While reformatting my work PC today, I browsed around the internet looking for thoughts on e-government and design. I came across an interesting research brief by Peter Muhlberger entitled Should E-Government Design for Citizen Participation? Stealth Democracy and Deliberation [Abstract] [PDF]. He has a few other papers that look down the alley I’m interested in reading as well.
This paper posits that American citizen apathy and disenfranchisement with government are not due to citizens’ preference for the appearance of oligarchy as democracy or a belief in general consensus, [a view covered in detail in a book called Stealth Democracy] but is the result of a psychological effect; American citizens are generally linear thinkers, not systemic ones, which makes it difficult [and therefore less interesting] for them to engage in political and governmental processes.
He has some data to support this [naturally] and comes to the conclusion that eGovernment has the ability to enhance, and thereby improve the policy-making process, as well as other governmental actions by allowing space for citizen discourse in a non-intrusive manner, couple with a few specific requirements. That’s all very good, but it doesn’t address the fact that providing space for citizen input is often the last thing that government [as bureaucracy] wants to do. Possible avenues for criticism [such as open discourse] are discouraged, or funneled into controlled, limited settings [the media] where things like spin and talking points can effectively neutralize them. So while the opportunity exists for eGov assistance in citizen involvement, Muhlberger doesn’t offer any tips or tricks for convincing government to behave that way in the first place. An estimated increase in efficiency isn’t going to cut the mustard with the conservative nature of any government entity.
The article was very good though, and I already see parallels with the book I’m currently reading: The Elements of Typographic Style, which, in addition to being an exhaustive encyclopedia of typographic terminology, method and history, also offers some fundamental applications of typographic usage and display to assist and enhance user experience. It is also, appropriately, marvelously designed.