Idea collection: a problem or an opportunity?


There are several theories for idea or proposal gathering, which diverse greatly in concept, implementation effort and results.

Some of the more common are:

  • Have an online and/or offline way for idea gathering;
    • Simple surveying form (such as that available in Participare);
    • Complex online platforms that allow online idea discussion;
    • More radical ideas such as promotion actions in public spaces;
  • Promote in-person workshops for idea gathering:
    • Based on simple presentation and in-person screening for unviable situations, with or without voting for best proposals to go to final voting;
    • With round table methods to gather consensus;
    • With idea generation and development methods, such as brainstorming and SWOT analysis;
  • Gather ideas from the executive and/or opinion leaders;

Of course every method has advantages and disadvantages. Some require more personal effort, others more money.

But what are the main problems and opportunities?

In problems I would highlight:

  • Too many ideas… which fragment votes and support

Having many ideas is good as far as “participation number” is concerned, don’t get me wrong.

But inevitably people will have too many options and the decision will be harder… and making voting harder lowers participation.

There must be winners and losers, so you shouldn’t have only 2 or 3 proposals to choose from. A good ratio between the number of proposals and the available budget is advisable. What is it? It depends of many local variables I think. But if I had to bet I would say there should be proposals that sum up to 5x or 10x total available budget.

  • Badly conceived ideas (e.g. no reasonably explanation, no budget)

This usually occurs in processes that collect all kind of ideas without any concern of explaining what an idea is or what a proposal should be…

If you allow an idea which oversees budget to get to voting phase then you’ll have a problem if it gets voted. You should also avoid ideas that involve several other entities in order to execute, as there will be most probable problems implementing them.

If you allow undetailed proposals, you’ll get problems communicating as well as executing (if it gets there).

Don’t get me wrong. They might be good ideas… but a proposal is an idea with a plan. People should vote for proposals, not ideas.

People should vote for proposals, not ideas.

And in opportunities I would highlight:

  • Favors minorities

Participatory budgeting favors minorities participation as they can have a more direct saying, present and defend more focalized ideas that can serve them.

One of your main concerns is that you should make sure your communication is more directed.

  • Long tail proposals

Would you remember to propose the construction of toilets in a public library? Well, this is the kind of ideas which have great impact but skip the radars. It is a real project from New York city!

But like this many other examples exist around the world.
Look for specific things, out of the radar, which can make a real difference.

Writen by César Silva @ ChangeTomorrow

You can reach me at

This blog is a place of experience and thoughts sharing around democracy, participatory initiatives and citizen engagement.

This blog reflects the thoughts of ChangeTomorrow team, its guest bloggers or interviewers.

ChangeTomorrow is a provider of Participatory Budgeting solution called Participare and a spinoff of portuguese market leader WireMaze.

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