Triumph using channel mix in participatory budgeting

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Does your participatory budgeting process put all eggs in one basket?

Of course, I know that more participation channels mean more effort, money, problems, etc..

But more channels also mean that you can reach to different people. Not everyone will use the web, or SMS, or be present in-person. All because different people have different lives, schedules, mobility issues, etc..

But do you want all? Or just those that show up in a specific place at a specific point of time?

Whichever phase you’re in, to achieve greatest participation you should make available as many channels as possible.

Who are your citizens? What age? What gender? Local or foreigner? Do they belong to specific cultures? What is their education level? Work on a channel mix that allows all them take part.

If you’re in preparatory phase (telling people about the process, explaining, etc.) you can use:

In-person

In every phase, in-person events are always important. But you should start with them from scratch.

Meet with people and tell them in the eye how the process will happen and what you expect from them. Also be clear about what this process is not about. Don’t let them have false expectations.

Media

Media can be you best or worst friend. But they are always in search for great news and in first hand. So make sure you “feed” them well.

Invite them for the official opening of the process.

Keep them invited to and updated about all events or stages of your PB process. Yes, that’s before and after. Many won’t be able to show, but they can still help you promote.

Don’t forget all kinds of media your region has, i.e. printed, TV, radio, web.

Web

Provide a simple website with all the regulations, but most of all that can answer all their questions. A comprehensive and clear “frequent asked questions” section in essential.

Make sure the design is clear, simple, intuitive and responsive.

The website should also have an easy and painless way for citizens to register. Don’t exaggerate on the number of fields asked. I know it’s good for statistical reasons, but bad to get people to register.

Social Media

Create specific pages to interact with your citizens about participatory budgeting.

You can use your existing social media presence to announce. But don’t use them to gather contributes. The probability of negative contamination from other non-related subjects is high.

Also provide social media banners that people can use.

Email

Use your current email list to make sure your citizens know about the project.

Send them at least 3 emails. 1 month before the event for them to know about them and schedule their agenda. 1 week before for them to remember it. And 1 day before… just to make sure.

Physical media marketing

Produce some nice physical leaflets, brochures.

If you can print and distribute many, make the PDF available on your website.

In the proposal gathering phase

In-person

You can use a large variety of methods to manage in-person proposal gathering.

My personal experience’s based only on two methods. That doesn’t mean the others are bad… it means I haven’t worked with them.

One of them consists on in-person presentation of the projects by their authors/proponents. This is a good time to feel the emotion behind the project. Sometimes you can be surprised after a deceiving bad title & description.

You can also use visual tools such as post-its, whiteboards, cards or monopoly notes to boost brainstorming sessions. Letting people “play” helps the decision develop and evolve.

Website

Your website should have a simple form to ease this process.

Don’t take for granted that it’s easy. Test it with real people! (your grandma is a nice beta tester)

Read my other posts about my thoughts on allowing online proposal submission.

Paper submissions

Not everyone has internet access. Make sure you have a fallback to maximize participation. That’s when the Latin expression “nemo resideo” applies.

In the project evaluation phase (when you are studying or detailing the process)

Note: different countries develop this phase in diverse ways. For some, this a phase only for verification by the organization technicians. For others, there’s also a wide engagement with citizens, committees or other kind of structures.

In-person

The only one who you must never forget to engage is the proponent.

Website

Make sure citizens can check project status at any given time. It is important for them to be able not to lose sight of the projects.

Email for status

And even if they don’t come to you actively, reach them by email with frequency.

Project evaluation can last from 1 month to a couple of them. It is too long to be quite.

In the dissemination phase (when you are promoting projects for voting)

Offline (leaflets, posters, presentation sessions)

Make some nice offline promotion media that share a common design. Print them out, make them available on your website and on social media.

They will be useful for your citizens to help you market the process and the projects.

Media

Feed the media with stories about the projects. Use facts, numbers, and proponent stories. Basically use everything remotely interesting.

Give them first hand to the media, but use them afterwards on social media and newsletters.

Social media

Use their networking factor to spread your message. Post as often as possible. Use the schedule feature to make your social presence dynamic but manageable.

Indirect channels – proponentes

Remember the importance proponents have in this phase.

Make them process champions and they will promote it for you!

They’ll talk to their friend, family, colleagues… or even the pope to assure their project a fair chance of winning.

Emails

Use your contacts and those from citizens already registered to notify process status and get people engaged.

In the voting phase

Note: Voting is a thin participation. It should be quick and painless process. Catch participation as soon as possible and with the lowest possible number of interactions.

Responsive Web voting

Provide citizens with a platform where they can vote with ease.

At Participare for example we even let them vote before registration validation. Of course we only account for their vote after validation. But that way we avoid having too many interactions. In the fast-paced world we live in people don’t stop long for anything. So cut steps.

Also have a simple registration form.

With a responsive platform you can get people voting using their PC, laptop, tablet or even smartphone.

In-person

Whenever possible allow voting to be in-person. This helps with trust but most of all with getting contribution from specific citizens. It targets older people, under educated or marginalized.

Paper ballots

As a fallback you should have paper ballots.

I know it’s the least scalable method but it will help you get through those less used to ICT or with bigger trust issues.

Have a simple and clear ballot. People should feel they are clearly voting for the proposal they’ve chosen.

Ovar municipality even sent the ballots to citizen’s homes with return envelope and allowed citizens to print it from the website.

Tablet or the modern ballot box

Having a tablet interface to your participation platform can provide a transparent way of creating a modern ballot box. You drop paper and you still give citizens’ the “voting feeling”.

Tip: An easy and cheap way is if the website is responsive.

SMS

Most people have internet. But even more have phones.

Allowing SMS voting is an easy way to get people participating.

You’ll have to address issues such as previous registration, or letting everyone vote. Will the voting SMS have a cost for the citizen or not?

With Participare we also foreseen messages with registration included… but it depends on your rules.

In the results disclosure phase

Organize physical event

People like to feel cherished.

I highly recommend you to organize a final ceremony where you recognize every proponent individually. Give them their 15’’ of fame.

Newsletter

Send the final results to everyone.

Even those that only took 10 seconds of their life to vote.

Media

Involve the media so that they continue following the process throughout execution.

This will help next editions.

SMS

If you have used SMS for voting. Send one last one thanking and giving final feedback on the process.

In the evaluation phase

Newsletter

Use the emails gathered to communicate.

Keep your citizens posted and enable sharing features to keep people engaged.

Citizen feedback

Ask citizens for their feedback. Either online and offline.

Learn from what they say, but don’t ask long or a large number of questions.

Keep It Simple.

Online Forums

You can also use online forums to maintain an active conversation with your citizens, exchanging ideas on what could be improved.

Writen by César Silva @ ChangeTomorrow

You can reach me at cesar@changetomorrow.io

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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