Valuable outcomes in participation project on accessibility in Wageningen
The participation project Bereikbaar Wageningen (Accessible Wageningen) proves that you can collect high quality input from involved parties with a participation platform. The municipality of Wageningen asked and worked together with spatial planning agency Over Morgen to facilitate the online participation using Mett. We asked Mirte van der Vliet, project manager at Over Morgen, what the most important insights were in this project.
Mirte van der Vliet
Project manager at Over Morgen
What kind of project was Bereikbaar Wageningen and why did the municipality choose for online participation?
The Bereikbaar Wageningen project aims to improve the accessibility of the Campus during the morning and evening rush hour. The project already was at an advanced stage; two possible scenarios had (literally and figuratively) been mapped out: improving the existing route and build a new route. On the one hand, the province demanded that the municipality of Wageningen proved that their citizens supported their plans, while on the other hand the municipality of Wageningen knew that people wanted to contribute their ideas and wanted to take this opportunity to further improve these plans. That is why the municipality of Wageningen chose to make use of both offline and online participation. In the online participation environment, the municipality’s citizens could comment on the project’s sub-plans and in “offline” meetings, the municipality created a dialogue with the stakeholders.
What was behind the choice to include the citizens only later in the project?
At an earlier stage, the province had asked citizens how Wageningen and the surrounding area could be made more accessible. The municipality then took those outcomes and once the plans were further detailed, they recognized the importance of involving their citizens at that stage. The project had reached a stage where sub-plans had to be fine-tuned and at that stage, the opinion and ideas of citizens proved incredibly valuable.
How do you ensure that citizens really actively join in?
If you take the time beforehand to consider what you are planning to do with people’s input and how much room there truly is for them to add their ideas, then you can also communicate that to them clearly. The municipality of Wageningen did this by expressing their preference for one scenario and by supporting their case as to why they would rather improve the existing route. It is vitally important to be honest in your communication. People must be made to feel that their voices are heard and that there is room for their opinion. That is what makes it so important to clarify the goal and sub-questions, and to not ask them too much. An online platform only allows you to do that to a certain extent; the moment it becomes complicated, you must have face-to-face conversations with people. In work sessions, for instance. The rule for online participation? Keep it simple!
In offline and online communication, you can invite people to think along over at the online environment. The participation environment is a kind of online hotspot that all your communication with citizens should point to. Afterwards, you can also use the platform to explain how you incorporated the feedback. No one can force a municipality to use all the feedback, as long as you explain why you chose not to use certain ideas. You can use an online newsletter to keep those people who commented on the plans up to date with the progress of the project. The most important thing to remember is this: consider what you want to achieve with online participation and communicate this clearly to ensure that you are not creating false expectations.
And what options are there when you are at an earlier stage of the process and there is more room for people’s input?
If all you have is a problem definition, without clear ideas as to how to solve the problem, you can invite people to come up with ideas themselves. Oftentimes, though, municipalities have a pretty clear idea of what possible solutions might look like. If no clear direction has been chosen, you can ask people to vote on scenarios. People can, for instance, use stars to rate ideas and indicate which they prefer. Be careful, though, that you clearly communicate at which stage of the process you are and that you offer feedback on the input. If you choose such a ‘hard,’ quantitative format, make sure that it doesn’t turn into a referendum!
What steps is the municipality of Wageningen now planning to take?
The municipality is currently categorizing and analyzing all the comments. Based on that analysis, the municipality will respond on the themes that emerge from people’s comments. As mentioned earlier, this feedback step is vitally important. It is also very likely that, when the plans are being executed, there will be another form of participation. In Wageningen, citizen participation is very important, so it is likely that citizens will be asked at a later stage to contribute their ideas.
What made this project so successful?
Wageningen’s accessibility is a topic that deserves our attention, because there is considerable congestion and it affects people’s lives. It’s a topic whose urgency is felt. That always affects people’s degree of involvement. The municipality also succeeded in explaining each part of the project by not making it overly complicated. That can be a real advantage in collecting good input. The project was subdivided into six sub-projects. Each sub-project was explained and visualized using a concept drawing. For each sub-project, people had the opportunity to comment on it. With this project, the choice was made for the municipality not to respond on each and every comment, which is why citizens commented on each other and a dialogue was created primarily between citizens. If citizens had specific questions for the city councilor, they could use the platform to ask these too. The sub-questions received a total number of responses of 136, the one even more extensive than the next. This illustrates too that the success of participation relies not only on the municipality’s approach, but as much if not more, on citizens’ enthusiasm.
Image: three sub-projects of Bereikbaar Wageningen
Want to discuss the possibilities Mett offers as a participation platform?
Numerous participation projects have successfully concluded using Mett. We’d gladly think along with you about how you can use Mett for your participation project. Contact us to schedule an informal appointment.