Citizens and administration often work hand in hand on a lot of different projects: culture, urban planning, budget or even the organisation of a city event. But which projects are most likely to foster participation online?

1. Civic Engagement on Infrastructure

Urban planning is usually a hot topic. A new building or an enlarged street can yield anticipation, but also rejection. Some want to be quicker with their car, some want to find a parking spot more easily and others don’t want to have any cars at all in front of their house.

City budget is limited as well, therefore it is necessary to work on compromises. A digital platform helps cities to bring these different kinds of opinions together. Not everyone can join the classic town hall participation meetings: residents cannot always attend due to their busy schedules and the journey it takes to get there. On a digital platform, all the concerned inhabitants can work together while the city administration can easily moderate and track the discussion.

One example of infrastructure projects can be for instance the renewing of a park, like in the Belgian city of Hasselt. The citizens can share their vision about this new green space and, thanks to the discussions on the online platform, the project of a park shaped by the citizens can emerge. More than 100 proposals were submitted by the people. The first ideas are currently implemented. This way, the city budget is really spent for the people, according to their wishes.

2. Civic Engagement on City budget

Cities have a lot of costs and have to spend their money carefully. Citizens know their city best, it is therefore easier for them to suggest in which area this money should be invested. They live, work and enjoy their free time there, therefore they really know where and when money is spent wrong. Not only is it useful to use a online participation platform for saving costs, but it also is when it comes to investing. On such a platform, the citizens as well as the politicians and the civil servants, can submit their ideas and promote them to get votes. Only the ideas with the most votes are then discussed in the town hall in order to make them happen. Automated reports make it easy to work with huge data, so that no extra resources are needed.

For example the Danish Business Authority uses the online participation platform by CitizenLab to find the best ideas for a forward-looking society for the people and business. The best ideas are distinguished and will be implemented!

On the ladder of citizen participation – as formulated by Sherry Arnstein – there’s still a difference between a citizen – city partnership and full citizen control. The term participatory budgeting implies citizen control or at least delegated power. To learn more, read our article on the topic if you want to learn more about effective participatory budgeting.

3. Civic Engagement on the City Masterplan

Citizen participation can be useful to conceive a relevant city masterplan accordingly to the population wishes. Citizens can express themselves on various topics: a new district, a new city branding concept to attract more tourists or even a new focus for the city centre, or more generally, on topics such as culture, environment, social, commerce or sports. The wide range of specific domains that make up a city masterplan implies multiple brainstorming sessions and face-to-face sessions. It’s long been unfeasible to gather input from the citizens on all of these topics as it would simply take too long. Luckily, thanks to the asynchronous aspect of a digital platform, cities are now able to do exactly that.

In Liège, during a 4-month period, the citizens were asked about their ideas for the future of the city. More than 1,000 ideas were collected, with nearly 100,000 votes, which made it an huge success. 30,000 citizens participated. This is hardly reachable without such a tool. Therefore, an online participation platform is indeed the right tool to focus on the small and big ideas by the citizens in order to make the city more liveable.

4. Civic Engagement on Mobility

When commuting to work, going shopping, and even during our free time, we can spend a big part of our day in some kind of transportation. Traffic jams, overcrowded buses, bicycle path and pavements which are in a bad condition: citizens often have the feeling that they have the right solutions to fix these issues. On top of that, it is hard for the administration to be aware of every issue, so they are happy to get informed by the users of what could be optimized. 

The Region of Brussels is using CitizenLab’s online participation platform for their mobility plan to share information with the commuters such as new bus schedules, new stops or better connections at interchange stations. 

Before, the region would define new mobility rules every few years after a long internal analysis behind closed doors. After experiencing difficult implementation that sometimes entailed complete rollbacks of the plans, the region acknowledged that involving citizens and local businesses at an early stage.

Usually the city or the region defines every few years the mobility conditions, and it is a long process. Involving the citizens already at an early stage provides better planning, more successful implementation and in the end happier commuters.

But don’t forget: as a driver please wait until you stop for submitting your idea! 😉

5. Civic Engagement on Neighbourhoods

Large cities are often composed of many neighbourhoods with their own economic and societal characteristics. It’s recommended to tackle the issues of these ecosystems locally and bring the discussion (projects, ideas, comments, votes) even closer to the people involved. On an online participation platform it is possible to use maps and project pages to geolocate citizen participation within their own district.

6. Civic Engagement on Culture, Education and Welfare

Municipalities typically organise a lot of events in which their citizens can partake in. A temporary exhibition at the local museum, a culture festival, a new free sport activity for the youth, etc. typically enriches the community and makes for meaningful spending of free time. These initiatives often originate from citizens themselves if they find a way to raise enthusiasm and the necessary funds to organise them. The problem: is not everyone with a good idea knows how to knock on their municipality’s door. An online platform makes it easy to find people who are also interested in your idea in order to make it happen. There doesn’t always need to be specific projects. From a small idea can easily emerge a project: bottom-up and not top-down. That is what makes a city liveable, sustainable and future-oriented.

Anything else?

CitizenLab AppYou have other topics in mind? Something’s missing? Great! We’re glad to hear about it. To get to know what CitizenLab is able to provide, please click on Product.

Want to learn more about what we have been able to achieve together with cities and municipalities? Discover our case studies.