Date added: July 5, 2017

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Urna De Cristal (UDC) is an e-participation platform launched by the presidency of Colombia in 2010. The platform allows citizens to raise queries/concerns to any government department/agency, put in requests for grievance redress with a guarantee of an official response. It also has an e-consultation space where government departments can solicit public opinion for aiding policy development. UDC has Web TV and Internet radio channels, and linkages to social networking and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google plus, Youtube and Instagram.

This case study on UDC attempts to address the following questions:

  • what visions of citizen engagement inform UDC?
  • what norms of citizen engagement are legitimated through UDC?
  • has UDC contributed to a cooperative and democratic dialog between state, agencies and citizens?

The authors analyse interviews with key stakeholders from the government, academia and civil society organisations working on human rights and development, and health on the above mentioned questions. The interviews were assessed in the historical context of Colombian democracy, that has been marked by a continued co-existence of electoral politics with violent in-fighting between groups, representing the traditional elites in power, popular movements excluded from the political arena, and criminal organisations funded by narco-trafficking.

The analysis reveals that in a context of underhanded dirty war, ICT-mediated citizen engagement can seek to include vast sections of the population residing in areas where the rule of the law is weak, but it also runs the risk of producing democratic divides, manipulation or simply effect change at a cosmetic level if the focus remains in the technology and not in producing awareness in the citizens and the government officers.

The study of UDC reveals that the project is marred by deep mistrust and suspicion that citizens bring to any formal interactions with authorities, the lack of government’s investment in ensuring safety and inclusiveness of the platform, and the limited digital capabilities of citizens. As a result, this initiative for amplifying citizen voice runs the risk of ending up as mere chatter.

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