Citizen participation is out, government participation is in. But what is government participation, exactly?
Citizen participation is out, government participation is in. Citizens are given an increasing number of means to organize themselves. They already were outspoken, but what you see now is that they can also find the knowledge and expertise in their own network.
For governments, this signals a shift in responsibility. Can you support others instead of carrying it out yourself?
The power of citizens
Citizens are sometimes describes as not particularly involved. Participation projects have little effect, and it seems difficult to evoke a response from people. If you really want to change this, you should recognize the current energy for a particular topic and kindle that initial interest. It then becomes obvious that citizens can often be very strong and inventive.
Let people see how the initiatives are used!
If you want to tap into this citizen power, we have a couple of tips:
- Agree internally which actions will be taken once an initiative is suggested and make this central to your communication. It can be really motivating if you know beforehand what kind of responses of outcomes you can expect. It may be as simple as ‘you will receive personal response within 2 working days’ or ‘each month, we invite the initiators of two ideas for a brainstorm session.’
- Keep on maintaining the network. Everybody who signs up, logs in, submits an idea, or comments is by definition more interested than most people. See them as ‘friends’ who you give an update about new plans, progress, and execution every once in a while. Share the successes but also explain why some plans can’t be realized.
- Dare to invest a lot of energy in those people most committed. They are brimming with energy. It requires a disproportionate amount of time and money to actively involve a large group of moderately interested people from the start. But after a number of successful projects, they too will be inclined to show their power as citizens. Also, help energetic initiators with involving their local community! Not only using the online platform, but perhaps with an actual newsletter instead, or through posts on social media.
Why an online participation platform?
“With their increased level of education and highly improved ability to organize, citizens are motivated most to improve their immediate living environment.” This is the conclusion the Dutch government reached after a study into the role of government in societal initiatives. Projects or initiatives in the immediate neighborhood or area can expect the highest commitment. An online participation platform is a landing area for such initiatives. You can comment on it, but also review current initiatives, or examine the features of a successful initiative. Besides that, an online platform is also a social network of highly motivated people that you as moderator can reach and activate quickly.
The next step: DIY democracy
Government participation can go one step further. With DIY democracy, citizens can not only submit new initiatives, think along, and discuss their ideas, but can even realize projects themselves, using their own time and (sometimes) financial means. Partners+Pröpper did a study on the DIY democracy. Their report contains the results of an online questionnaire among Dutch municipalities about supporting and stimulating the DIY democracy. The findings suggest that over half of the municipalities already support the DIY democracy to some degree.
In the report, Partners+Pröpper describe the three most successful strategies. Do you agree?
- Supporting initiators with time and expertise from a civil organization;
- Being a clear and trustworthy collaboration partner;
- Actively searching for win-win situations in the collaboration.
But it is not just the government that is enthusiastic about the DIY democracy. Citizens, too, are enthusiastic. A study by PinkRoccade Local Government shows that an impressive 45 percent of Dutch people want to volunteer for their community.
Challenges within the government
The largest challenge within municipalities or other government is creating sufficient capacity to support initiatives. Surprisingly enough, that is less of a problem than mismatched expectations. Be clear in what you will do and make sure that the internal organization is also committed to keep up their end. If you expect citizens to invest time and money, you should, above all, be a trustworthy partner.
Participation between the government and citizens
How do you feel about such terms as government participation and citizen participation? Let us know by commenting on this blog or sending us message via Twitter (@SamenMett).