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Electronic Democracy and Educating Young People

This paper describes how the International Teledemocracy Centre has been working with the Scottish Government and the Highland Council to better appreciate how young people (11 to 18 year olds) use technology as a medium for democratic decision making, and to evaluate the technology's contribution to improving their participation in democracy. The work is illustrated through two specific projects.

The first project is concerned with the development of an electronic consultation system and its use to consult young people in Scotland. From 2nd May to 12th June 2000, any young person with access to the internet, whether from home, school, cybercafé or community centre, could participate in the electronic consultation by going to www.e-consultant.org.uk. At the web site they could do two things:

  1. Have a look at the top 20 issues facing young people in Scotland today, read other peoples' comments and, importantly, add their comments on the issue.
  2. Vote for the top 10 issues that they think are the most important ones for young people in Scotland.

The second project is still on-going and concerns the development and use of an electronic election system called e-voter. The system is being used to support Highland Council elections to a Highland Youth Council. It allows young people who have registered in each of the 28 secondary schools in the region to vote for representatives and generally take part in the election campaign. The system can be seen at the web site www.e-voter.org.uk

The systems, e-consultant and e-voter, are components of a web-based e-democracy toolkit being developed to motivate and facilitate public participation in governance. The International Teledemocracy Centre working with BT Scotland developed a prototype version of the tools in early 2000. The tools demonstrate how relatively straightforward computing techniques can engage the attention and participation of young people, by presenting a medium that they find interesting, convenient and easy to use and at the same time provide an opportunity for young people to develop their ITC skills.

This paper summarises the results and lessons learnt from these two e-democracy youth projects.