Cristiano Maciel
, Licinio Roque
and Ana Cristina Bicharra Garcia
Instituto de Computação, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rua Passos da Pátria, 156 sl 326 Niterói, RJ, Brazil
Departamento de Engenharia Informática, Universidade de Coimbra, Polo II - Pinhal de Marrocos, Coimbra, Portugal
Keywords: e-Participation, e-Deliberation, Surveys, Maturity of Decision-Making, Web.
Abstract: The deliberative decision-making process of the group can be a result of counseling and voting mediated by
technology. The involvement of citizens in this process is crucial and measuring participation in process
allows for assessment of the effectiveness of participation. Measuring the maturity of this decision, i.e.
assessment of individual participation and its consequent reflection on the group’s decision, can be
accomplished through the maturity level method discussed in this paper. In order to accomplish an
examination of the relative potential and difficulties in achieving and measuring e-participation, we found it
necessary to have a reasonable level of information structuring. For this purpose, online surveys were built
and tested in stages, structured according to the Government-Citizen Interactive Model in a way as to
support the Maturity of Decision-Making method (MDM). The main goal is to test the method proposed
with the use of online surveys by stages and, through this experiment, indicate both positive and negative
The availability and application of Information and
Communication Technology (ICT) in order to allow
citizen participation in governmental issues is called
e-participation. Within the assorted strategies
employed to make e-participation feasible, the
following can be included: community development,
public counseling and debate, voting, and
deliberation. This last strategy represents the
finalization of a decision-making process, where
individual opinions are considered and a group
consensus is reached on a certain theme.
A wide range of applications, software and tools
are available to support the implementation of e-
democratic processes (Maciel and Garcia, 2007a).
According to Tambouris, Liotas and Tarabanis
(2007), there are many tools to support these
processes, such as: Weblogs, Web Portals, Search
Engines, Webcasting / Podcasting, Mailing Lists /
Newsgroups, Chat Rooms, Wikis, Online Survey
Tools, Deliberative Survey Tools, Content Analysis
Tools, Content Management Tools and
Collaborative Management Tools.
A priori, there are a few pertinent considerations
to be made concerning some of these tools and the
implementation of an Internet-based, deliberative e-
democratic process.
Emails or discussion lists render sharing
information easier between the various users, not to
mention email being a widely used tool. On the
other hand, organizing shared information by email
is a complicated task since textual answers are
tacitly linked to others. Because we are dealing with
textual communication, there is yet a possibility of
having different contextual interpretations of the
same content, due to the “interpretive flexibility” of
the medium.
The use of chat rooms allows for communication
in real time by the participants, although it presents
problems concerning the information structuring
similar to those concerning email. The visual
resources, such as emoticons, help communication.
The use of online surveys, with structured issues
about the theme being discussed, constitutes another
option. By means of a deliberative survey, it is
possible to arrive at the result of a popular counsel.
It is believed that sharing survey information is also
rendered more difficult, but if the instrument
Maciel C., Roque L. and Cristina Bicharra Garcia A. (2008).
In Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - ISAS, pages 426-434
DOI: 10.5220/0001720704260434
awakens participants’ interest, there can be parallel
discussions mediated by other communication
resources. The use of polls in researches of public
opinion allows voting with predefined options.
Obtaining results is easy and simple, but the
predefinition of options limits participation with this
resource by still not allowing for debate on the
The use of a specific web application designed to
implement an e-democratic process, which allows
for the integration of different communication
resources as well as for the implementation of
information structuring levels/steps. However, a web
application depends on direct user access to the web
address, thus needing access encouragement, e.g.
through regular email notifications.
There is also need for these environments to
provide content (such as laws, formal documents or
reports) regarding issues in debate, for it is necessary
that the citizens be informed in order to engage in
profitable discussions. Specific content management
tools may allow for a better structuring and
standardizing of these contents.
