The more things change, the more they remain the same – Similarities between Social Media led Citizen Engagement and Citizen Engagement in 16th Century Mughal India

Reading this very interesting article, Go where your audience is: what EU communicators can learn from local citizen engagement initiatives at EuropCom, made me think about the importance of proper citizen engagement in the digital world and what we need to keep in mind if we want to encourage purposeful citizen engagement.

In the article Aurélie Valtat talks about how engaging citizens for a meaningful dialogue with the government may lead to formulation of suitable policies.  Aurélie gives examples of local citizen engagement initiatives in Europe – all with the aim of encouraging an internet enabled participative democracy. It is clear from the article that many governments and public institutions are trying to find answers to variety of questions related to citizen engagement to ensure that true benefits of citizen engagement for public policy formulation are realized.

Aurélie  also brings out a very important point, that in spite of all the promises of internet led citizen engagement, “participatory democracy will never replace representative democracy, but rather complement it.” In my opinion setting out this expectations is one of the highlights of the article.

However, in this article I try to compare the 21st century Citizen Engagement Model with the Citizen Engagement Model of the 16th century Mughal India. I look at how the Mughal leadership encouraged purposeful citizen engagement in the policy formulation process during their reign with the aim to identify inherent similarities and check if there are lessons we can learn that might help us to create an internet led citizen engagement model.

So let’s get straight to the point – the table below shows and compares the sequence of steps required to solicit citizen engagement in the 16th century and 21st century.

Looking at the table I cannot help but observe the inherent similarities between citizen engagement mechanisms in the 16th century and 21st century. Finding and bringing out the similarities from these different eras leads me to think that essentially world is still the same.  So true is this saying, “The more things change the more they remain the same.”

                                                                                                                   Picture from the link

In my opinion, the table also bring out the fact that technology is merely an enabler to accomplish goals of citizen participation as similar processes to engage citizens for policy formulation existed centuries before the adoption of internet. I am sure similar analogies also exist elsewhere which have the potential to help us better understand and improve our transformation in this internet connected world.

In spite of all these similarities, of course there is one important difference – with the ever pervading nature of internet, 21st century citizen engagement allows us to scale citizen engagement to enormous limits, solicit opinions from a far greater audience, and communicate information on a far greater scale that anyone could have ever imagined in the 16th century.

However of all these steps made easier by internet, “sieving” through the comments from the citizens is one step which is critical and often it is the most difficult to accomplish even through technology automated means. Are there any other analogies from yesteryears that we can look at to learn more about this? I’ll let the readers ponder this question!

About Ankit Sharma

Born in Kashmir, Alumni of London School of Economics, Currently working for the Royal Bank of Scotland, Living in London with absolute passion and hope in the user of Information Technology to solve social problems.
This entry was posted in Citizen Engagement, Crowdsourcing, ICT4D, Mughal India, OGD Participation, Social Media. Bookmark the permalink.

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