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Environment Group Research Report 2005/04 - Continuing the Dialogue on Radioactive Waste Management: Engaging Young Scotland Innovatively


Chapter Two Characterising current practice

2.1 This chapter summarises the results of the literature and practice review of e-engagement and engaging young people in Scotland and elsewhere. The review sought examples of and literature about: -

  • recently published frameworks for characterising and developing e-engagement.
  • online resources for young people that seek to inform, consult/ gather views, or directly support active involvement in decision-making about (a) RWM and related areas; and (b) areas other than RWM.
  • recently published guides to best practice in engaging young people in public decision making.

What is e-engagement?

2.2 The potential impact of ICT on efforts to enhance citizen engagement in the policy process is now widely recognised. The OECD report 'Citizens as Partners' argues that democratic political participation must involve the means to be informed, the mechanisms to take part in the decision-making and the ability to contribute and influence the policy agenda, specifically it defines the following terms ( OECD, 2001: p. 23).

  • Information: a one-way relation in which government produces and delivers information for use by citizens. It covers both 'passive' access to information upon demand by citizens and 'active' measures by government to disseminate information to citizens.
  • Consultation: a two-way relation in which citizens provide feedback to government. It is based on the prior definition by government of the issue on which citizens' views are being sought and requires the provision of information.
  • Active participation: a relation based on partnership with government, in which citizens actively engage in the policy-making process. It acknowledges a role for citizens in proposing policy options and shaping the policy dialogue - although the responsibility for the final decision or policy formulation rests with government.

2.3 By e-engagement we mean the use of ICTs to support these three main aspects, namely online information provision (e-enabling), e-consultation, and e-participation (see figure 2.1). Effective information provision is seen as a prerequisite for both e-consultation and e-participation ( OECD, 2001). This current study focuses on e-consultation, i.e. with responsibility for decision-making resting with the Executive, but has important aspects relating to information provision (e-enabling tools) and to partnerships with the education and community sectors (e-participation).

Figure 2.1: e-engagement (Macintosh 2003)

Figure 2.1: e-engagement (Macintosh 2003)

2.4 The OECD report 'The e-Government Imperative' (Macintosh, 2003) states that the overarching objectives of e-engagement are: -

1. to reach a wider audience to enable broader contributions

2. to support engagement through a range of technologies to cater for the diverse technical and communicative skills of citizens

3. to provide relevant information in a format that is both more accessible and understandable to the target audience to enable more informed contributions

4. to engage with a wider audience to enable deeper contributions and support deliberative debate.

2.5 These underlying objectives for e-engagement are used in the consideration of various genres of tools and their rationale for inclusion in any youth e-engagement initiative later in this chapter.

Describing e-engagement initiatives

2.6 The framework we use for characterising practice in e-engagement has been developed by the authors and others through research and consultancy projects for the European Commission, the OECD, and UK and Scottish government. It addresses the need to characterise best practice from review of existing cases (Macintosh, 2004), and to plan for the evaluation of e-consultation initiatives (Whyte and Macintosh, 2003a).

2.7 The 10 key dimensions or aspects of e-engagement that we consider relevant to planning e-engagement are summarised in table 2.1 below.

Table 2.1 Summary of key dimensions



1. Type of engagement

e-enabling, e-consulting or e-participation: to what level of policy detail, and with how much weight given to the participants' responses.

2. Stage in decision-making

When the participants are engaged in relation to the policy life cycle: agenda setting; option analysis, draft policy, implementation, monitoring.

3. Actors

Who is engaged and by whom, who are the stakeholders, who develops and manages the process.

4. Technologies used

How participants are engaged and with what devices or interaction mechanisms.

5. Rules of engagement

What participants can do online, and what personal information is collected.

6. Duration & sustainability

The period of time made available to participants, and any relation to any other engagement initiatives

7. Accessibility

Measures to ensure that resources can realistically be accessed and assessment of how many participated and from where

8. Resources and Promotion

How much did it cost, how widely was it publicised and by what mechanisms

9. Evaluation and Outcomes

The approach taken to assessing the results, and how the results influence the outcomes

10. Critical success factors

Any other political, legal, cultural, economic, technological circumstances contributing to the results.

2.8 We applied the framework to a selection of websites and reports of recent projects identified from the research and practice literature to provide a summary of key lessons learned, and of evidence of successful political and socio-technical mechanisms for engaging young people. Emphasis was given to online initiatives aimed at young people and on RWM or environmental and science policy issues. Although there are few prior examples of online consultation with young people on RWM, key issues are identified from these.

Current E-Engagement Practice

2.9 The review was not intended to be a comprehensive survey of the many examples of Internet-based PSE (or young peoples' involvement) but sampled 17 cases selected for their relevance to practice in RWM e-engagement design.

2.10 We have described 10 examples from the UK focusing on RWM and related subjects and also more general examples of online engagement of young people that we felt were important to this study. We have described 5 examples of international case studies, and also 2 recent research initiatives to use innovative technology to support online deliberation and argument development.

2.11 Table 2.2 summarises the case examples. Full descriptions, using the 10 key dimensions, are in Report D1 4 .

Table 2.2 Summary of cases reviewed

Responsible organisation(s)

Title & Reference

Key issues to consider

National Case Examples


Developing the Long Term Strategy for Managing Dounreay's Solid Low Level Radioactive Waste www.ukaea.org.uk/dounreay/publicconsultation/Youth/Contents.htm

Young people were invited to be involved in facilitated discussion, but only 3 took part in the event from two local high schools. A software package supported the facilitation. The low response may indicate insufficient promotion to young people.

