Launching a successful participation initiative online is not something that you should leave up to chance. It is essential that, even before the start of the citizen consultation, all the stakeholders sit around the table to clearly state what their expectations are, as well as which levers are going to be used to reach these goals. Even if it sounds obvious, it is not easy to find a common space and format to jot down all of this information.

At CitizenLab, we stand by your side each step of the way when you decide to launch an online citizen participation platform. And the most important step of all is undoubtedly the first one. This is why our engagement specialists came up with a framework to help local governments and more generally the users of our participation platform. We named this tool the CitizenLab E-Participation Canvas.

The objectives of the E-Participation Canvas

  • Brainstorm together: filling the canvas is a good moment for the stakeholders – i.e. you! – to think about what they want is the end goal of the project and how they are going to get there.
  • Get an overview: on the long run, and even weeks after the launch, it is always useful to be reminded at a glance of all the forces in action during the process, such as your engagement levers or planned risks and barriers. At CitizenLab, our engagement specialists use it as a support when meeting with administrations using our platform to see how they are performing regarding the goals.
  • Give transparency and accountability: the canvas helps make the purpose of the consultation clear, as well as who is involved, and which goals you commit to.

The E-Participation Canvas framework

Download in PDF

The canvas covers the four different steps of the citizen participation initiative, from the launch to the assessment :

1. Define

This first column of the canvas answers two questions:

  • Why you need this participation project for ? (in other words, what your NEEDS are)
  • What do you want to get out of it ? (in other words, what your GOALS are)

These are the key elements that will drive the engagement process. In that step, we focus rather on the qualitative needs and goals. We will focus on quantitative in the 4th step on the canvas.

2. Involve

The second column serves to define who is going to be part of the projects, on both ends of the platform:

  • Internally: who will be managing it on a daily basis? (or: who the KEY USERS are going to be)
  • Externally: who do you want to get involved on the platform precisely? (that is to say: who is your AUDIENCE is)

To ensure maximum engagement, you should make sure that these targets are clearly identified.

3. Engage

In order to effectively engage the people mentioned in the previous column, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the EXPERIENCE you want to offer? Using which tone of voice do you want to address your users? What should your citizen participation platform look like, how should it be organised? Do you design the experience more as a top-down consultation? Or do you want to rather serve as a platform to make citizens collaborate on their initiatives?
  • Which CHANNELS do you plan on using to raise awareness about your initiative? This is is closely linked to the identity of your target: if you aim at reaching a younger audience, try focusing on online channels (such as emails, social media campaigns, online display campaigns, your website, etc.), if the scope of your reach should be broader, you should prepare a cross-channel strategy involving both online and offline channels (these can be for example flyers, posters, local newspapers, personalised letter, events etc.). If needed, the launch of new channels can also be decided here. Need some inspiration? Here is the example of how the City of Liège organised its channels.

4. Measure

To assess the success of a citizen participation initiative, and in particular of when it comes to an online participation platform, it is very useful to set beforehand some criterion the initiative will be evaluated on:

  • What METRICS will you use? For instance, the number of votes, the number of ideas, the number of users, etc.
  • What is the general FEEDBACK expected? This part can also be filled in later on.

The fifth and extra stage of the E-Participation Canvas is ongoing all through the participation process, and aims at making the participation initiative sustainably successful on the long run:

5. Expand

This bottom part is made to write down all the elements that should be kept in mind all along the consultation process:

  • the threats: be one step ahead and list the potential RISKSBARRIERS and POSSIBLE OPPOSITION that the consultation project may encounter, to be able to proactively react to them, might these threats actually occur.
  • the process: in the PROCESSING and NEXT STEPS of the citizen input, explain in a few words who is going to process the ideas, how and when. It can help assess what resources are going to be needed at each moment.
  • KEY DATES: here you can list key milestones of the initiative, press conferences, events, etc.

On top of being a very useful instrument to define beforehand the frame of the project, it is also a great tool to figure out if your primary focus is well-kept all along the citizen consultation process. So help yourself and download the PDF template, and keep on the lookout: we might come up with an updated version soon!

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