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When digital democracy falls short: insights from Colombia

Date added: June 19, 2017

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Colombian e-government development has been internationally recognised by the UN as a leader in Latin America, and one of the 20 most developed nations of the world in the area. However, ICT tools and services such as broadband are a luxury. Colombia suffers from an access divide due to economic and infrastructural limitations, and a second level digital divide because of weak information and data literacy.

This Brief focuses on identifying the impact of ICT mediation in democratisation and citizen engagement in terms of what is understood as governance, how those representations are legitimised, and the ways in which they change power relations. The authors reviewed Colombian ICT mediation policies, placed them in relation to the context, and contrasted them with previous research about local e-democracy developments.  This gave a characterisation of how Colombian e-government routines have evolved.

The Brief analyses the government project called Urna de Cristal (UDC), which is the centrepiece of President Santos’ mandate on e-government policy and democratisation. UDC initiated online consultations in 2013 on Colombia’s first Open Government Plan. Studies on UDC have studies have concluded that e-government enabled new forms of efficient interaction with the state in bureaucratic areas, but it did not empower citizens and officers due to the notions of "participatory government" and "digital participation culture" not being understood.  Also the digital divide, and the lack of credibility of the government means that e-government was associated with bureaucratic processes and social control.  Citizens are apprehensive about misuse of private data for retaliation.

The Colombian government’s sustained efforts to develop e-government during the past three presidential administrations has reflected positively in e-readiness indicators as well. But the country’s political legacy and new social contradictions derived from ICTs need to be tackled.

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