AWE, but managed by NNC Ltd with Lancaster University

Public and Stakeholder Consultation on AWE's Long-term Environmental Aims ( PASCALEA) using a number of online tools.


The scale of the online response was low, with 5 notice board comments, 2 discussion comments, and 7 questionnaire responses. The consultation report identified communication, trust, openness and transparency of information as significant concerns that were seen by many stakeholders to undermine AWE's initiatives.

(Young people not directly involved.)

Leeds University with Nirex

Developing possible on-line approaches to public participation in locating a nuclear waste disposal sites in the UK.


Part of a research project using GIS to educate users about RWM and prototyping an online survey. Relatively old project 1997-1999. Prototype allows a high degree of interactivity but some users may find it difficult to navigate around the information.

(Young people not specially targeted.)

Lancaster University, and other EU partners

RISCOM II Project, Work Package 4, comparing different forms of public dialogue processes, including an experimental website to support young people to engage in debate. http://csalt.lancs.ac.uk/riscom2/notes1.htm

Five schools were invited to participate, an estimated 200 students and 12 members of staff used the website materials: Discussion forum; Online polling; Video Interviews; FAQs and background information. The Evaluation Report lists 19 conclusions, including needs for: -

  • Incentives to motivate students;
  • Student involvement in the on-going development of the site;

Adequate promotion of the project.

Lancaster University, DEFRA, the Health & Safety Executive, and Environment Agency

RADIALE, an acronym for 'Radioactive Dialogue in a Learning Environment' sought to put into practice the recommendations from RISCOM II (above). In particular it focused on the quality of materials, and involvement of teaching staff in their production.

Sufficient time for development, ideally at least 1 year to allow introduction to schools.

Benefits of collaborative authoring teams, using instructional design methodology.

Need to get advisory teachers and instructors on board, if materials are to be used in curricular teaching.


KU World - online computer game for young people for assessing relative risks of radioactivity and other hazards.


Although not specifically about RWM it is a relevant example of a novel means of informing young people about related subject matter. (This game was used by the focus groups in this study - see Chapter 3.)

Community Education Branch, Scottish Executive

Scottish Youth Summit - one off consultation, involving on and off line components to inform Ministers and support them develop future youth strategies. www.e-consultant.org.uk/ScottishYouth

Used online discussion forum, polling and voting to collect opinions. Aimed at 11-18 year olds, 587 comments were posted and 279 young people voted. Online advertising was important, involving placing clickable banner ads on 2 websites heavily used by young people.

Young Scot

Ur'say channel: online engagement channel for young people based on discussion boards. Part of an online Scottish youth information portal. http://www.youngscot.org

Used to engage a range of young people with contemporary national issues. Average online response was low. After a consultation a response by the consultation owner was made available on the site.

Ur'say is no longer available. From June 2004 it was replaced with "Loud+Clear". No results from this new site are available.

Highland Council & Well Being Alliance Partnership

Highland Youth Voice: online discussion board and other tools to support debate


Site developed to support the Highland Youth Parliament. Used by 11-18 year olds in Highland Council area. Debates are on topics such as CitizenCard, Sexual Health and Anti-social behaviour bill. Over 100 comments for the Health and Exercise debate, but generally an average of 10. Website complies with WAI guidelines. Also available in text-only format. Young people were involved in the design of the site.

National Children's Bureau

Young TransNet uses online games to engage children and young people with sustainable transport issues.


Used in schools in England and Wales. Online game is a simple treasure hunt. Site has a resources section for teachers. Over 400 schools registered to use the materials.

Supported by Nokia and Mencap

Trans-active is a project in which teenagers with and without severe learning disabilities work together supported by ICT.


Uses multi-media and peer support to produce a 'passport' (on CD) for a person with learning disabilities that can be used in decision-making about their lives.

Responsible organisation(s)

Title & Reference

Key issues to consider

International Case Examples

Canada: Nuclear Waste Management Organization - NWMO

Developing collaboratively with Canadians a management approach for the long-term care of Canada's used nuclear fuel. A 4 year initiative (2002 to 2005).


During Phase 1: offline engagement only, through face-to-face events and surveys. Phase 2 introduced online tools. Website launched in 2003 with: online documents and FAQ, newsletter, online survey, and (in the near future) a discussion forum.

France: National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management

The ANDRA website.


The website provides a range of information for different audiences. For the general public and young people there are tutorials and quizzes using different technologies e.g. video, interactive maps.


3 Young People's websites and teacher resources:

Environmental Kids Club -http://www.epa.gov/kids.

Student Centre - Environmental Concepts, Activities and Tipshttp://www.epa.gov/students.

High School Environmental Centrehttp://www.epa.gov/highschool.

Environmental Education Centrehttp://www.epa.gov/teachers.

Each website provides information and programs for young people and children to become informed and engaged on environmental issues. The vocabulary used to introduce the websites depends on the intended audience. Online tools include: Questionnaires, interactive maps, FAQs, webcams, virtual guided tour.

Spain: Empresa Nacional de Residuos Radiactivos (Enresa)

Enresa is a public company, set up by the Spanish Parliament, to undertake the management of radioactive waste. Enresa Interactivo - their website with online games for young people. http://www.enresa.es/Interactiva.htm

Website provides a number of games with graphics intended to interest young people aged 8-12. Does not provide any functionality to support consultations or participation.

