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Excessive calls to action kill the move to action?

A call to action (CTA) in citizen participation projects is a specific request or invitation for individuals to take a particular action, such as attending an event, providing feedback, or participating in a survey. CTAs are important because they encourage individuals to engage with the project and take meaningful steps toward contributing to its success.


When designing CTAs, it is important to ensure that they are clear, concise, and relevant to the specific goals of the project. They should be targeted toward specific audiences and presented in a compelling and motivating way. However, it is important to use CTAs with reason and care, as overuse or misuse of CTAs can lead to audience fatigue and disengagement. In other words, bombarding people with calls to action is like trying to get a cat to fetch a stick - it's not gonna happen, no matter how many times you try!


We will see here that over-soliciting your audience might not be the right approach for the success of your participatory process. On the contrary, taking your time along with your project and respecting theirs is essential. Let's explore this idea through the following steps :

  1. Establish a binding contract of trust with your audiences

  2. Do not rush, effective engagement requires time

  3. Follow our advice to avoid over-solicitation of stakeholders

  4. Get inspiration from some of the effective CTAs series we help to run


Step 1: Establish a binding contract of trust with your audiences


While running a participatory initiative, one might remember that an important place is reserved for the principle of trust between project leaders and participants. This trust contract involves a mutual agreement between the protagonists to work towards a common goal. This agreement also involves a shared understanding of the project's goals, expectations, and outcomes, and a commitment to work collaboratively toward achieving these objectives.


Participants must be able to trust that project leaders will act in good faith, provide clear, transparent, and accurate information, and ensure that their contributions are valued and respected. Likewise, project leaders must trust that participants will engage with the project in a meaningful and constructive way, and be willing to provide feedback and input to help guide the project's direction.



That is why trust is an important factor that influences whether individuals will respond to CTAs or not. If participants trust the project leaders and believe in the value of the project, they are more likely to respond positively to CTAs and take the desired action. However, if there is a lack of trust or credibility, participants may be less likely to engage with the project, regardless of how compelling the CTAs may be.


On the other hand, CTAs can also help build and reinforce trust in citizen participation projects. By presenting clear and compelling requests for action, project leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the project and their respect for participants' time and input. When CTAs are well-timed, relevant, and targeted toward specific audiences, they can foster a sense of trust and partnership between project leaders and participants.


The CTA must be clear, concise, well-timed, targeted, and specific, with a deadline for completion. This, in turn, can lead to even greater participation and impact, as citizens feel invested and valued in the project's success. By prioritizing both trust-building and effective communication strategies through great CTAs, citizen participation projects can create a strong foundation for meaningful and impactful change.


Step 2: do not rush, effective engagement requires time


In addition to the trust principle, time is the key to efficient engagement. You wouldn't ask a new friend to move into your flat, look after your 2 cats for three weeks and read your mail after the second coffee or walk in the park? Well, I definitely would not. Once the relationship of trust is born, then it must be nurtured, maintained, and made to grow, hoping to see it flourish and bear fruit. Poetic, isn't it?



In participatory projects, the analogy applies equally well. You wouldn't expect a new employee or an audience you're just starting to address to be able to answer positively to many CTAs (such as posting ideas, relaying them to 50 people, signing up for your webinars), all in a week? If they have never heard of you or your project, then you need to start with the basics. So first build the awareness around your topic, then sharpen the trust, and finally, develop your CTAs towards engagement. But remember to slow down, and keep the rhythm, step by step we said.


We don't recommend that you run several participative modules opened on your digital platform at the same time, for instance. What we do encourage, however, is to reach them gradually through successive hooks (within a reasonable time!). And once they are convinced, it is at this point that we can talk about building a committed community. If your audience regularly returns to the project page and develops increasing automatists to relay or even become ambassadors of your initiative, then it's a success!


Taking the time to develop the engagement steps and CTAs shared is an important principle to keep in mind. Citizens are more likely to engage and participate in a project when they feel that their time and efforts are being respected and valued. To achieve this, it's essential to provide a clear and transparent timeline of the project, including specific deadlines for when feedback and input are needed. Additionally, it's important to ensure that the level of commitment required from participants is reasonable and proportional to the potential impact of the project.


Step 3: follow our advice to avoid over-solicitation stakeholders


Here are some tips to build and efficiently use engaging CTAs. You need to focus on how to be strategic and deliberate about how you engage with your audience:

  1. Set clear goals and objectives: be clear about what you hope the participant to achieve through the CTAs, and what specific feedback or input you need from this specific stakeholder. By doing so, you can focus your engagement efforts and avoid unnecessary or duplicative requests.

