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Leen D’Haenens

Part Three: Communities in Cyberspace

Teledemocracy in the Province: An Experiment with Internet-Based Software and Public Debate

Nicholas Jankowski, Cees Leeuwis, Peter Martin, Margreet Noordhof et Jeffrey van Rossum


In November 1996 a month-long experiment was held with teledemocracy in the Dutch province of North Brabant. During that experiment, some 100 residents and representatives of organizations in the province were invited to debate aspects of land use for the province. This public debate took place with the aid of an Internet – based software program which allowed for moderated discussion, periodic polling of participants, and voting. A research report of this experiment was completed in May 1997 and this paper – based on that report and academic theses subsequently prepared – provides an overview and assessment of this experiment with teledemocracy. Data are presented on the participants and their reflections on the experiment. Attention is also paid to the role of the provincial government in this initiative with on-line democracy. These findings are related to two of the central theoretical perspectives which guided the work – Rogers’s and Kincaid’s convergence model of communication and Habermas’s notion of public sphere. The paper ends with a summary of the main findings from the experiment along with consideration of a number of central issues valuable for future research around initiatives with teledemocracy

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With the popularization of the Internet, concern for forms of teledemocracy has been rekindled and discussions intensified.1 An explosion of conferences, some accompanied by publications, has taken place recently with reference to virtual democracy, electronic democracy and similar expressions.2 Only a small number of the initiatives reported, however, have been monitored by systematic research. And none of these initiatives has included specially designed software to support public debate, opinion polling and voting activities.

Such an experiment with supportive software took place in November 1996 in the Dutch province of North Brabant, where residents and interest groups were invited to participate in a public debate conducted on an Internet site established for the event. The central issue of the debate was formulated with the question: “Is space running out in North Brabant?”

The final report of the investigation (Leeuwis et al., 1997) which monitored this experimen...


Associate Professor at the Department of Communication, University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Lecturer and Senior Researcher at the Department of Communication and Innovation Studies, University of Wageningen, The Netherlands. E-mail:

Master’s Degree in Communication Science (University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands) and is currently employed as a Customer Support Specialist at Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Weesp, The Netherlands.

Master’s Degree in Communication Science (University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands). E-mail:

Master’s Degree in Communication Science (University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands) and is currently employed as an IT-specialist at IBM Global Services, The Netherlands.

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 1999

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