Canada: Atomic Energy of Canada Limited ( AECL

Kids Zone website presents, for young people, interesting games and information on nuclear energy, electricity and how energy interacts with environment http://www.aecl.ca/kidszone/atomicenergy/index.asp

Aimed at 5 to 12 year olds. There are 3 simple online games. The information is presented concisely with extensive interactive options, bright colours and graphics.

Australia: Queensland Government

'Generate' website to enable government to gather opinions online from young people.


Aimed at 15-25 year olds. There are a number of options for online interaction: email, discussion forums and live chat. The "Ministers on-line chat" allows direct links between decision-makers and young people.

Other research initiatives in online engagement

USA: Carnegie Mellon University & Ohio University

PICOLA Project (Public Informed Citizen On-Line Assembly): 3 year National Science Foundation funded project to explore online deliberative polling, running from 2002-2005.


Will provide a range of video, audio, and text-based tools to facilitate informed discussion where participants can either meet 'live' or exchange messages over longer periods. To date they have found that participants quickly became familiar with listening, reading and responding online. Project intends to identify how use of the e-democracy tools affect the emergence of conflict, consensus and community-mindedness among participants, whether trust and social capital rise, how inclusive involvement proves to be and whether citizens perceive outcomes as legitimate.

USA: University of Hawai'i (originally at the University of Pittsburgh)

Belvedere Project: explores the use of argument maps to help pupils understand complex science problems.


Uses computer supported argument visualisation techniques ( CSAV) to engage students in critical discussion of science and public policy issues. Intended to be used in a face-to-face facilitated setting in a classroom. The target age group is 12-15 year olds in high school.

Principles of Youth Engagement

2.12 Current principles of youth engagement are rooted in increased perceptions of the rights of children and young people, and in the perceived need to re-invigorate democratic processes. The involvement of otherwise disenfranchised young people is becoming increasingly important to policy making, not just because young people are the 'voters of tomorrow' but also because they are already citizens. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has provided impetus to the development of a 'rights culture' around children and young people (Mathew and Limb, 1999). Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC) requires government to consider children's best interests in all actions, and Article 12 states that all children have the right to express views on all matters of concern to them and to have those views taken seriously. The UNCRC was ratified by the UK Government in 1991, and together with the European Convention on Human Rights ( ECHR) provides a basis for legislative action by the UK Government and the devolved administrations, and for local government policies and decision-making structures.

2.13 Similarly the increasing global reach of liberal democracy, coinciding with generally decreasing levels of democratic participation in the US and Europe, has led to significant curricular developments in citizenship education (Patrick 1995, Learning & Teaching Scotland 2001). As (Barber, 1992) argues, voting is the first step towards citizenship but not the last. Citizenship requires accepting responsibility for the communities in which we live where these communities extend from the family to encompass the entire world environment. (Putman 2001) points out the group nature of citizenship, stressing that there is a need to develop social capital rather than individualism.

2.14 Studies of young peoples' attitudes to political practice ( e.g. Bentley et al, 1999, Howland, 2002) have shown widespread disregard for conventional politics, but also widespread dissatisfaction with their lack of involvement. A theme that emerges strongly from these studies is that the style of 'political' communication is at least as important as the substance. Despite active interest in and engagement with a variety of issues, many young people are 'turned off' adult politics by dislike of party structures, the style of debate, and the formality of communication.

2.15 Further impetus for youth engagement is in the form of Local Agenda 21 of the UN Convention on the Environment. Part of this is a dialogue between young people and all levels of government to enable their perspectives to be incorporated into environmental policy.

The Scottish Youth Engagement Scene

2.16 There are a number of key factors that distinguish the Scottish context for engaging young people in the PSE programme. We highlight: -

  • Recent work of the Scottish Executive and Parliament to strengthen structures for engaging young people.
  • Differences between the Scottish community work and educational sectors and those of England and Wales.

2.17 The Scottish Parliament, following similar moves in Wales, has established the office of a Commissioner for Children and Young People, after conducting an enquiry on the need, roles and responsibilities. The enquiry sought evidence of existing practice from a wide range of Scottish public and civic sector organisations, whose submissions formed part of the enquiry report 5 .

2.18 The Scottish Executive has a Child Strategy Statement, which states that:-

"In considering any new policy initiative, or in amending current policy, all Scottish Office Departments should explicitly consider the implications of those policies for children. In order to do this they should decide whether there is a need to:

  • Consult with relevant interests and if not, why not: in certain circumstances this will mean consultation direct with children
  • Identify information in order to implement effectively the strategy
  • Inform the Minister for Children's Issues Unit of important matters for inclusion in the annual report to Ministers.

If direct consultation is appropriate, then a range of ways of taking the views of children might be needed, with care being taken to ensure that the results of consultation are not an interpretation of children's views by adults." (Scottish Executive, 2000, pp.2)

2.19 The Scottish Executive's support for the Scottish Youth Parliament ( www.scottishyouthparliament.org.uk) is based on the Children and Young People's Group Grant scheme which provides annual grant support for a range of voluntary sector agencies dealing in youth work, including YouthLink the national youth agency for Scotland, who work closely with the Parliament. The Scottish Youth Parliament has developed along different lines to similar parliaments elsewhere in the UK, with its relatively early establishment of an elected structure of young people. The Parliament has nearly 200 elected young people aged between 14 and 25 years. It meets at least three times a year to discuss issues which affect young people across Scotland.

