What is Online Consultation?
Online consultation—or e-consultation—refer to an exchange between organizations and citizens using the internet. It is one form of online deliberation that brings the principles of traditional offline consultation to our computer screens. More specifically, online consultation uses interactive digital technologies to promote open online discussion and consultation through which the public can help shape the decision making process. Generally, an organization will consult a group of people to get their thoughts on an issue when a project or a policy is being proposed or to evaluate ongoing activities.
As the internet increases in popularity with the public for voicing opinion, online public participation is changing the face of democracy. Through online engagement, governments—and other organizations—have a more direct route to citizen opinion via the internet. The evolution of the internet has spun off concepts such as e-democracy—referring to citizen participation in politics, government issues and policy development through electronic technologies and the internet—and e-government—providing citizens with government information and services online. Online consultation is an extension of these concepts.
Unlike online polling, online consultation often asks participants to consider open-ended questions and allows for flexible discussion. It gives people extra time to digest different arguments and revise their own positions, usually lasting for at least a month. Additionally, online consultation allows citizens to directly interact with each other. However, online consultation is not simply a free-for-all discussion. To be successful, participants must have access to balanced information about the topic, and clear moderation policies need to be developed to guide online discussions.
Ultimately, online consultation benefits both the participant and proponent organization. Participants becomes more engaged in local affairs; topic proponents become better informed of public interests—and both learn from other views and perspectives.
Key Advantages of Online Consultation
Reaches More People
Rather than being confined to a meeting room, online discussion boards can accommodate an almost unlimited number of people. While only one person at a time can speak at public meetings, online consultation allows multiple participants to contribute at any time.
Reaches New People
Online consultation makes public engagement more accessible. It allows people in remote communities to reach government centres, and the ease of access may attract people who are not sufficiently motivated to participate in more demanding forms of public engagement.
Since its main costs are limited to internet space and website content and moderation, online consultation has the potential to save organizations money and time.