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The growth of e-participation has been facilitated by, on one side, a demand for more innovative and inclusive governance and, on the other side, a supply of a new e-tools brought by the development of information and communication technology (ICT) and the Internet.

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1. Demand: without participation, there is no effective implementation

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Modern problems ranging from climate change to migration, directly affect the lives of ordinary people worldwide. Without their buy-in to policy process, effective implementation cannot be agreed internationally. Those who are affected by global negotiations need to be consulted, or at least offered a genuine possibility to be heard.

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In the 1990s, the main channels for inclusion were the major UN conferences (Rio-1992: Earth Summit, Vienna-1993: human rights, Cairo-1994: population, Beijing-1995: women, Copenhagen-1995: social development). They generated in-depth studies, reflections, and global debate.  They addressed issues in a comprehensive way, highlighting cross-cutting aspects and reducing the risk of forming silos in global policy. They increased understanding and global awareness, and produced agreements, plans of actions, and declarations. While the effectiveness of the big UN conferences is debated, it is undisputed that they made global governance more inclusive.

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In the 2000s, the main channel for inclusiveness has been global forums, which exist in Internet governance, migration, water governance, and urban management. In addition, there is increasingly a demand that e-participation help cover the ‘legitimacy gap’ that exists in global affairs. If and how e-tools should fix this problem is a highly controversial issue in modern policy debates. Some argue that e-tools cannot fix inherent political problems (lack of inclusion). Others think that e-tools can create new dynamics and new possibilities for inclusive policy-making on all levels from national to global.

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2. Supply: new e-tools

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On the supply side, the situation is simpler. Technology has produced a wide range of e-tools. On the high-priced end of the market, Intel and other companies provide turn-key solutions that simulate a real tele-presence. On the low-cost side, Skype and other Internet providers are developing technological solutions. There is also a fast-growing market of apps and platforms starting from general ones that could be used for e-participation, including Google Hangout, WhatsApp, Line, and Viber, to specialised ones such as Pigeon Hole.