The deliberative decision-making process of the
group can be a result of counseling and voting
mediated by technology. The involvement of
citizens in this process is crucial and measuring
participation in this process allows for assessment of
the effectiveness of participation. Measuring the
maturity of this decision, i.e. assessment of
individual participation and its consequent reflection
on the group’s decision, can be accomplished
through the maturity level method discussed in this
paper. To accomplish an examination of the relative
potential and difficulties in achieving and measuring
e-participation, we found it necessary to have a
reasonable level of information structuring. For this
purpose, online surveys were built and tested in
stages, structured according to the Government-
Citizen Interactive Model (Maciel and Garcia,
2007a) in a way that supports the Maturity of
Decision-Making method (MDM) (Maciel; Roque
and Garcia, 2007). In our propose, the discussion
have a distinct structure, supporting the decision-
making processes. As a hypothesis of this research
the following points will be investigated: It is
possible to satisfactorily measure the Maturity Level
using online surveys.
This article is structured as follows. After the
introduction, in Section 2, correlated research about
the assessment of ICT is briefly discussed. In
Section 3, the method for measuring decision
making is proposed. The methodology and case
studies are presented in Section 4. Section 5
discusses the tested hypotheses. Finally, the last
section includes conclusions and bibliographic
Some researchers have sought to assess the use of
ICTs by analyzing, among other resources,
applications and technologies available to users and
the forms of communication used. The works
described in this paper were classified according to
the following approaches: structure and analysis of
language, group dynamics and behavior,
examination of participation measures and factors,
and centered in the use and assessment of different
interaction resources used in these environments.
Many of these lines of research tackle the issue of
virtual communities.
Many authors seek to improve the structure and
linguistic analysis in virtual surroundings, touching
on the use of synchronic and asynchronic resources
(Roberts, 1998), debate management (Voss and
Schäfer, 2003), utilization of hybrid forums
(Mannoyer-Smith, 2004), non-receptive
communication (Wagner et al., 2005), the content
analysis of messages versus answers (Arguello et al.,
2006) and textual classification of debates (Cheng;
Yeung and Li, 2006).
Group dynamics and behavior are investigated
based on the number of activities carried out by
“stickiness” members (Ho et al., 2000), the
influence of anonymity (Friedman and Resnick,
2001), group density (Millen and Patterson, 2002),
tensions generated by members (Boyd, 2004),
anonymity and unequal participation (Nielsen,
2006), the difference between active and inactive
members (Falkowski and Spiliopoulou, 2007), the
concept of collective efficiency of the group
(Carroll; Rosson and Zhou, 2005) and the
establishment of a dynamic system for member
motivation (Mao; Vassileva and Grassmann, 2007).
The social and technical modeling and the
resulting group and interface organization, as well as
the use and assessment of interactive resources used
by different environments and user satisfaction, have
allowed for the investigation of the data from
member profiles and the social dynamic established
within the group (Hummel and Lechner; 2002), the
study of resources used (Girgensohn and Lee,
2002)(Milen and Fontaine, 2003) and their modeling
(Kavanaugh et al., 2005), the acceptance and use of
the environment by users (Leimeister and Kremar,
2005), the principles of sociability and usability
associated with those resources (Maloney-Krichmar
and Preece, 2005) and the emergence of new styles
of conversation in real time (McDonald, 2007). The
studies are fulfilled in different forms, whether by
interview assessment or the use of questionnaires
and/or analysis of registration logs, ethnographically
or empirically.
Participation measures and factors have been
investigated in order to verify the role of financial
incentives in participation (Deci; Koestner and
Ryan, 1999), to notice the aims and needs of users
(Kim, 2000), the reasons which lead members to
participate (Hemmetsberger and Pieters, 2001), the
feeling of recognition by individuals (Chan et al.,
2004), the theory of gratification and use (Sangwan,
2005), the influence of posts and visualizations of
the content (Koh et al., 2007), the effectiveness of
web services (Welch and Pandey, 2007), the
measure of interactivity among members (Adiele
and Ehikioya, 2007) and the need, identification and
confidence of participant members (Han; Zheng and
Xu, 2007).
