The enthusiasm for citizen participation is reflected by the growing number of consultation initiatives being carried out by local governments across the world. Of course, budgets vary from one municipality to the other and projects are limited by the resources, time or skills available within the administration. However, the will to engage is present even when resources are scarce, and even the smallest communities are developing digital solutions to renew dialogue with their citizens.

Implementing digital participation with limited resources

Limited budgets shouldn’t limit ambitions. Defining relevant goals, setting up an efficient internal processes and relying on the administration’s existing strengths can help low-budget projects have a high impact. Here are some ways to maximise existing resources:

  1. With limited resources, it’s important to focus on projects with a real impact rather than token projects. Although it is “easier” to ask the inhabitants of a neighbourhood about what colour of public waste bins they’d like, it will undoubtedly be more constructive to involve them in processes that will be enriched by collaboration between elected officials, the administration and the population. In this case, ask citizens which days they would actually need the trash collected.
  2. Next, it’s important to determine the most appropriate way to involve the population in each project. The square renovation project does not require the same form of citizen participation as a consultation to distribute public funds. Spending all resources available on a tool built specifically for the former might prevent from doing the latter. The best strategy is to choose a “Swiss Army Knife” type of tool in order to take advantage of its different options.
  3. Finally, efficient internal collaboration is a critical factor of success. Citizen participation is transversal process that isn’t restricted to a single service. It is therefore important to train agents across multiple departments. Broadening the number of teams who have access to the participation platform also ensures that citizen feedback can be shared and addressed in a timely manner by relevant members of the administration. (for more information about how to organise internally for a participation project, see our guide).

Citizenlab’s aim is to support both large metropolitan areas and small municipalities with just a few thousand inhabitants. Our role is to guide public authorities in their strategic choices and to give them the tools to work with the population in a peaceful and constructive way. We also aim to do this without overloading already busy civil servants.

Mutualising resources

In some cases, the purchase of even one tool can be too much of a burden for a small municipality. Some municipalities therefore choose to join forces in order to pool financial, human or organisational resources. This is for instance what some communes of Grand Paris Sud or Fondation Rurale de Wallonie have chosen to do.

The CitizenLab platform is used by a single administration, but also by clusters of cities. Artificial intelligence allows municipalities to use a single platform and then segment content. Users can be automatically classified into groups and only have access to a part of the projects. A citizen from city A will for instance only see city A’s surveys, whilst only citizens from city B will be able to view and access city B’s participatory budgets.

This differentiated access is easily adaptable thanks to a customised registration procedure, integrated into each platform. Municipalities can choose the information they wish to collect to regulate the accessibility of projects. Cities pooling their resources together can use the “City” field to redirect the citizen to the projects of his or her city.

Do you want to set up a participation platform? Contact us today to see what participation could look like in your city!

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