facilitate regular topics of interest to both the general public and to the government.Discussed in her post, Public Sphere #1 - High Bandwidth for Australia, this type of online initiative provides a significant opportunity for broad participation from the Australian public on high interest topics.
This approach to public engagement is critical for the future of democratic governance in Australia. My thoughts on the topic are well stated in the following quote from a post by Matt Crozier of Bang The Table, Opportunity and Need,
The ways in which government have traditionally engaged, by hosing [sic] events that require attendance, by asking for submissions or by market research cannot engage most of these people [CT: The broader community] because there are barriers to participation. It is difficult to participate in a meeting if you are not confident and articulate or if someone who is more so is hogging the floor. Many people don't feel comfortable writing submissions, either that or they can't be bothered. Market researchers get hung up on by busy people so their sample (no matter how demographically representative) is always self selecting and biased towards more activist groups in the community.
The great thing about online engagement (as a compliment [sic] to these other techniques) is that it breaks down these barriers. People can get involved easily and at a time and place of their own choosing. My faith in the rest of the community has grown as we have watched them engage on all sorts of issues. We have councils talking about their management plans getting 400 people visiting, looking at the plan and occasionally commenting when previously there were meetings to which nobody turned up. We have raging debates about heritage issues, transport and anything involving pets. The minorities are there too, sometimes noisy, still trying to dominate the debate and very welcome but more and more people are joining in, visiting and having a say. Why? Because it's easy and they are interested. Its all very gratifying and will lead inexorably to greater community ownership of decisions and better more enduring results.