The project will analyze the effects of advanced telecommunications technologies on reform efforts seeking to decentralize democratic governance. Analysis will focus on technology use in the implementation of a formal neighborhood council system in the City of Los Angeles. This reform effort represents a significant and well-defined natural experiment in the political uses of information and communications technologies (ICTs). As such, it provides an opportunity to extend the technology and politics literature, which to date has focused on the national level and elections, to investigate effects on local governance, which is the primary sphere for civic engagement in policy making. The research will draw from theories in the area of political communication, organizational theory and urban political economy to develop hypotheses about the factors that influence the successful integration of ICTs in the creation of neighborhood council systems, their effects on patterns of political communication, and the effects of communications networks on political outcomes and attitudes among stakeholders at the local level.

The implementation of neighborhood councils in Los Angeles is currently in the planning process and will proceed beginning June 2001. The current plan calls for the creation of 100 to 200 advisory councils at the community level, and the implementation of an Internet-based early notification system intended to provide councils early input into city policy making processes. In addition, councils are required to create systems for communication with community stakeholders. The City in turn is mandated to provide councils with a communication system linking all neighborhood councils and training and material support for communications. This reform represents an unprecedented urban experiment with political communication, and is particularly important given the size, ethnic diversity, and global economic position of the City of Los Angeles. The research will employ multiple methods to elucidate the complex linkages between implementation inputs, communication networks, political processes, and policy and attitudinal outcomes. The methods employed will include (1) case study analysis of the design, implementation, and diffusion of neighborhood councils and communications technology; (2) analysis of the vertical communications promulgated and received by elected officials as a part of the mandated early notification system; (3) network analysis of the dynamics of communications within and between neighborhood councils and city government; and (4) preliminary analysis of the political effects of vertical and horizontal communications.

Data collection will include archival and field research, interviews, and two panel surveys. These data will be employed in diffusion analyses and network analyses producing sociograms of linkages and cliques developing among members of city government and neighborhood councils. The network analysis provides a systematic framework for conceptualizing and analyzing the effects of ICTs on communication patterns and the manner in which changing communication patterns influence democratic outcomes. This analysis will illuminate the effects of ICTs on the distribution of information and political communications and the resulting effects of changing communication patterns on citizen participation and the responsiveness of political institutions. The research is expected to improve understanding of the technological factors that impede or promote political participation by traditionally underrepresented groups and provide a more detailed understanding of socio-economic and communicative characteristics of citizens impede them from taking advantage of technology-based reforms. This knowledge will help policy makers develop methods by which these differences may be bridged.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
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Lawrence Brandt
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University of Southern California
Los Angeles
United States
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