Kevin Ramsey on making consultation better
Although I'm still relatively new to this field, my impression of the literature related to e-consultation is roughly consistant with the assessment you offered. In my opinion (and as you seem to imply in your commments), one major reason for this is the fact that different researchers are working with different normative ideals of what democracy should look like. Too often, these normative ideals are not explicitly described. Without a clear vision of what that normative ideal is, I think it is difficult to judge whether or not a given e-consultation initiative is successful or not.
I'm currently taking a graduate seminar in political communication and reading quite a bit of literature regarding the role of the media in a democratic society (a strongly related topic, in my opinion). One book in particular provides a good example of outlining different normative ideals of democracy and corresponding features of a media systems that would support or undermine those ideals. It seems that we in the e-consultation field need to do some similar conceptual work -- and such work might be a step towards answering the questions you posed.
The book is C. E. Baker, Media, Markets, and Democracy (2002). New York: Cambridge University Press. The material I described is in Part 2.
Kevin Ramsey Outreach Coordinator / Research Assistant / Graduate Student Participatory Geographic Information Systems for Transportation Dept. of Geography University of Washington Seattle, WA, USA http://students.washington.edu/kramsey