The Internet holds the promise of enhancing national and local democracy. Irving Rappaport, coordinator of UK Citizens Online Democracy explains how. He wrote this article in 1997.
UK Citizens Online Democracy (UKCOD) is Britain's first and only national online democracy service . It can be found at http://www.mysociety.org and has been developed by volunteers with the support of the Computing Services and Software Association, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Sun Microsystems, Xara Networks, Internet Vision Ltd., and Ultramind Ltd.\ \ It is an experiment to find out whether people can use the Internet to discuss and become better informed about the complex issues that affect their lives. It is also designed to enable the public to participate directly in and affect the political process. We hope it will become a place to make things happen - a powerful new interface between the public and politicians, both locally and in the Palace of Westminster.\ \ This initiative is not associated with any political party although politicians and citizens of all political persuasions are being invited to participate.\ \ UKCOD's first client is the UK Office of the European Parliament which has commissioned us (in association with the Scarman Trust) to host and manage an online seminar and discussion on one of the most controversial issues of the day - whether Britain should join the European Monetary Union. The discussion will be launched on 18th November 1996 and will involve an invited list of participants including MEPs and representatives of major commmercial, financial, civic and voluntary organisations. It will last for one month and the results will be forwarded to the European heads of government who are meeting at the IGC summit in mid December.\ \ National support for UKCOD continues to grow through contacts with politicians, political and academic organisations, local authorities, sponsors etc. For example, Brent Council has invited UKCOD to partner an application for funding to the European Commission entitled “Enhancing Community Involvement in the Democratic Process”.\ \ In order to help the public find out what is actually going on in Parliament (as opposed to what the media choose to report), we will be providing an online link to Hansard. We are also planning to set up trials for a live, on-line audio internet link with the House of Commons chambers and committees as a later development of our web site.\ \ The Cabinet Office supports UK Citizens Online Democracy and has confirmed that we may approach all Government departments about the use of their material and that UKCOD is “congruent with the Government's aims under the Citizen's Charter of facilitating the dissemination and accessibility of Government information to the public and enhancing the effectiveness of UK democracy”.\ \ I'm personally delighted but not really surprised at the support we've been getting. After all, we've simply taken our cue from some of our more forward looking politicians. For example, Graham Allen MP is on record as saying, “…to use new technologies to provide a much greater degree of interactive consultation between political representatives and their electorate…the challenge for politicians as we approach this new era is to ensure that the conditions are created for the genuine development of informed, electronic citizens.” ('Wired' Magazine Sept.'95)\ \ Irving Rappaport\ Coordinator, UK Citizens Online Democracy\