The paper was prepared for the conference “Central and Eastern European e-Democracy and e-Governance Days” held in Budapest on May 7-8, 2015 by two analysts of IDFI and student of University of Bremen Dennis Redeker.
The proponents of ‚smart‘ cities frequently make the claim that the digitization of city halls can help cities to become more transparent, responsive and participatory.
Primarily made for Western liberal democracies, applicability of the argument in new democracies like the countries of the South Caucasus need to be evaluated. Consequently, we assess the situation in Georgia using a theoretical framework that captures the different ways in which digitization of the public sector may affect democracy.
We find that three basic categories can be distinguished: (1) citizen-serving measures, which consist of data analysis and treatment without consultation or data sharing with the public; (2) citizen-informing measures that aim to open new or existing data to citizens; and (3) citizen-empowering measures that allow citizens to raise their own concerns and have a direct impact on decision-making. Utilizing these three categories as an analytical tool we conduct a discourse analysis to investigate the motivations and the impact of the different measures adopted by the Government of Georgia and city of Tbilisi in particular.
We argue that the distribution of digitization measures among the three categories impact the degree to which digitization strengthens democracy. For Georgia, and Tbilisi in particular, we conclude that the focus on citizen-serving and citizen-informing measures is necessity-driven and has some advantages, but fails to fully realize a more democratic society/city. Important mediating factors have proven to be the difference between top-down versus bottom-up approaches, the level of trust in institutions, eliteracy and cultural specificities.
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