2.20 Young Scot, originally established over 20 years ago, provides a wide range of information and services to young people - including handbooks, newsletters, free access to advice, and retailer discount cards. With support from the Scottish Executive, these traditional services were augmented in 2002 with an online youth information portal for young people (12 to 26 year olds) living in Scotland. The portal is designed to consolidate and expand on an existing range of services provided by the Young Scot organisation and to develop a range of useful interactive applications for young people. The web portal additionally provides a number of 'channels' on local and national cultural and sports events, news, health advice, competitions and special offers. Portal content necessarily includes material drawn from a broad spectrum of established and recognised third-party sources. Material is drawn together in a consistent 'house style' intended to be relevant and accessible for young people. The Loud+Clear channel, which has recently replaced Ur'say (June 2004), is a registered members' discussion forum: designed to engage a wide range of young people with contemporary issues and to facilitate online discussion on a series of topics

2.21 Dialogue Youth initiative ( www.dialogueyouth.org), funded by the Scottish Executive and coordinated by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ( COSLA) involves 32 local authorities in a consortium which also includes Young Scot. The objectives of this initiative include those of:-

  • Promoting cross-departmental and joint agency approaches to the development and delivery of services for young people.
  • Providing a focus for engaging with young people in developing the full potential of new technology in providing accessible, relevant information.
  • Stimulating lifelong learning, access to transport, community safety, healthy lifestyles and enterprise and citizenship education through the promotion of Young Scot materials and the use of new technology.
  • Promoting citizenship by stimulating and supporting greater involvement by young people in the life of their communities.
  • Promoting social inclusion by involving young people as full partners in the design, management and delivery of services and facilities.

2.22 Online engagement of young people is a strong feature of the initiative, and is based on a dedicated web site that includes a 'channel' focusing on debate of current issues (Macintosh et al 2003)

2.23 Any RWMPSE initiative involving young people is likely to 'cross-cut' with a number of these key programmes that help to frame and support initiatives to engage young people in Scotland.

2.24 The Executive's Equality Strategy emphasises mainstreaming and therefore any PSE initiative should consider the representation in the engagement process of groups of young people who face different and often more significant barriers to Internet access. For example, electronic engagement offers new possibilities to individuals with some forms of physical disability (and home Internet access), but presents additional challenges to those with visual impairments and 'unseen' disabilities that need to be considered in the design. Electronic engagement also offers additional possibilities for the education, youth and community sectors to facilitate exchange of views and experiences between young people and the elderly. Such exchanges can overcome barriers (of culture, lifestyle, or perceived hostility) that may limit face-to-face communication. Some members of black and minority ethnic communities who do not have English as a first language are likely to be excluded from the engagement process unless materials are translated. These and other issues are best addressed through participation of representative groups in the process design.

2.25 Local authority innovations in public participation have over the last decade extended support for local youth fora or councils. While similar support is evident in the rest of the UK, a distinctive feature of the Scottish context is a longer-established emphasis on partnership working through Social Inclusion Partnerships ( SIP) between local authorities, other statutory and non-government agencies, and local voluntary groups. This includes an educational remit focusing on promoting inclusion for children and young people with an emphasis on 'New Deal Schools' and 'Out of School Learning Projects'. Focused on areas of deprivation, SIPS are likely to be key stakeholders in the youth engagement process, especially where their geographical areas include nuclear sites.

2.26 The Highland Youth Voice is an initiative of Highland Council to encourage young people living in the Highland region of Scotland to participate in democratic decision making about their own lives. Youth Voice members, aged 14 to 18, are elected to an assembly through schools and youth fora, by young people of secondary school age (11-18). The assembly meets over 3 days, twice a year, when most of the work takes place in thematic work groups. Between these meetings, activities are co-ordinated by an Executive Committee and undertaken by members according to their work group. A series of online debates have been held over the last 2 years, with a variety in both the levels of participation and the outcomes see http://www.highlandyouthvoice.org for the Highland Youth Voice website and tools (Macintosh et al 2003).

2.27 In parallel, an increasingly common forum for the young to participate in adult decision-making about their well-being is the School Council. Since the School Standards and Framework Act (1998), obliged schools to consult with children on school development plans, pupil councils have been increasingly adopted by schools in Scotland, and local authorities have begun to consider their role in children's broader 'active citizenship' (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2001). The recent incorporation of citizenship education in the National Curriculum for England and Wales involves similar moves to strengthen children's practical experience of democratic decision-making. In contrast to the National Curriculum in England and Wales however, in Scotland the teaching of 'active citizenship' is not formalised as a separate subject.

2.28 We can conclude that there may be a greater need in Scotland to consider the relationship between the Public and Stakeholder Engagement process and school-based education in 'active citizenship' that involves cross curricular and out-of-school learning. Young peoples' knowledge of RWM issues gained in school, and their experience of debating the impact on their own communities, is likely to be distributed across a wider range of teaching subjects than in England. Although we have no direct evidence, it also seems likely given the different curricular emphasis and the strong tradition of school-community links, that Scottish schools will already involve a wide range of stakeholders in citizenship education on environmental issues, with more emphasis on informal learning opportunities outside of classroom teaching than in England and Wales. These stakeholders include SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency), whose remit includes environmental education as well as RWM, based on the (1995) Secretary of State for Scotland's Scottish Strategy for Environmental Education, and a strong grounding in principles of sustainable development.

choice of tools

2.29 We have so far reviewed the nature of "e-engagement", provided examples of relevant online initiatives aimed at engaging young people, and of recent youth engagement work in Scotland. Before considering how engagement can be supported using online tools and materials, we now need to consider what evidence there is that specific kinds of ICT may be used to the desired effect.

