Gathering external opinion is hard. It takes both time and manpower. Then what do you do with the input? How can you effectively and transparently take decisions based on everything you’ve received? You’ll have contradicting ideas, and it’s difficult to analyse the qualitative feedback.
It’s very easy to feel discouraged by such a task. Yet it is an invaluable one. One which yields incredible results. One which creates a community.
As a public sector agent, it can seem like a minefield! Where should I start? Are there best practises? What should I do before I begin the process? Will this be accepted internally? How about externally? How can I be objective?
That’s where we come in.
Embrace your fears.
For our first participation strategy session of Territoires Fédérateurs, Civocracy’s multi-city educational programme dedicated to empowering civil servants with the tools to undertake constructive citizen participation, we wanted to address fears collectively.
The programme’s first workshop has been designed as a safe space for participants to air their biggest fears when it comes to implementing citizen participation. We have found there to be four main concerns.
What happens if there is too much participation, and we’re unable to follow up?How can we effectively bring people onto the platform to participate?How should we, as civil servants, respond to citizens comments? What are we eligible to say?What are the “rules of the game”? Do they differ from territory to territory, city to city, or are there universal guidelines?
These are all incredibly valid concerns, and yet not ones which should stop you beginning citizen consultations. Our initial responses?
There’s no such thing as too much participation. The more voices you hear, the better you can take decisions. We can teach you the best methods of following up on contributions (from sending updates to responding individually), and we’re here to help on a case-by-case basis.Build a foolproof communications and engagement strategy (again we’re here to help)! Simple.This is something for you to decide internally. Pick a stance and stick with it.Yes, every territory, city and metropole is different. Every strategy you implement will have to be slightly modified to suit your citizens. BUT only in an incredibly limited way.
What do I even ask my citizens about?
Anything and everything. Why? Your citizens live with the decisions you take, so they therefore know exactly how they feel about local issues, and often have strong constructive suggestions for improvements.
We’ve hosted discussions on everything from biodiversity within cities to national level security policy, and in all instances, citizens have contributed ideas which have been including in policy recommendations and implemented into projects.
Just make sure your frame discussions in the right way to ensure the contributions you gain relevant feedback…!
Don’t disappoint yourself: set expectations.
It’s common knowledge that the use of citizen participation is not only a nicety, but a necessity; however, the question that is more difficult to answer, while going beyond the theoretical level of “it’s the right thing to do”, is why do we actually need more citizen participation in our city?
You need to consider two things:
What do I actually expect (as a civil servant) from citizen propositions, contributed ideas that could create impact, and what do I intend to with the inputs (form policy, gain opinion, implement a project)?
Can I put concrete numbers on “what is a success” is for each discussion (number of participants, number of contributions)?
We know these are two of the trickiest questions to answer: firstly, because they demand a lot thinking of time (a very scarce resource, we know!), and secondly because stating expectations implies consequences if you don’t meet them.
But setting expectations means setting goals. It gives you something to aim for, and ensures your team can measure the project’s success easily.
Tackling these issues.
The best way to take on big issues? Collaboratively!
It’s time to practise what is preached. Putting concerns and fears out in the open allows for constructive feedback, and offers the ability for you to learn from other civil servants. Our Territoires Fédérateurs workshops are structured in such a way that these concerns can be addressed in a safe space with your peers from other territories, thus considering different viewpoints, allowing for fears to be defused, and ensuring collective and implementable conclusions can be drawn.
Take the leap! The sooner you involve your citizens, the sooner you’ll gain deep insights into your community that can help you form more effective policy.
Get in touch — firstname.lastname@example.org — to find out our schedule of citizen participation workshops, and for a full overview of the Territoires Fédérateurs programme.