The relation between participation and the use
and assessment of ICT in decision-making processes
by means of the establishment of an adequate
metrical structure to measure participation is the
proposed focus of this research. Through correlated
works, distinct methodologies and approaches, both
technical and theoretical, were identified that can
offer support to the establishment of maturity levels
of member participation in the decision-making
process. The incorporation of practices established
in successful case studies also include: a) diagnosing
the interest users display in the debate and the
consequent voting of social themes through online
surveys and later of a community projected for such,
b) a different way of managing information in
virtual environments, c) the structure and analysis of
the discourse through information available in the
environment, and d) the establishment of a
recommendation system based on the level of
maturity of individuals and discussion groups. The
organizational theories inherent to decision-making
(Simon, 1977), the social actor-network theory
(Latour, 1999) as well as social and technical issues
concerning the dynamics and behavior of the
members in a group, considering the analysis
conducted in previous works in this area, will lend
support to the investigated issues and will allow
participation analysis beyond the establishment and
measure of the maturity level proposed.
To measure the degree of Maturity of Decision-
Making (MDM) in the decision-making in
consultative and deliberative processes Y = f
(MDM) takes as arguments an indicator set of the
method for decision-making (Maciel; Roque and
Garcia, 2007), namely:
MDM = {Int_Part;Part_Discussion;
Int_Part – registration (RC), candidacy as moderator
(CM). These indicator have weight 1 in the MDM
Part_Discussion – number of demands posting by
topic (QPD), number of opinions postings in the
discussion by topic (agree - QPOF, not agree -
QPOC, neutral - QPON), number of valid
justifications posted in the discussion (QJV),
performance of moderator (AM). These indicator
have weight 3 in the MDM degree.
Part_Decision – participation in voting (PV). These
indicator have weight 4 in the MDM degree.
Part_Gen – participation in the entire process, used
of other spaces, respect the use rules, trust; number
of invalid justifications posted in the discussion
(negative point) (QPJI). These indicator have weight
2 in the MDM degree.
The counting process of the data is uniform, and
to each task executed in the MDM method it
attributes one point, as specified in a formula, where
f is the added of each indicator points. For example,
to the Int_Part indicator, is attributed one point if
the user performs your registration (RC) and one
point if he is candidacy as moderator in, at least, one
thematic (CM). Then, if the user participates in these
two events, will take two points (Int_Part = RC +
CM), considering that this indicator have weight 1.
Some indicators are limits to score. For example, for
up to three posts of views (QPOn), receives a point
and above this, receives two points in this variable.
With the use of techniques of observation and
statistics of use some indicators will be investigated,
which has a name, a specific purpose in question
form, an application method, a measure and a
formula, and a data source. The variable associated
with the indicators, as well as the way to measure
them, will be an object of further studies, since it
intends to consider other important principles, such
as reputation. Through the application of the MDM
method it will also be possible to infer statistically
ICEIS 2008 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
and to accomplish adjustment of the measures. The
increasing scales proposed for the MDM method is
show in Table 1.
Table 1: Levels in the MDM (Maciel; Garcia; 2007b).
Levels Description
Interest in participation and/or
moderation, however without posterior
interest in the process. Indirectly, it
shows the interest of a given public in a
certain theme proposition.
A participatory consultative process that
involves an interest in discussion or in
A participatory deliberative process that
involves an interest in voting rather than
in discussion.
A participatory process, effective and
deliberative, whereby the citizen
participates in many activities, with a
minimum frequency. In general, there is
reciprocity between users, with
information flow, respect and trust
between participants.
It is believed that a “sufficiently mature”
decision is satisfactory in an e-deliberative process,
since it represents the occurrence of active
participation in the debates and voting processes.
