A comparative study of e-democracy practices in Australia and in South Korea

  • Hye-Jung Kang

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    It is arguable that the invention of ICTs has renovated contemporary democracy. ICTs characterized by timelessness, spacelessness, and cost effectiveness have largely changed the way of providing, storing, processing, and communicating information. ICTs have been expected to make up for the deficits of representative democracy which can be defined as: a lack of legitimacy of political institutions, a lack of political interest by the public, and a decline in public participation. The use of ICTs to improve the contemporary political system is called e-democracy. However, the way that ICTs have been applied in politics (e-democracy practice) has been affected by the socio-political contexts of their particular environment. This study explores how e-democracy practices vary in different national contexts, and how different e-democracy practices have originated. This study compares e-democracy practices in Australia and in South Korea. It is based on a multi-case study of e-democracy practices including three Australian cases (GetInvolved, Future Melbourne Wiki, and GetUp!) and three South Korean cases (Epeople, Seoul Metropolitan Government Online, and the 2008 Candlelight Protest against US Beef Imports). It uses multiple methods of data collection: documentation, website analysis, interviews, and participant observation, and applies a ‘social construction of technology’ approach as a research framework that allows a holistic comparison of e-democracy practices between Australia and South Korea. Three dimensions of social construction of technology - interpretive flexibility, relevant social groups, and technological frame - are used to compare six e-democracy practices. E-democracy practices in the two countries are also compared on the three categories: high levels of participatory e-government practices, local levels of participatory e-government practices, and e-civil participation practices. This study identifies several similarities and differences of e-democracy practices in Australia and in South Korea; it also discusses the factors that shape different e-democracy practices in the two countries. The analysis of the two cases showed similarities in high levels of participatory e-government practices (GetInvolved and Epeople),and in the strong leadership of the relevant government (the Queensland State Government for GetInvolved, and the South Korean National Government for Epeople). However, GetInvolved was an online consultation to receive feedback from citizens on public issues, while Epeople was an e-decision making tool to enable citizens to participate in a range of decision-making processes. Also, GetInvolved online consultation aimed to improve the relationship between the Queensland State Government and Queensland citizens, while Epeople e-decision making focused on increasing a climate of constructive discussion. These differences of e-democracy practices in the two countries were influenced by the existing political environment: the long-term practice of public consultation in Australia formulated the form of online citizen participation; while the limited citizen participation in policy-making processes in South Korea meant that ICTs were actively employed to increase the opportunity for citizens to participate online. The analysis of the two local levels of participatory e-government practices (the Future Melbourne Wiki and the Chunmansangsang OASIS of SMG Online) showed that both cases were developed by strong management (or leadership) from local governments (the Melbourne City Council, and the SMG) in response to policies of higher level governments (the Victorian State Government, and the Roh Government). However, the Future Melbourne Wiki was an online consultation, but OASIS was a collaborative e-decision making tool. Also, the Melbourne City Council was responsible for finalizing the Future Melbourne Plan, but both the SMG and Seoul citizens were responsible for making final policies or decisions on what public business to conduct. In addition, the Melbourne community was invited to participate in the online consultation, but Seoul residents were able to participate in all aspects of decision-making process including deciding issues to be discussed. These differences between the two countries in e-democracy practices at local levels were influenced by complex interactions between the pre-existing political conditions for engaging citizen participation, the existing political directions for using ICTs, demographic features in each society, and by the popularity of using ICTs in each society: the well-routinized form of public consultation in Australia, and the median age (28) in Melbourne City influenced the Melbourne City Council to build an online consultation wiki; the existing form of e-government and popular use of ICTs by Seoul residents led the SMG to use a collaborative e-decision making. The comparison of the two e-civil participation practices (GetUp!,and the 2008 candlelight protest against US beef imports) showed that both cases changed the position of citizens in the political arena, from information consumer to information finder (and information producer). Also, these cases did not reduce political activities in the election period, but expanded the political activities to everyday issues, everyday life. However, GetUp! maintained the traditional structure of political participation, including the governance structure of a civil society organization and of organizing citizen participation and conventional modes of political actions such as petitions, off-line rallies and planning advertisement in the mainstream press. By contrast, the 2008 candlelight protest against US beef imports introduced a new structure of political participation such as the swarm - a voluntary horizontal mobilization of networked individuals, and the simultaneous public action using online and offline worlds. In addition, GetUp! was seen to convert existing political participation from offline into online, but the 2008 candlelight protest was largely enacted by groups which had previously been politically apathetic (teenagers and housewives). These differences between the two e-civil participation practices in Australia and in South Korea evolved from the existing environment of civil society, coupled with the impact of ICTs: the long-term experience of governance structure in Australian civil society and the expensive cost of access to internet led to online citizen participation based on conventional practice; the fast uptake of ICTs in South Korean civil society encouraged the introduction of new forms of citizen participation.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnni Dugdale (Supervisor) & Carolyn Hendriks (Supervisor)

    Cite this