As a policy-maker, you are aware that citizen participation is key to building inclusive municipalities. To collect the ideas of your fellow citizens, you know the drill: paper polls, town hall meetings, and even sometimes wandering around the town market on Sunday mornings to fetch your citizens input. But are you sure you have heard everyone’s opinion and ideas? Sorry to bring this to you: you most likely didn’t.

Why do some people not feel the need to share their ideas through the traditional means mentioned above? It may be tricky to figure out, as each have their reasons. Luckily, there are other means to encourage a broader crowd into civic engagement, and adding an online component to your regular Participatory democracy strategy is one of them.

If Online Citizen Participation is not something that your city has implemented yet, here are the 3 citizen profiles you may have missed. Think of all the great ideas you have yet to hear!

1. Millennials

3 Citizen Profiles you may be Missing if you don’t use Online Participatory Democracy

The Millennials persona

Jessica is 25. She graduated last year from university and works at a tech company as an account manager. When she’s not out with friends or exercising at the gym, she loves to sit in her city apartment and check her Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram, or do some online shopping on Asos. Overall she is very tech-savvy. When wandering around her neighbourhood, she often thinks of some nice ways to make it more pleasant, but she doesn’t really know how to act upon it.

Why are Millennials not active in Citizen Participation?

You’re probably thinking that Millennials don’t see the point in citizen participation. Or worse, that they are too carefree to worry about the future of their city. Don’t get fooled, young citizens have ideas – and good ones. You should hear them, because who better than the next generation knows the way forward to shape the future of your municipality? Keep in mind that the youngs of today are the citizens – and voters – of tomorrow. As a government, the earlier you offer them the opportunity to take part into civic engagement, the better. So why not co-create the future of your city with them and for them, starting now?

How can Online Citizen Participation turn this around?

What a better way to appeal to digital natives than to meet them on their preferred field, i.e. online? Thanks to Online Citizen Participation, you have the power to reach a younger crowd, using technology.

A way to make citizen participation more appealing for Millennials is to make it fun. This can be done through gamification: by earning rewards such as points or badges, the citizens can get a sense of purpose through the progress they are making. The more they positively contribute to the discussion by providing ideas or insights, the better rank they get among the contributors. Want to know more about how gamification can improve citizen participation? Read this.

For example, on the CitizenLab platform, participating citizens are ranked thanks to their karma score, which is the sum of points they have earned while taking part in the co-creation discussions.

Millennials want things to happen – and fast. That’s in their DNA. With Online Citizen Participation, the feedback can almost be instant. And even if the results are not real-time, the Digital Democracy tools make it easy to:

  1. discuss ideas in real time, which is better than sending a letter to their local administrators,
  2. have an overview on the citizen participation project timeline, to share ideas when the time is right.

Also, Millennials can come off as a bit shy when facing democracy. They may find the institutions intimidating and therefore think twice before sharing their ideas. Some young citizens are unsure of the legitimacy of their ideas and who they should share them with. Online Citizen Participation tools can solve this issue: the digital environment is familiar to Millennials, and no need to be an expert to contribute. This is one of the most efficient way to solve the lack of civic engagement among this crowd. It’s also efficient to make them bound with old-fashioned institutions.

2. Busy Citizens

3 Citizen Profiles you may be Missing if you don’t use Online Participatory Democracy

The busy citizen persona

Marcus is 43 and has been living in a suburban area for 10 years now. He works as a creative director for a big advertising agency in the city centre. At night, he often stays long hours at the office to work on his projects, and when he has an evening free, he likes to go play squash with his friends or to take his family out for diner. On the weekends, he likes to go for long bike rides in the woods. He often comes up with concrete solutions to make his neighbourhood greener, but never has time to discuss them with the city officials.

Why are they not active in Citizen Participation?

Who are we talking about here? A wide range of people actually: from busy working moms, to business men working over hours and any citizen leading a hectic life. These are citizens who care, and have something to say, but don’t find enough time to dedicate to their civic engagement. The reason for that is: traditional participatory tools are often time-consuming.

Think about it: busy citizens most likely don’t have 2+ hours in the evening – or worse, during the day – to attend town hall meetings, or to fill in a paper poll.

How can Online Citizen Participation turn this around?

What if you came to them instead of asking the opposite? Thanks to Online Citizen Participation, you have the power to make citizen participation more flexible.

Time-wise, Online Citizen Participation allows citizen participation at anytime of the day or night: that’s actually a great way for e-democracy to find a way into those busy schedules! With Digital Democracy, citizens can share ideas and discuss in their own time.

The other great perk of Online Citizen Participation for busy citizens is that they are not expected to be physically present to contribute, unlike with town hall meetings for instance. With Online Citizen Participation, not only can civic engagement happen anytime, but also anywhere! Indeed, most Digital Democracy tools are designed « mobile first » and can be used on smartphones.

With this kind of tools, citizens do not need to waste time fetching for opinions of others online, on Social Media for instance. The debate is gathered in one place, which makes it time-efficient. And the best thing is, even busy citizens can stay involved on the long run thanks to Online Citizen Participation. Through an email or a push notification, they can be made aware of a new contribution in their topics of interest. Efficiency at its best!

3. The Silent Majority: Political Skeptics

3 citizen profiles you may be missing if you don’t use Online Participatory Democracy

The silent majority persona

Mary is 56 and she works as a Management Assistant at a bank. She is raising her two sons on her own since she divorced 5 years ago. They live in a small house on the outskirts of town. Just like her neighbours and friends, she stopped watching the news on TV and reading the local newspapers altogether. She feels that nothing in there concerns her. As she struggles to make ends meet, she feels that the government is not doing enough for her family, but she is convinced that local politicians don’t have time to waste on her case or what she has to say. Last time she voted was 12 years ago.

Why are members of the silent majority not active in Citizen Participation?

Disenchantment for politics – even local – goes a long way back. From the 70’s with the Watergate to more contemporary political scandals involving public money, some citizens have often had a hard time believing in the goodwill of politicians.
There’s an undeniable distrust in politics. Reasons for that could simply be the feeling that policy-makers fail to keep their electoral promises, or just that some citizens do not feel understood. According to a study led by the British Social Research Center NatCen, only 17% of British citizens trust their government. And this trend is also observed in Europe. Although very unfortunate, this situation is not beyond repair!

How can Online Citizen Participation turn this around?

What would it take for these citizens to find their way back into civic engagement? Governments have to show that they care. Online Citizen Participation can smoothly convey this message to try and rebuild a better relationship between Governments and their unconvinced citizens.

Government administrators have to show that they are interested in the opinion of all their citizens – not only an elite. To do so, they need tools that can facilitate citizen participation. As you have guessed, this is what Online Citizen Participation does.

Through an online platform, citizens can discuss between themselves their ideas and projects without systematic intervention of the city officials, that skeptics often dread. This is a powerful tool to improve democracy, as policy-making becomes more relevant the more citizens share their opinion. Moreover, Online Citizen Participation creates a more neutral channel to discuss ideas – compared with the town hall for instance.

As it is more neutral politically and socially, such platforms undoubtedly promote more inclusiveness. And it sends off the right message: everyone’s idea can be worthy in the eye of the Government, so why hesitate to share it?

Conclusion

By implementing an Online Citizen Participation strategy in your city, you can tap into a broader set of ideas to better the future of your city. As it makes you able to reach profiles of citizens who are not used to sharing their input with local officials, it allows a more inclusive and representative co-creation when working on new projects.