  2. Focus on the communication and marketing around your project: while sharing your CTAs, it is important to diversify the formats (videos, articles, portraits of project actors, interviews, press relays, etc) to be sure to give the right message to your relevant interlocutor at the right time, for a better appropriation of the topic.

  3. Anticipate each of your participatory steps and plan ahead your CTAs: consider using a range of engagement approaches and tools to reach stakeholders with diverse needs and preferences. This can help to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in a way that works for them.

  4. Respect stakeholders' time and expertise: be mindful of the time and effort required from stakeholders to participate in the project through the CTAs you share, and demonstrate that you value their expertise and input. For example, you might offer incentives or provide clear feedback on how their input has been used to shape the project.

  5. Show empathy and put yourself in the shoes of your interlocutor: accept that your audience does not always have time or other priorities. Prioritize targeted and timely outreach. Instead of sending out multiple requests for feedback or input, focus on targeted outreach that is timely and relevant to the specific needs of stakeholders.

By following these tips, you can help to avoid the over-solicitation of stakeholders in citizen participation projects, while also building a strong and engaged community of participants.


Step 4: get inspiration from some of effective CTAs series we help to run


In the participative projects we run with the organizations we guide, we invite public sector actors or companies to develop their engagement approach over time, step by step. We accompany them not to over-solicit the same audiences or stakeholders all the time, so as not to create exhaustion and discouragement. In other words, we help them organize their CTAs.


Our digital platform is one of the tools for the success of a participatory project. But this tool must be a logical part of an overall approach to engaging your audiences, over time. If you already do a lot aside, then it has to be a brick addition at the right time, with the right CTAs that go with it.


With the Dijon Metropolis, we are developing a participative solution for the inhabitants around the rehabilitation project for their positive energy neighborhood. Over time, the north star is to raise awareness around auto collective energy consumption and carbon footprint reduction. The city is launching many actions to develop the project, step by step and to progressively touch each identified key audience. The first shared CTAs were to discover the European RESPONSE project and to make citizens aware of its objectives. Then, in a gentle, fun, and accessible way, the second level of CTAs was to get these inhabitants onboard on a participatory platform. The next step would be to collect their opinions and feedback on how they understand and get familiar with innovative energy solutions in their home and how is evolving their daily behavior, regarding energy consumption.


In the City of Sceaux, we worked on a transition process through the mobilization of inhabitants around an eco-responsible fabric and a change in textile consumption habits. We started by attracting the attention of the inhabitants via articles in the local magazine and posters distributed in the city. Then, we lead them to a digital platform to fill out a questionnaire to determine their habits regarding textile consumption. The next step was the publication of an idea box to collect their opinions on how to improve the FabLab, La Manufacture. Then, once their trust was developed, we engaged the citizens in a vote to select the logo that would represent the new local brand.


In the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region, we accompanied a direction to run a consultation project around a new bike lane under conception: the Via Maurienne. As part of this initiative, the project leaders created an online platform where citizens of the impacted cities could share their feedback, ideas, and concerns about the project. The region communicated clearly and transparently about the project's goals, objectives, and timeline. They also demonstrate that they value citizen input by actively soliciting feedback and using it to guide decision-making. Once the project leaders established a strong foundation of trust, they were able to use CTAs to encourage citizens to take action, such as taking part in a questionnaire to express their habits or contributing to a discussion module to give feedback about the path of the new bike line.


With the City of Lahr, we are working on the development of the cultural offer. And there again, the idea is with a first CTA to understand what cultural consumption habits are. Then, a series of other CTAs will help develop awareness and gather opinions around the project of the cultural offer evolution. Finally, we will enter the phase of co-construction with the inhabitants and stakeholders, inviting them to contribute and share their ideas for a better cultural offer in Lahr.


These examples demonstrate how CTAs are a powerful tool for driving engagement and participation in citizen participation projects but must be used strategically and thoughtfully to avoid audience fatigue and disengagement. As we’ve mentioned earlier and not to be too naive, the process is long and many obstacles sometimes prevent project leaders from applying this theoretical approach. Initiators of participative projects often lack resources, time, or even political support to use all these pieces of advice in real life for their projects. But by fostering a culture of trust combined with great CTAs, citizen participation projects can create a strong foundation for meaningful and lasting change.


We would be delighted to assist you in your participatory initiatives and the way you build your CTAs! To find out more about our products and services, contact us at contact@civocracy.org.

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