However, it is necessary to consider the “subjective”
factors inherent to decision making, such as trust
between members and the need for them to be
informed, especially when many users acting in the
same group are considered. In this sense, group 4
becomes relevant. Finally, through a questionnaire,
the satisfaction of the participants will be measured
and analysis.
The methodology suggested to measure a structured
deliberative e-democratic process, containing
consulting and voting, explores the application of
online surveys by stages. Figure 1 below represents
this process.
Users were invited to participate, voluntarily, by
email. The first survey available was designed to fill
in general information from the interested
participants as well as a public consultation on
matters to be discussed. In the second survey,
individual opinions were shared and discussed. In
the third survey, all themes and referred opinions
were structured and made available so that this way
the participants could take a stance on a form of
voting. This stage also included questioning the
level of user satisfaction for the survey. Finally, the
deliberation report is generated.
Figure 1: Methodology using surveys.
4.1 Online Survey
Sample: doctoral students of computer science of
two different universities, the Fluminense Federal
University in Niteroi, Brazil, and the University of
Coimbra in Coimbra, Portugal. Users were invited
and 27 of them volunteered to take the survey. This
sample was chosen due to the fact that education is
an important government field. It is also worth
emphasizing that, regardless of the target public, the
aim was to test the method proposed with the use of
surveys and, through this experiment, indicate both
positive and negative points.
Instrument: three online surveys were developed
with the support of an automatic tool. See a page of
one of the surveys in the diagram below (in
Portuguese Language).
Figure 2: Survey Online.
An example of survey 1 questions:
In survey 2, participants registered their opinions
about the subjects proposed, as shown by the
example. The opinion shows in this example is
coming by survey 1.
In survey 3 the demands were placed in voting and
user satisfaction. An example of the questions:
Application: the application of the three surveys
was accomplished in 30 days. In each step, two
notifications were sent by email, one inviting
participants to answer the survey and the other
reminding them of the deadline of the stage.
4.2 General Data Results
From the very beginning of the survey application, it
was noted that the group was interested in
discussions related to public matters. Table 2 below
presents some data regarding the three surveys of the
participation process in general.
Table 2: General Data.
Survey 1 2 3
Questions Number 11 14 22
Nr. de Skipped questions
11 10,8 0.04
Participants Number 27 12 13
The largest evasion occurring from step 1 to 2, of
66.66% of users attests that the survey use induces
the participant to participate even if he/she displays
no interest. Be it curiosity or momentary motivation,
filling out information was only done in the first
stage of this research, because from that moment on
the users were better acquainted the survey better.
When asked about subject of interest for a collective
debate, 7 participants filled in the theme registration
and registered their personal opinion about the
subjects. All in all, there were 11 subjects presented
for discussion, all of which were considered and
structured for step 2, the discussion phase. In the
second step, 44.44% out of 27 participants
confirmed their interest in participating in the
discussion, with the personal opinions of each of the
subjects from step 1 being registered. Regarding the
initial participants, there was a small increase in
voting participation, related to the debate, 48.15% of
participants having voted for the registered subjects.
These participants also answer some questions about
the satisfaction use with survey.
a) Considering demand X and the opinions registered
for it, your vote is:
( ) contrary to the demand
( ) favorable to the demand
( ) neutral regarding the demand
b) Do you consider this proposal a viable means to
accomplish deliberations through the Internet?
Regarding the subjects below, state you opinion:
a) Demands in education: improvement of the basic
educational system.
Opinion 1: The poor quality of basic and elementary
education reflects on the schooling of skilled
professionals. Primary concern should be with this
stage of education and not with seeking solutions to
camouflage the problem. It is outrageous that an
elementary school teacher makes less than the
school bus driver. A primary school teacher must
have good schooling and must make as much as an
engineer or doctor.
What is your opinion?
a) Would you like to present the group with demands
(subjects) which you think are important to discuss in
the institution to which you belong, according to the
themes predefined above?
b) What is your opinion on the demand registered
c) Do you consider your opinion:
( ) contrary to the demand
( ) favorable to the demand
( ) neutral with regards to the demand
d) Do you suggest any document to back your
opinion? Cite sources, web address or attach them to
the email.
