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To participate or to E-participate

Humans are social beings living in complex societies. Different parts of societies - different groups of people, from governments, companies and scientists, to workers, youths and senior citizens work, or at least should work, hand in hand for the greater benefit of all.

Some groups, however, take more part in this than others, either because of disinterest or lack of opportunities to do so. This is especially present in non-governmental groups or communities, the common people, us. Their (our) involvement in deciding the future of a society goes by the name of participation.

Let’s wrap it up with the official/theoretical intro and move to a more informal/relaxed tone. If you’re still in doubts about what participation is, let me help you out with these questions: Have you ever voted? Signed a petition? Attended a community meeting at your town hall? Gave an opinion on the new shopping centre they’re about to build next to school? Wrote to an official about this or that? All this is participation. Being active, playing your part. Raising your voice, influencing decisions that in turn influence you.

So, why participate...things always turn out well at the end anyway, right? But do they really? We all know the answer to this question.

It pays out to participate. The more you’re active, the better we’re all off. Here’s why:

                   - decisions and solutions are more likely to answer the needs of your community;
                   - people get more aware of things happening around them;
                   - people turn out to be more responsible as they have an overview on where resources end up and how they’re spent.

Moreover, participation is also a good learning process - people either gain new knowledge and skills by sharing or by doing things themselves. This learning process can change the way we behave and how we go about things. Last but not least, we become more independent and can deal with issues ourselves without relying too much on others.

As times changed, so did the way we participate. 21st century brought a radical shift. We moved from streets and squares to screens. We started to e-participate.

E-participation comes in many shapes and sizes; from giving opinions on social media and adding information to wiki pages, to electronic voting, submitting tax returns and signing online petitions, just to mention a few.

This new way of participating, however, should not be seen as a substitute for the classical, offline participation, but merely an addition to it. It can make us stronger, louder and more effective. But it won’t be worth much if we only stick to our computers and smartphones.

Despite packed with opportunities, e-participation has a downside. It can be a bit exclusive, which means it does not reflect the reality - the opinions and wishes of everybody. People without the access to internet or the knowledge on how to use the latter, can be excluded from the decision-making process. In addition, using internet for political interest is primarily used by the highly educated.

They might be downsides, but let’s rather look at them as opportunities. Opportunities to improve, to make things even better.

The world is a dynamic place, we just need to give it time and an extra push to change.

Written by: Aljaž Malek