The term e-democracy is vaguely applied to any attempt to assemble citizens into a coherent group capable of expressing concern and agreeing to take action on an issue, using electronic media. By contrast, the scope of e-government is restricted to executing decisions already made and does not deal directly with political groups other than the ruling party or coalition.

There are various definitions of e-democracy, all of them assuming that a more participatory democracy or a more deliberative democracy can be created by relying on the increasingly ubiquitous signal infrastructure formed by TV, radio, phone, PDA, web services and other electronic (thus 'e-') devices.

Each of the definitions makes different assumptions about the nature of democracy. It's useful to distinguish C2C (inter-citizen) from C2G (citizen to government) efforts, and to distinguish both from G2C communications from government to citizens. This article mostly describes C2G efforts.

pre-Internet models

The earliest models were specific to one medium or another:
  • Some call-in radio shows have assembled debates or even all-candidates meetings and let people call in to question them jointly or individually
  • The TV-based electronic town hall concept focused clearly on the representative and how to assemble citizens into a coherent group capable of expressing concern and agreeing - it relied on real time media and real time feedback and usually required the participation of some television station to let people see the audience reactions; it is increasingly common to hold interviews with audiences during elections, e.g. the CBC Your Turn series of interviews with the leaders, which relied on citizen questions actually delivered by the citizens themselves, although they were selected by the journalists.

The small size and high quality of digital cameras have also enabled innovative models of encounter between representatives and the public such as CBC Taxi Chat.

simple models

The rise of Internet as mass media made many more online political resources feasible to assemble. Candidate webs and party webs began to emerge to elaborate policy and issues in public decision, especially around the time of the Canadian federal election, 2000, which was coincident with the Ontario municipal elections, 2000 and the US federal election, 2000. Because of the turmoil involved in that election, especially re: the butterfly ballot, the following became issues:

Meanwhile Internet Governance had also become an issue with the transfer of responsibility for domain names from the US Department of Commerce to an arm's length institution, ICANN. One of the earliest models of global e-democracy was the ICANN At Large board formed to represent all Internet users in matters relating to IP addresses and domain names. The critiques of Karl Auerbach, Craig Hubley, and later Joi Ito were influential in restricting the exercise of certain powers that were formally granted to ICANN but thought unwise by these political thinkers to fully exercise. Among them, noted by Hubley, making available such addresses as "organic.food" for purchase by anyone. Auerbach and Hubley both argued for more use of local DNS controlled individually or democratically. This argument re-emerged later re the GFDL corpus namespace and its convergence with the domain name space. In other words, whether the deliberative democracy of wiki was the best way to assign meaning or redirect of such phrases as "organic_food" or ".food". The trust decisions would then not be made by any central authority but rather by deliberative democracy directly, a model like Wikipedia's.

Global questions of namespace and broader questions of civic commons including loaded terms used in civic places, remain current issues in e-democracy. Electronic support projects that have attempted to operate at the global scale have generally had very limited effect and augmented live meetings, e.g. ICLEI World Congress 2006. The simpol.org effort, for instance, has been stalled for years, and its lack of live meetings might well be a factor.

national and regional/provincial failures

National efforts like Green Party of Canada Living Platform have typically failed miserably to actually deliver on their commitments, often because of inherent weakness of replacing civic places, even temporary and semi-private ones like a polic convention, with an online substitute.

Limited goals tend to lead to success. Simple accountability and transparency efforts such as TWFY have been spread to other nations using the British parliamentary model. The open government model of Duff Connacher, though technically a model of e-government, enables e-democracy by making information available much faster and more freely.

staying local

The most successful democracy projects tend to be formed on local issues, at the smallest and most representative level of government which is the municipal, e.g. the UK-wide opt-in local issues forum service. In general the United Kingdom has advanced e-democracy as a theory more than any other country, sponsoring among other things the work of dowire.org.

just the facts, ma'am

The simple efforts typically compile input from citizen journalists and make it available in a consistent electronic form. A majority of pages at openpolitics.ca itself are of this nature, provided to illustrate the deepest issues, the parties, the personalities and their historical positions. Typically to compare policy, e.g. 2004 and 2006 federal platforms.

advanced models

More complex models extend beyond simply mirroring existing information and try to discipline it for comparison. Attempts to assemble citizens into a coherent group capable of taking action on an issue require an institutional context. Some examples of these advanced models include:

online political resources e-government Internet as mass media, e-voting, Internet voting

sources and resources

e-democracy.gov.uk. Their focus is on social capital and local issues forum use to form power networks.

A recent study there advocated creating a UK-wide opt-in local issues forum service. A similar opt-in local issues forum service has been proposed for Canada by the Civic Efficiency Group.