ICEIS 2008 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
The calculation of the maturity level points was
conducted manually, with the aid of the data
available in an electronic chart, considering the
indicators suggested in MDM. The data was
calculated by participants, who were later classified
in Groups according to the MDM index. The table
below presents the groups, point intervals and
number of participants classified in each group.
Table 3: MDM Survey Groups Classification.
Groups Range Nr.Part.
Group 1:
1 until 28 points 11
Group 2:
Poorly Mature
29 until 57 points 3
Group 3:
Sufficiently Mature
58 unitl 86 points 8
Group 4:
87 until 115 points 3
Out of the 27 participants of the consultative and
deliberative process, 11 displayed so-called
“immature” participation, since they only
participated in the first step or in very small degree.
The “sufficiently mature” level of participation was
achieved by 8 of the participants, who participated
from the very beginning of the process, registering
demands, debating, voting, and evaluating the
process as a whole.
In the category considered “mature” were
classified 3 users. Such a feat was acquired from the
fact that these persons registered more demands than
the others, even though his/her participation in the
debate and voting process was equal to the others.
Group 4 was suggested in the method considering
that, in a deliberative process, there is interaction
between members and it is necessary to measure the
confidence generated between members, the forms
with which one socializes with the others, his/her
access to documents with information contained in
libraries and other sources. It was not possible, by
using the survey, to measure such indicators, seen as
important in collaborative virtual environments.
Another issue that deserves our attention relates
to the fact that the process is evaluated only in
general terms and not by demand. If it were
accomplished by demands, i.e., if we tried to bestow
MDM for each participant by demand, the effective
participants of step 2 would have similar points,
since they participate in most of the discussions.
Because the process was always conducted “jointly”,
in other words, the survey presented a set of
questions by stages, most participants responded to
almost all of them; their choice was not based on
certain demands to state their opinion, following
their greater interest.
If we do not consider the participants who only
registered, concentrated in Group 1, the decisions
deliberated by the group, generally speaking, can be
considered “Sufficiently mature”. However, if the
demands are analyzed separately, one notices that
some of them have not reached a sufficient maturity
level. Therefore, it is suggested that the method
should be applied by demand.
The calculation process must be achieved
manually, which would be completely unfeasible
were there a larger group. It is believed that the
MDM is ideally calculated automatically in an
application. In light of these verifications, the
hypothesis is not supported, which assumed that it
was possible to measure the maturity level
satisfactorily with the use of online surveys. The
maturity level can still be measured, but has not
presented satisfactory results, aside from the
limitations it displays.
Self-assessment of the participant was also
requested regarding his/her participation in the
consultative and deliberative process, seeing that
23.1% considered their participation “very good”,
46.2% considered it “good” and 30.8% considered it
“regular”. It must be added that this self-assessment
was requested to participants who participated of the
final stage of the process and can be analyzed with
regard to the index generated by MDM. The users
who participated in this step 3 were mostly classified
in groups 3 and 4, which only confirms the positive
self-assessment, since they participated actively in
the process.
5.1 Satisfaction Use
Because we are dealing with a different way of
undertaking debate and voting, the users were sked
to comment on their level of satisfaction in using the
automated application. Crossing this information
allows us to analyze other issues of this research.
The first factor is the lack of interaction with
other participants, since they use a web application
to answer the survey but not to communicate
amongst themselves; therefore, they are not able to
share their opinions as soon as they are registered.
This was considered a negative factor for 77% of
participants. Another factor is the need for more
information about the process, in which 61.3% of
participants felt the lack of more information about
certain subjects, originating from websites,
documents, or other means of communication.
