Many governments have seen a decline in trust in the past decades. One of the dominant governmental strategies to restore public trust is to adopt modern ICTs to strengthen the relationship between government and citizens. The aim of e-democracy tools is to give people more choice about how they can participate and to give them the feeling that their input makes a real difference, eventually resulting in more trust in government. But does this governmental strategy really work? This project focuses on the question ‘Does e-democracy increase trust in government, and, if so, under what conditions?’
The current search for technological solutions to the problem of distrust in government seems to be paradoxical because, to increase public trust and confidence, governments will be relying on information and communication systems that themselves require a high level of trust. Information technology is poorly understood by many people, which may reduce their trust in the technology, as well as in governments that use ICTs. Socio-economic variations amongst citizens in terms of age, gender, income, education, geographic location and other characteristics are also expected to influence their level of trust in ICTs. A second question will therefore be examined: ‘How does trust or distrust in e-democracy technologies influence the use of these technologies and tools?’
In order to answer the questions, two local and two national e-democracy initiatives will be selected (two in England, two in the Netherlands). These case studies will examine the role of awareness of governments’ performance and of distance to government, as these are the behavioural variables following from the theory. Furthermore, there will be an investigation of the contextual factors that influence the use of e-democracy technologies, and the changes in trust in technology and in government. The case studies include interviewing and observations, and two surveys will be conducted among participants (one in the beginning, and one at the end) to allow generalization of the findings.
This research project was financed by a two-year post-doctoral Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship to Anne-Marie Oostveen (funded by the European Commission under its 6th Framework Programme).