDialogue as an innovative application enabling those with disabilities to access public debate and consultation, but also in raising important questions about the introduction of ICT for debate and consultation. These questions are answered from both the perspective of the technical and social sciences.»
Jerzy Bartkowski, Professor at the Institute of Sociology, Warsaw University
«ICT for Dialogue and Inclusive Decision-Making is a splendid contribution to the literature concerning online deliberation and civic engagement. It usefully bridges the academic world of theory and empirical studies, and the practice of citizen deliberation, carefully documenting both the design and experiences of the In Dialogue project in Poland.»
Todd Davies, Associate Director and lecturer, Symbolic Systems Program, Stanford University

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: ICT and Dialogue in Democratic Innovations (Anna Przybylska)
  • Chapter 1. Social Research and Public Consultations (Jacek Haman)
  • Chapter 2. ICT Solutions for Public Consultations: Methodology and Design of the InDialogue Platform (Anna Przybylska)
  • Chapter 3. The Online Anonymity Controversy: Theoretical Considerations and Practical Implications for the InDialogue Platform (Maja Sawicka and Anna Przybylska)
  • Chapter 4. Where ICT Meets Disability (Bartosz Stępień / Jacek Zadrożny)
  • Chapter 5. ICT Solutions for Voice Moderated Debates (Robert Bembenik, Anna Przybylska, Aneta Świercz and Jacek Zadrożny)
  • Chapter 6. Usability Testing of the InDialogue Platform (Paweł Tymiński and Marta Kołodziejska)
  • Chapter 7. Integrating the InDialogue Platform into the Local Administration ICT Environment (Tomasz Kulisiewicz)
  • Chapter 8. How ICT Tools Intervene in Public Consultations (Radosław Sierocki)
  • Chapter 9. Public Consultations in Media Narratives: The Case of Olsztyn and Nowa Dęba (Marta Kołodziejska / Klementyna Świeżewska)
  • Chapter 10. Opportunities and Barriers to the Use of the InDialogue Platform by Local Government Administration (Tomasz Potkański)
  • Conclusions: Factors for the Absorption of Innovation (Anna Przybylska)
  • About the Authors
  • Series Index

← 6 | 7 →

Anna Przybylska

Introduction: ICT and Dialogue in Democratic Innovations

In this book, we discuss the theoretical premises and the institutional context of the inDialogue software’s development. It has been designed to intervene in the practice of public consultations, which is a weak but institutionally embedded form of civic participation in political decision-making. We are concerned with the quality of public consultations, both their input and output. This is why we have followed the deliberative public consultation model, which recognizes the value of social inclusion in knowledge-sharing for open political community building.

Certainly, the Polish socio-political environment, which has influenced the inDialogue software’s design, is distinctive in some respects, but the issues of the interventionist role of ICT in deliberative democracy and democratic performance, which we apply in our analysis, remain relevant to other democratic countries. Therefore, this book is not only about Poland, but it does set an applied experiment in democratic innovations in a Polish background to offer original empirical data to feed discussion across borders.

Conditions for the Transformative Role of ICT in Politics

In regards to strengthening trust in political institutions and decision-making, much attention has been accorded to the mechanisms and institutionalized practices that serve to justify political actions. The interest in the transformative role of communications as well as the transformation of communications due to the advancements in ICT has been manifested in academic publications and institutional documents alike. But, already in the 1980s, it was observed that even the use of technology with its unprecedented potential for interactivity would not, alone, remodel political processes; instead, it demonstrated how the functions and features of technology depend on the model of democracy favored by politicians (Van Dijk 1996).

ICT is a function of institutionalized politics: the model of democracy at large and the model of civic participation in decision-making through, for example, referenda, public consultations, participatory budgeting. Christopher F. Arterton (1987) proposed a division of communication tools, which were developed to ← 7 | 8 → strengthen civic participation in politics, along two axes, where the first refers to plebiscitary vs. deliberative politics, and the second refers to the different degrees of interactivity among participants. The fact of who is the organizer of a communicative situation has additional consequences for the ICT’s design.

Coding for democracy always starts with the model of action. The software used in public consultation can differ due to several factors; among them, the role and responsibilities of the principal user in politics and political communication; the stage or stages in public consultations where ICT is applied; and the standards and methodology adopted for public consultations. Going more in-depth, the influence of the choice of methods and techniques for the organization of debates on available ICT tools—especially participant selection, group formation, moderation and incentives—can also be observed.

The aforementioned decisions made on the procedural aspects of public consultations are of prime importance to the design of ICT and to the results collected—the information about the needs and preferences of citizens that should have an impact on political decisions. It may be that the overall aim—strengthening public participation—is shared by different stakeholders, but variations in its operationalization bring about an array of tools that allow for disparate modes of political communication and participation. Approaching the issue of the software design from the other side, it can be said that the software carries within itself the information about the political norms of the principal users who recommend it.