When questioned if the form in which the
demands were phrased was prejudicial to the
process, 84.6% believed that this impaired
understanding, 61.5% believed it impaired
discussion and 53.3% believed it made voting
In step 3, a report with participants’ opinions was
presented. It showed that 61.5% of participants
confessed that they did not consult the document
sent by email before voting. One of the possible
causes is the lack of integration of this information
within the same location. This is confirmed by the
fact that 53.9% of participants disagree that the
opinions of the other participants are important for
decision-making regarding the final vote, thus
demonstrating that the vast majority already has a
fixed opinion on the matter. 61.6% think that the
opinions of others do not influence the final vote.
The need for a moderator for the discussions was
felt by 46.2% of participants. The role of this
moderator is one of considerable responsibility,
since this person exerts certain influence over the
decision-making process.
When questioned on the use of questionnaires as
a viable form of accomplishing technology-mediated
consultation and voting, 53.8% agreed on “yes”, and
38.5% believed that they are “in part”. For 84.7% of
participants, the use of shared resources, such as
mailing lists, chats and surveys, would make this
process easier. See the survey usability evaluation
Figure 3: Survey usability.
As for the layout of the project and the use of the
structured survey for debate and voting, most users
(38.5%) considered it “good”, 15.4% considered it
“very good” and 30.8% considered it “excellent”.
Two participants, i.e., 15.4%, believed it to be
“regular”. This data indicated that users of online
surveys feel user satisfaction in the automated
application available on the web and unanimously
agree that the structure of the questionnaire in stages
rendered the decision-making easier. In general,
users thought the time spent on the consulting and
voting was sufficient for deliberation.
A total of 93.3% of participants believe that a
virtual community would facilitate such consultative
and deliberative process. This discovery motivates
us for the next stage of this investigation, in which a
virtual community modeled for debate and voting of
public issues will be implemented (Maciel and
Garcia, 2007a) and tested with MDM method.
With the use of ICT, particularly by means of an
online survey, an e-democratic deliberative process
was suggested. Some considerations are worth
making concerning this process.
The way in which certain demands are written
interferes in the process. An interpretative flexibility
is noted as a result of this phrasing, which, in turn,
also interferes in the record of opinions and can lead
the user to vote favorably, contrary, or neutrally with
regards to a certain demand. A particular degree of
understanding of the subject is necessary so that the
participant can exert influence over the discussion
and consequently have some bearing on the opinions
of others. The presence of contrary opinions favors
discussion, but what with the use of surveys this
possibility becomes somewhat limited since the
discussions are not posted openly. Therefore, the
right to offer a rebuttal becomes restricted and many
steps of surveys are necessary in order to sustain a
more accentuated discussion. The moderator’s
performance also becomes more difficult with the
use of surveys. Another important issue is that the
register of demands must remain open during
counseling, so that participants may suggest new
subjects for discussions at any moment. The
employment of surveys presents in itself a temporal
limitation and makes such registrations difficult.
Besides, the MDM can be previously tested. For
measuring the use of surveys it has presented
considerable limitations, such as the need to
disregard a few indicators, the unfeasibility of
demand-based application and the need for manual
However, survey use has generally proven to be
satisfactory because it manages to structure the
discussions providing user satisfaction to
participants. Nevertheless, since the use of
technology is not neutral, issues concerning the role
of the administrator in configuring the survey, the
requirement of a moderator for the discussions, and
ICEIS 2008 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
increased sharing of posted information deserve
further consideration.
As a future project, will be tested another e-
democratic tool that permits automatic measuring of
the effectiveness of e-participation, the Democratic
Citizenship Community (Maciel and Garcia, 2007a).
The results of the application of this survey allow for
some modifications in the modeling suggested for
the virtual community.
This research is partially supported by the Fundation
CAPES (Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento Pessoal
de Nível Superior), from Brazil. We would like to
express thanks to the researchers Flavia Cristina
Bernardini (ADDLabs), Patricia Cristiane de Souza
(UFMT) and Alexandre Veloso de Matos
(Universidade de Coimbra) for the contributions and
discussions about this paper.
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