2.30 In this section therefore we provide a set of tables (Table 2.3 below) to describe the selection of online tools mentioned in the introduction. These were: -

  • Blog
  • Live question-answer panel- streamed video
  • Video Interviews
  • Live question-answer panel- chat room
  • Games
  • Discussion board
  • Questionnaire/ opinion poll
  • Issue map
  • Frequently asked questions ( FAQ)

2.31 Table 2.3 summarises for each of the above a formal definition, typical characteristics of the materials or ' content' the tool should provide its users. We also outline the rational for choosing each tool by considering its relevance to e-engagement and possible drawbacks for that purpose. This is in turn based on the following themes from the literature which elaborate on the purposes the tools should meet:-

(a) E-enabling: Accessing and informing

  • Catering for the diverse technical and communication skills of young people.
  • Providing access for young people with disabilities.
  • Providing effective information provision as a pre-requisite for e-consultation.

(b) E-consulting: Deciding their own point of view & expressing an opinion

  • Once informed, supporting young people to listen to what others are saying and develop their own opinion/contribution.
  • Supporting a range of young people to provide an informed contribution to the debate.

(c) Building trust and community

  • Fostering trust in the engagement process and its owners, to support acceptance of emerging decisions.
  • Supporting active citizenship by helping a group to learn, through either virtual or face-to-face interaction.

2.32 In Chapter 3 we describe the approach taken to testing the tools, with the results given in Chapter 4.

Table 2.3 Summary of tools and their relevance to e-engagement


a web site that looks like a diary, where messages by the author are listed day-by-day. Often others can add comments, but the page is focused on the author's point of view.

Formal definitions

Frequently modified web pages in which dated entries are listed in reverse chronological sequence (Herring et al. 2004).

The prototypical blog is focused around links to other sites of interest (or other blogs) on the Web, with blogger commentary for added value (Herring et al. 2004).

Posts are primarily textual, but they may contain photos or other multimedia content. Most blogs provide hypertext links to other Internet sites, and many allow for audience comments (Nardi et al. 2004).

Content characteristics

Blogs are subjective ( Nardi et al. 2004).

Blogs are short and often updated (Herring et al. 2004).

Blogs can be divided into three types: (1) filters (external content, like a description of world event); (2) personal journals (thoughts); (3) notebooks (either external or internal content and are distinguished by longer, focused essays) (Herring et al. 2004).

Blogs can include pictures or media objects in various Microsoft file formats, Macromedia and Apple movies, PDF, downloadable applications (Nardi et al. 2004).

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • The use of blogs helps students become subject-matter experts and increases their interest and ownership in learning, legitimate chances to participate, and provides opportunities for encountering diverse perspectives both within and outside of the classroom (Fertig and Trammil 2004).
  • Compact size of the messages helps to stay focused and thus makes understanding easier (Nichani 2004).
  • By enabling faster and easier content modification that does not require knowledge of HTML, blogs can be used by almost anyone, and be responsive to people's daily needs (Herring et al. 2004).
  • Blogger is the most popular and easiest to use system (Nardi et al. 2004).

Deciding own point of view & expressing an opinion

  • Blogging makes people more thoughtful and articulate observers of the world around them (Blood 2002).
  • Blogs are vehicles for self-expression. They provide opportunities for ordinary people to express themselves publicly (Herring et al. 2004).
  • May be an excellent opportunity for children to exercise their voices in personal, informal ways, and indirectly promote digital fluency (Huffaker 2004).
  • Blogging possesses a socially transformative, democratising potential (Herring et al. 2004).

Community building

  • Blogging builds a relationship between the weblogger, his/her readers and the domain (Nichani 2004).
  • Blogging is characterized as socially interactive and community like in nature (Herring et al. 2004).
  • Blogging is a form of social activity and social communication in which blogger and audience are intimately related through the writing and reading of blogs (Nardi et al. 2004).

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement


  • In this study we consider blogs to have potential as a means of conveying the personal opinions and experiences of stakeholders. However the informal, subjective style of blogs may fit uneasily with the need for consultation information to be seen to be authoritative, impersonal and objective.
  • This may be countered by (a) gaining a commitment from blog authors to abide by conditions of use and the judgement of an impartial moderator, and (b) ensuring that a balanced range of opinion is contained in blogs from authors representing the full spectrum of opinion.


  • The 'diary' style of blogs may raise expectations of regular updates that prove difficult to fulfil, if the blog authors do not have the time or resources to find noteworthy events to comment on. Similarly, volunteer blog authors may find it difficult to commit the time to make regular entries.
  • This might be countered by providing volunteers with incentives to give regular updates, or eliciting the support of paid workers from stakeholder organisations who can justify the time spent in terms of their remit.

Discussion Board:

A website showing a list of questions or topics people are concerned about. Users can pick a topic and see a "thread" of messages and replies about it and post a message.

Formal definitions

Relies on a variety of software applications that provide linear or threaded asynchronous communications capabilities (Coleman & Gøtze 2001), i.e. the software enables users to exchange messages without being in the same time and place, and the messages are shown linked to any replies received.

Content characteristics

Content mainly comprises comments posted in response to issues (or topics) raised. Boards often exist as part of a Web site and invite users to start topics and discuss issues with one another (Wikipedia 2004).