Proponents of deliberative democracy propose a set of methods for public consultations. By means of their comparison, it is possible to draw conclusions about some of the general characteristics, which in combination, constitute the model of deliberative public consultation. This model is already helpful for those who intend to develop tools to implement deliberative norms. Debates based on the knowledge accessible to all and an exchange of arguments without social prejudice are within their focus. But, designing specific ICT functions and features requires further reflection on the institutional, socio-political and technical environment.

There have been many projects in which scholars, public servants, or social activists have attempted to develop software for implementing the norms of deliberation. The references to the model of deliberation are direct, but can be indirect when linked to the open data resources, knowledge sharing, and collaborative problem-solving for better public governance (Davies and Gangadharan 2009; Noveck 2009; Lathrop and Ruma 2010; Stromer-Galley et al. 2012; Coleman and Shane 2012; Nabatchi 2014; Klein and Convertino 2015). Each project has been a particular contribution to our understanding of deliberation in practice. Let us provide two examples that bear some similarities as well as differences. ← 8 | 9 →

The Deliberatorium1 software launched by Mark Klein (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), highlights the importance of argumentation in finding solutions to complex problems by multiple users who bring in different competences. Each user follows the discussion, observing and contributing to the development of a graph of argumentation. Contributions are organized by topic, and a moderator can check them for structural errors and eliminate irrelevant posts. The participants can rate individual inputs, as the aim is to select the best ideas. The Deliberatorium application can be used by anyone at any time—an institution, a group, or unallied individuals.

In the Online Deliberation2 software, Weiyu Zhang (National University of Singapore) proposes debates among randomly selected participants who are obliged to go through educational materials before joining a debate. They are encouraged by a system of incentives to contribute to discussions, for example, they are rewarded for being active participants. The formation of opinions is supported by a visual representation in the form of a mind-map that is generated by a moderator; otherwise, moderators do not intervene in the organization of the topic-structured deliberation. The Online Deliberation application is not linked to any particular institutional user or category of users, but, a large scale random sampling of participants supported by the system suggests that it is meant for governmental bodies or large institutions and concerns issues relevant to considerable populations.

Our own inDialogue application shares some features with Deliberatorium (threaded discussions and argument visualization in text debates, moderators in an intervening role) and some with the Online Deliberation software (access to educational materials and participant selection, threaded discussions and argument visualization in text debates), but also differs from both of them. Sometimes the difference concerns an approach to the use of a particular element in the functional system rather than to the presence or absence of it, for example, mind-map creation (who creates them and how).

Undoubtedly, setting a matrix of analytical criteria to compare various applications that support deliberations, especially if accompanied by a justification for the solutions adopted, brings valuable information to developments in the area under scrutiny (for some examples of categories and criteria of deliberative design see Davies and Chandler 2012). The major difference between the two aforementioned applications and the inDialogue software is that the latter is meant ← 9 | 10 → to change the practice of institutions and the behaviors of participants in regards to public consultation within the existing institutional framework. Our efforts are directed towards the institutionalization of its use. This is why the interface is less universal and flexible (defined institutional users, compulsory actions within a process that is composed of several phases), but, at the same time, the software is more complex in addressing the issue of the quality of public consultations.

ICT for Public Consultations in City and Town Halls

In Poland, the ICT services for public consultations once developed by the national government either are no longer in use, which highlights the ephemeral character of this kind of project, or they do not fulfil their role. The supra-local initiatives for creating online tools for local governments have been promoted by NGOs, sometimes in cooperation with units of the national government. Projects like “I have an opinion” and “Citizens decide” deserve special mention. The large city halls develop their own internet platforms dedicated to public consultations that are used in parallel to traditional face-to-face data collection or as the sole place for public hearings. Some cities experiment with websites supporting participatory budgeting (mainly to provide information about projects and to facilitate voting), the use of maps in locating problems within the city space combined with dialogue and polls. But the software available for public consultations is mostly mono-functional. It facilitates the following: internal communication within the city or town hall and the circulation of documents (the preparatory phase), and the annotation of documents; or participation in synchronous or asynchronous text debates; or collecting the answers to polls (the implementation phase). Even if several tools for conducting public consultations are at the disposal of a city or town hall, they are rarely used in combination.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (September)
Deliberation Decision-making Democratic innovation Open governance Public consultation Anonymity and e-privacy E-democracy WCAG 2.0
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2018, 212 p., 21 b/w ill., 10 b/w. tab.

Biographical notes

Anna Przybylska (Volume editor)

Anna Przybylska is an assistant professor and head of the Centre for Deliberation at the Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw. She is the manager of the applied project, «New Perspectives for Dialogue: the Model of Deliberation and ICT for the Social Inclusion in decision-making» (2014–2017).


Title: ICT for Dialogue and Inclusive Decision-Making
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