I have been following e-democracy in the UK since its earliest manifestations in the work of UKCOD (UK Citizens e-Democracy), established in 1996. I was commissioned to be one of three evaluators for the Government’s national project for local e-democracy, out of which came the International Centre for Local e-Democracy (ICELE) This new body was well-funded, but seems to have produced conspicuously little. There might be others out there who can tell me that I’ve missed some wonderful outputs. If so, please do.
The discussion in the comments on that post soon spilled over into the UK & Ireland eDemocracy mailing list, which David Wilcox reported on, quoting Rita Wilson, ICELE’s director:
Having been on holiday for a few days I was surprised to come back to lots of speculation about ICELE. First of all I would like to say that I am more than happy to provide information regarding what ICELE has been achieving and there is nothing hidden about our activities. But we are doers not talkers, delivering a programme to make a difference in how local authorities use tools and technology to move from consultation to participation.
Now, it seems that the speculation was well placed. ICELE will soon be no more. In a message to various participants in the ICELE project, the Chairman of ICELE, Matthew Ellis wrote:
Although the termination date for ICELE was originally contracted as the end of March this year we agreed, at CLG [Department for Communities and Local Government]‘s request, to maintain the Centres basic core operation for a further three months to discuss the way forward in promoting local eDemocracy. Unfortunately, although some talks have taken place, no decision or indication of CLG’s future plans in this important area of work have been forthcoming, or what form or structure ICELE could take. I am therefore in the process of implementing an exit strategy plan which will see ICELE cease operations of any kind with Lichfield DC as the accountable body after the end of June.
What was ICELE? Well, good question. In their own words:
ICELE is a sustainable [oh dear], UK-based centre with strong international backing from eDemocracy experts in the public, private and non-governmental sectors.
The Centre is designed to serve as a ‘virtual’ focal point for collaborative eDemocracy initiatives both in the UK and abroad. Within the UK, local authorities, community groups and citizens can use the Centre’s online resources to help run projects in their local area.
They were involved in a few projects, like the VOICE web publishing tool and the Blog in a Box blogging platform for Councillors. I don’t know much about VOICE – though what I’ve heard isn’t good – and Blog in a Box is frankly superfluous given the quality of free offerings like WordPress, as CivicSurf has proved.
So, ICELE, to be frank, was a bit rubbish. But what will take its place? I guess we will find out when the Department’s white paper on Empowerment is published. There has already been some activity around this, including the Community Power Packs developed with Involve‘s help, as well as Simon Berry’s job at CLG. Let’s hope the results will be good.
I think it is a bit of a shame that ICELE will be no more – or at least that there won’t be a body around which eDemocracy at a local level can gather. It might be argued that even with ICELE such a body didn’t exist. Maybe there’s another argument that in this networked, post-organisation world, we don’t actually need a body of this type at all any more at all.
There are a number of people who have a real, dedicated interest in local eDemocracy, as well as the opportunities that the social web offers to achieve real success in the area. The trouble is that local government is a remarkably fragmented sector and tying together all the various initiatives is a role that’s important but not happening right now. One of the best ways that local government is joining up at the moment is through the Communities of Practice, hosted by the Improvement and Development Agency, and set up by Steve Dale.
A quick search of the Communities platform for ‘edemocracy’ reveals nothing. Perhaps those with a genuine interest in making things better and sharing ideas might organise themselves through that platform? After all, there is already a huge user base on the platform.