Typical characteristics:

  • Wide spectrum of topics/issues.
  • Informal discussion about issues.
  • Expression of opinions and feelings (Huffaker 2004).

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • Can be used to support offline teaching, while extending the time allotted for discussions beyond regular class time to allow for in-depth reflection on comments. (Barker 2003).
  • Allows each student to participate and join-in the conversation, rather than one or two outgoing communicators in the classroom (ibid).
  • Provides everybody with the chance to pose questions and receive feedback from teachers as well as from other students (ibid).
  • Requires students to move beyond listening to a lecture, stating their thoughts, engaging in well-articulated argumentation and critical reasoning (ibid).

Deciding own point of view & expressing an opinion

  • The main purpose of a forum is to exchange ideas and debate about a topic. It enhances the development of communication and critical analysis skills (ibid).
  • Since the messages are conserved and ideas are made visible it provides an appreciation of the rationale underlying decisions taken (Macintosh et al. 2002).
  • It allows gathering opinions on issues from remote groups (ibid).

Community building

  • Discussion boards are an important means of online-community building (Huffaker 2004, online).
  • Can develop into social communities, with their own social rules and language forming a subculture. (Wikipedia 2004).

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement

Presumes prior interest

  • A discussion board may not be sufficient to engage people who are not already inclined to take part in debates or respond to consultations. The interest and motivation must be supported through other means, such as other online tools or face-to-face events and resources.

Presumes prior knowledge

  • A discussion board alone may allow participants to learn from the views and experiences of their peers, but may be insufficient for discussion of the prior evidence and debates. As above, these need to be made available other online tools or face-to-face events and resources.

Presumes the confidence and skill to articulate a point of view

  • Potential participants may be intimidated by the prospect of their views being read and criticised. Active facilitation or moderation may therefore be needed to encourage active contribution (see also Chapter 5).


Typically allows users to view and interact with animations that describe, illustrate or simulate relevant aspects of a domain or process; there is usually some competitive aspect such as a quiz.

Formal definitions

Game genres include: (1) Adventure games; (2) Educational games; (3) Role-playing game; (3) Simulation games; (4) Sports games; (5) Survival horror games; (6) Platform games; (7) Puzzle or Quiz; (8) Racing games; (9) Strategy games, etc. (Wolf 2001).

Compared to video games, computer games provide a broader range of games that do not depend primarily on video display, including text-based adventure games and other interactive fiction (Wikipedia 2004).

Internet games are games that are played online via the Internet. They are distinct from video and computer games in that they are normally platform independent, relying solely on client-side technologies. Normally all that is required to play Internet games are a web browser and the appropriate plugin (Wikipedia 2004).

Content characteristics

A classic study is Malone's (1980) 'What makes things fun to learn? A study of intrinsically motivating computer games' which identified the following key properties:

  • Multimedia and interactivity: Three levels of uses of multimedia are found in games which will have an impact on the general motivation of the player: multimedia as decoration (to enhance the initial interest and fantasy), multimedia as reward (to gratify good performance) and multimedia as a representation system (to convey information more effectively than text).
  • Challenge: players must be able to identify the goal of the game but its attainment should be uncertain.
  • Fantasy: Games that simulate physical objects or social situations can also convey problems in terms of the simulation.
  • Curiosity: Curiosity adds to motivation and can be stimulated by providing information that is at an appropriate level of complexity.

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • It has been demonstrated that games: (1) reinforce information; (2) offer a variety of instructional strategies; (3) increase interaction; (3) motivate learners; (4) allow creative instruction (Kirk & Belovics 2004).
  • Video games may influence behaviour, as young people learn general social rules and specific behaviours from observation, practice, and reinforcement (Funk 2003).

Deciding own point of view

  • For students, video games (1) increases their level of basic knowledge; (2) improve logical thinking; (3) allows them to develop problem-solving and decision-making (de Aguilera & Mendiz 2003).
  • Video games support citizenship since users in virtual worlds become engaged in activities of democratic life, including collaborative work and group problem solving (Noveck 2003).

Community building

  • A lot of games allow players to play in groups, developing their own social rules and behaviours.
  • Experience has shown how social interaction and information exchange can be facilitated through gaming (Pering 2002).

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement

Reception in educational settings

  • Games may be viewed as frivolous in teaching environments, and their use actively discouraged.

Development costs

  • High quality graphic simulations for decision-making purposes are typically expensive to produce, relative to other tools considered in this study.

Issue Map: (or argument map, or dialogue map)

An interactive screen which displays a "map" that shows questions or issues, and the associated the arguments for and against different points of view or options.

Formal definitions

An argument map is a presentation of reasoning in which the evidential relationships among claims are made wholly explicit using graphical or other non-verbal techniques. (van Gelder 2003).

The argument mapping conventions are clear and appropriate, inferential or evidential relations can be "read off" the presentation in a more or less mechanical way (van Gelder 2003).

Tools that support argumentation come in two varieties: Discussion-based tools that support the dialogical argumentation of a group; and Knowledge representation tools that support the construction of rhetorical arguments by individuals (Bell, 1997).

A number of research institutes have created software environments that support argument construction, e.g. Belvedere (Suthers et al. 1995), Sense-maker (Bell 1997), Compendium (Conklin 2003).

