Public Release: 

Prospects for Electronic Democracy

Carnegie Mellon University

PITTSBURGH-More than two dozen scholars and e-democracy practitioners from four countries will assemble at Carnegie Mellon University on September 20-21, 2002, to assess how the growth of electronic networks is likely to shape the future of democracy.

"The Prospects for Electronic Democracy" is a two-day conference, that will investigate under what circumstances the Internet might become a medium for citizen engagement with the community. Because the Internet has become such a powerful tool in facilitating human networking, it has also become a potential tool to revitalize democracy through applications such as online discussion forums, sites for e-mailing elected representatives, political campaign Web sites and online voting.

The conference is organized by Peter M. Shane, director of Carnegie Mellon's Institute for the Study of Information Technology and Society (InSITeS) and the InSITeS Community Connections Initiative, and Peter Muhlberger, visiting assistant professor at the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management and research director for the InSITeS Program in Electronic Democracy. Shane and Muhlberger founded Community Connections in the spring of 2000.

Conference presenters will focus on addressing questions such as: What do current real-world experiments tell us about the experience and consequences of e-democracy? Are the social and psychological contexts in which online deliberation is likely to occur supportive of democratic discourse? How are our conventional institutions of representative democracy being affected by e-democracy initiatives? What are the implications of developments in information technology for our theories of what constitutes legitimate democracy?

Shane said speakers come from a group of scholars who are highly diverse in terms of discipline and experience. Some of the contributors, such as James Bohman, Eugene Borgida, Michael Froomkin and Marci Hamilton, are extremely well-known figures in the fields of philosophy, political psychology and law, respectively. Other presenters are at earlier stages of their careers and come from fields such as information science, communications and political science.

Two keynote luncheons are also part of the conference. The first will feature Beverley Wheeler, an alumna of the Heinz School, who is now executive director of the Neighborhood Action program in the Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia. The second will feature short presentations by originators or managers of different e-democracy initiatives.

"We hope that a combination of experience-based reports, technological demonstrations and theoretical perspectives will give our audience a strong sense of what we collectively know about e-democracy thus far, the potential for e-democracy to grow, the questions that need to be addressed in assessing that potential, and promising avenues for addressing those questions," says Shane. "It's an audacious enterprise, but the questions are just too important and too interesting not to pursue them."

All sessions will be held in McConomy Auditorium in Carnegie Mellon's University Center. "Prospects for Electronic Democracy" is made possible by the generous contributions of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

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