It’s getting a lot easier for local administrations to find support for their digital citizen participation plans. The e-tools that are built to simplify these processes have become more user-friendly, and offer the necessary expertise to help governments consider all the options. 

There are still many traditional types of offline participation (like, for example, surveys or town hall meetings), but citizen participation has partly shifted to the digital realm. Local administrations are increasingly gauging their citizens’ opinions through specific websites or participation platforms. Choosing a digital approach has a lot of benefits: it’s easier to engage younger generations or to measure the impact of your projects, to name only a few. 

But how do you choose? Which tool works best with your requirements and specific situation? What do your citizens expect, and what do you expect from them? Let’s take a look at the things to consider while navigating the world of participation tools.

Preparation phase: taking stock

  • Is the municipality already working with citizen participation or is this the first step? Will this tool or platform be an addition to an existing project, or will it stand on its own?
  • Related to the previous point: what’s the term of this project? Do you intend to launch the platform for a single project, or is it meant to be a part of a recurring participation cycle? Since the latter inspires trust in citizens, it’s worth taking the leap. 
  • Think about who your target audience is and how you can reach them. If you want your project to make a real impact, it’s essential to reach a representative group of citizens
  • Make sure you have a clear goal in mind. Why are you launching this project? What are you hoping to achieve, and to what extent do you want your citizens to participate? Are you expecting them to cast a simple vote, or will they be the co-creators of a specific project?
  • What’s your budget? When launching a participation project, the cost is a common concern for local governments. Especially as a smaller municipality, your budget will drastically influence your choice.

Technical specs: which features do you need?

  • Different projects require different participation methods. Are you looking to launch a survey, a participatory budget, or an ideation project? Deciding on your participation method will inevitably steer you towards a tool that has the necessary features to set up your project.
  • It sounds obvious, but the user experience and simplicity of your platform have consequences. Not all of your citizens are equally tech-savvy, and similarly, your colleagues may also prefer a simpler, more intuitive tool to work with. The more complex the tool, the bigger the threshold to use it.
  • A very important aspect of the digital participation process is protecting your citizens’ privacy and ensuring the security of their data. Check whether the privacy and security settings of the tool of your choice are clear and easy to change. Another thing to take into account is the possibility of accurate identity verification. Is there a way to verify that the participating citizens are really who they say they are?
  • Which insights do you hope to gain? Do you need a platform that allows the segmentation of different target groups? And which statistics would help you to measure the impact of your participation platform? Knowing which information you hope to receive will help you to make a decision that suits your needs.
  • A practical point, but no less important: make sure you opt for a tool that allows you to own and export the data that the platform generates. You don’t want your valuable insights to only exist in an online vacuum. 

As you can see, there are quite a few things to consider when choosing the participation platform that is right for you. But don’t worry: these decisions lay the groundwork for a project that runs smoothly and leads towards the results you want to see.

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