Content characteristics

  • Structure. Mapping preserves the underlying structure of arguments and debates (Kirshchner & Buckingham-Shum 2003).
  • Adaptation. Information can be visualized in different ways to cater for diverse audiences (Macintosh and Renton 2004).
  • Conciseness. Representations with the style of text in the nodes provide information concisely (ibid).
  • Representation. Map allows visualising potentially large amount of information (ibid).

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • Argumentation diagrams can serve as visual reminders to keep track of important points (Suthers et al. 1995).
  • The act of making decisions visible within the software leads to productive discussions among students within a small group (Bell, 1997).
  • Argument mapping contributes to gains in general reasoning skills among undergraduate students (van Gelder 2003).

Deciding own point of view & expressing an opinion

  • Facilitates the understanding of where lines of deliberation are and makes it easier to appreciate the complexity of an issue (van Gelder 2003), (Macintosh and Renton 2004).
  • Stimulates discussion that would not otherwise take place (Suthers et al. 1995).
  • Smoothes the path to rational consensus by depersonalising disagreement (van Gelder 2003).

Community building

  • Fosters meaningful collaboration by making thinking visible between the individuals involved (Suthers et al. 1995; Bell 1997).
  • Gives participants a common understanding of the arguments and their structure (van Gelder, 2003).
  • Improves communication between disparate communities "tackling ill-structured problems" (Conklin, 2001).

Trust building

  • Gives participants a "powerful sense that they had been heard, that their opinion had been registered" (van Gelder, 2003).

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement

Uncertainty over scale

ß Previous work has been confined to debates among groups of less than 20 participants. The use of issue maps to support deliberation among multiple groups, of the range that would take part in a government policy consultation, has yet to be tested.

Live question panels

Question and answer sessions using either chat room or live (streamed) video technologies.

Formal definitions

Pre-planned question and answer session, intended to consult and inform geographically dispersed people through use of technology. An online live panel may provide a certain level of trust and transparency (Bos et al. 2001; Noveck 2003).

Online chat is a generic term for what are now mostly known as instant messaging ( IM) applications - computer programs that enable two-way typing to connect users to each other (Wikipedia 2004).

IM supports Internet-based synchronous text chat, with point-to-point communication between users on the same system. A window is dedicated to the conversation, with messages scrolling upward and eventually out of view as the conversation ensues. IM also supports group chat, with users inviting others to join them in a specified 'room' (Grinter & Palen 2002).

Content characteristics

Common features for live online discussion are:

Accessible: for consultation purposes the conversation must be accessible to all relevant stakeholders. To be accessible, the technology needs to address their range of skill and ability (Noveck 2003).

Autonomous: The process must not treat users as passive recipients of information, but as active participants in a public process (ibid).

Accountable and transparent: A deliberative dialogue can only take place where members of a community engage with one another in accountable and reasoned public discourse. Participants must be identifiable to each other and to those setting the agenda. Being known by name encourages responsible participation, while anonymity discourages it. (ibid).

Equal, pluralistic and inclusive: The software should be designed in order to be inviting and inclusive and it should ensure that viewpoints representing a broad spectrum are clearly expressed. (ibid).

Informed: Participants need to take the time to inform themselves in order to base their judgments upon reasonable information. (ibid).

Facilitated: A facilitator or moderator is needed to maintain order in the competing voices of participants. (ibid).

Online chat content characteristics:

  • Less spontaneous than video, since the user has a time for reflection while writing the message (Noveck 2003).
  • May provide the means to express emotions like gratitude, humour, sarcasm or anger by attaching graphical 'emoticons' to messages (Huffaker 2004).

Online video content characteristics: Compared to a chat room, live video is richer and can convey additional visual cues that might help to allow trust to emerge (Bos et al. 2001).

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • Both chat and video allow deliberative interactions although chat might support more interactive discussions since chat is more appropriate for quick questions and clarifications (Nardi et al. 2000).

Deciding own point of view and expressing an opinion

  • May provide an excellent opportunity for children to exercise their voices in personal and informal ways (Huffaker 2004) and feel listened to and empowered.

Community building

  • Chat is an important source of online-community building (Huffaker 2004).
  • For teenagers, chat is a way to socialise, as they would do in real life (Grinter et Palen 2002).

Trust building

  • Videoconferencing may be as good as face-to-face conversation for building trust and significantly better than text chat (Bos et al. 2001, 292).
  • The visual channel is a powerful means to increase the spontaneity of communication and to support social relationships (Fish et al 1992; Fish et al 1993).

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement

Child safety

  • Chat technology has attracted widespread concern, since the immediacy of the interaction potentially allows inappropriate contact. This may be countered by limiting access to young people whose identity can be authenticated through schools and youth groups.


  • Limitations on the availability of video communications technology would limited access, which would in any case need to be authenticated for the same reason as above.

Questionnaire/ opinion poll:

A website showing a list of questions where users can pick from the options given, and send their responses.

Formal definitions

Surveys and polls involve methods to gather data: "When the questions are administered by a researcher, the survey is called an interview or a researcher administered survey. When the questions are administered by the respondent, the survey is referred to as a questionnaire or a self-administered survey" (Wikipedia 2004).

Questionnaires administered over the Internet present great advantages as a form of public consultation (wide audience, less costly to administer) (Coglianese 2003).

Content characteristics

According to Fishkin, most polls and online questionnaire techniques require explicit provision of background information and support for deliberation (Fishkin 2003, p17).

  • Self-selected listener opinion poll ( SLOPS): "The respondents to SLOPS are not selected by scientific random sampling as in public opinion polls. The respondents instead, simply select themselves. They are predominantly those who feel more intensely or feel especially motivated. Sometimes, they are organised… Media organisations routinely conduct SLOPS on the Internet on a wide range of political or social matters. A SLOP involves visitors to a web site, gives people a sense of empowerment (they are registering their opinions) but it produces data that is misleading, that offers only a distorted picture of public opinion" (ibid, p18).
  • Public opinion polls: The limitations of these according to Fishkin are:-
  • Use of quota sampling: this combines "raw public opinion with methods of selection attempting to achieve some degree of representativenes… Those employing quota sampling, a practice still common in many democratic countries outside the U.S., justify their method as an attempt to approximate probability sampling" (ibid, p20).
  • Lack of deliberation: Public opinion polling "offers a thin 'top of the head' expression of the public voice. The views represented by polls are crippled, as we saw earlier by rational ignorance. In addition, they are crippled by a second factor-the tendency to report opinions that are not only based on little thought or reflection, but that may not exist at all" (ibid, p20).
  • Deliberative polls: Were "developed explicitly to combine random sampling with deliberation. Deliberative polling attempts to employ social science to uncover what deliberative public opinion would be on an issue by conducting a quasi experiment, and then it inserts those deliberative conclusions into the actual public dialogue, or, in some cases, the actual policy process" (ibid, p21).

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • Public opinion captured through a questionnaire can be refined ( i.e. "if it is the product of deliberation exposing it to a wide range of alternative views supported by sincere arguments and reasonably accurate information") or raw if it is not the product of such deliberation. "Refined opinion is informed--informed about competing views and facts sincerely viewed as relevant by proponents of different positions. People are aware of the arguments and have reflected on them or thought about them" (Fishkin 2003, p17).

Deciding own point of view and expressing an opinion

  • Online methods to consult the public offer great advantages (low costs, speed, easier results management, larger audience, varied solicitation methods, etc.). One should be aware that using new information technology already imposes a selection mode on the choice of the target population (Wilhelm 2003).

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement

Assessing deliberation

  • Providing information with the intention that it should support deliberation does not guarantee that it will, or that consultation organisers can assess whether it has or not, particularly if it is online. However the resulting discussion can be more readily assessed for its deliberative characteristics if it is online.

Video interview

Formal definitions

Video interview is simply a face-to-face interview captured on video. In contrast to the "live question panel by streamed video", in this case the video is not live. It may be published on the web and be accessible to the public at any time.

Content characteristics

Video interviews can be a powerful tool to present facts or the point of view of a specialist or stakeholder.

Video on the web can be very slow to download, but can be sliced into clips

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • Multimedia (image and audio) conveys an additional message that has been proven to be more appealing than simple textual information.

Trust building

  • The presence of specialists provides credibility to the information provided.
  • The visual channel is a powerful mean to increase the spontaneity of communication (Fish et al 1992).

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement


  • Video would limit access by people with visual or hearing impairments. This may be countered by providing transcripts, although this would add to the expense and time required to publish the interview.
  • Computers with internet access may need additional software in order to view video, and may need broadband access to view it without unreasonable delays.
  • In classrooms, libraries, internet cafes and other public places there is likely to be a need for headphones to avoid disrupting others present.

Frequently Asked Question ( FAQ)

Formal definitions

An FAQ is an edited collection of questions and answers on some topic. Their origins are unclear, although they are quite popular on Usenet, a distributed worldwide computer conferencing system (Crowston & Williams, 1999).

A text consisting of questions and their answers is often called a FAQ regardless of whether the questions are actually frequently asked (if asked at all). This is done to capitalise on the fact that the concept of a FAQ has become fairly familiar online. In some cases informative documents not in the traditional FAQ style have also been called FAQs (Wikipedia 2004).

Content characteristics

FAQs are considered an established genre on the web (Crowston & Williams 2000). They are common, easy to recognise and to use. They normally present these features: -

(1) Mention of FAQ in the title.

(2) Table of contents, i.e. a list of the main questions or topics, each linked to the corresponding answer and/or more specific questions and answers.

(3) Organisation of the content as a hierarchical list of questions and answers, i.e. question-answer pairs may be grouped by topic or by a more general question-answer pair.

(4) Embedded links: 'internal' cross-references between question answers and other related answers; or 'external' links to other pages on the same site or to other websites that hold relevant further details.

(5) Textual content with possible inclusion of images and video.

Relevance to e-engagement

Accessing & informing

  • The question-answer format is held to be an intuitive aid to learning the basics of a subject. It is very commonly used in online commerce for online 'customer support', and increasingly used on e-government sites to provide information on services. These applications are based on the same premise; that publishing them reduces the effort needed to answer the more 'frequently asked' questions on an individual basis.

Deciding own point of view

  • The question-answer format does not necessarily imply a single 'factual' answer to every question, since some answers may take the form of position statements (whether explicitly declared or not). This may be used to encourage readers to compare alternative positions in order to reach an informed view. For an example of position statements integrated with FAQs see the University of Washington's science education project SCOPE, on the issue of genetically modified food, at: - http://scope.educ.washington.edu/gmfood/position

Possible drawbacks for e-engagement

Need for maintenance

  • If FAQs are to genuinely reflect questions that are "frequently asked" the resource will grow and need frequent updating. This increases the need for the consultation organiser to have the skills available to structure the information, and for the user to follow the structure. This would limit the usefulness of the resource to people who do not have a clear idea of what questions they want to ask. Maintenance may therefore require specialist tools for FAQ management.