Full transparency as an engagement catalyzer

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People engage more in a confidence environment. That is how they behave in society.

So, make them comfortable about all stages of the process.

The key aspects are:

  • Be clear
  • Anticipate
  • Opt for simple approaches

I’ll go through some basic ideas, but as always please feel free to give me your feedback.

During preparation / dissemination:

  • Write clear rules, so that a person with low education can understand. If those feel secure, then you’ll have solid foundation for the rest of the process.
  • Share why you’ve taken your rules in certain direction. Some can be easier than others to understand why. You should illuminate the road. Why 2 votes per person? Why only 1 proposal per person? Why certain regions/themes have higher weight in votes or percentage of money allocated?

During idea gathering / discussion:

  • Heed your citizens, don’t just listen. Try to understand the underlying meaning of their words. They can sometimes be expressing one idea, but the reason may be of greater importance. “To have a toilet in the public library” can seem an uninspired proposal. That’s until you understand there’s no toilet in a 200 meters radius and there’re dozens of older people using the library every day.
  • Be crystal clear the reasons behind refusing a proposal. Try to understand if with a small twitch the proposal would became acceptable. Or even, if the proposal will be acceptable in another context (i.e. is a great idea, but it will force you to work with other public agencies and apply for specific financing to get it done).
  • Always compliment good ideas. You’ll know when they show up. Usually they are creative, not a repetition, and have wide impact.
  • If the idea presented has a wider potential don’t hesitate in stating it and trying to work with the proponent to make the project bigger. Don’t just be pleased by what is presented. “I want disabled people prepared walkway on my street”, why not make it “let’s create disabled people mobility features on the district”

During technical evaluation:

  • Keep citizens posted about work being done, meetings being held, and their outcomes.
  • Be clear about decisions made in this stage, as in most cases citizens engagement will be thinner than in other stages.
  • Gasp the experience and provide inputs for next year edition, make proposal failing in this stage as low as possible. But make this in a public way, don’t keep feedback only for yourself. This will allow citizens the change of learning side by side with you.
  • Get proponents involved as much as possible.
  • If you have time/team/will, create discussion committees and allow citizens to be a part of them.

During voting:

  • Clear rules on who, where, how are essential. Make sure everyone knows them.
  • Have a good identity control system, which integrates all voting channels.
  • Make available simple tools for citizens to vote. The web interface should be responsive to adapt to nowadays smartphone penetration. Paper ballots should be simple in order not to make people confused on what they are voting for.
  • Create as many voting channels as possible. People should have the feeling that if they want to vote, they can. Because there’s always a way to do it, even if they have some set back, and can’t be physically present, or if they don’t know how to use the internet, or if the internet fails, or even if they only have 1 minute to spare in their busy lives.

On results disclosure:

  • Have a clear and widespread communication. Be crystal clear on who won, and highlight those participation indicators with better scores. Success is also what people see.
  • Give partial results, per channel, per age group, per sex. This will help citizens to feel part of a bigger group and identify themselves with their own tribe.

Throughout execution:

  • As I spoken in previous posts, communicate clear and as much as possible. If you speak about the execution people will feel the ongoing process.
  • Use the transformation narrative in your advantage. How it was and how it became is a powerful tool.
  • Be clear about any problems you come up with, and your efforts to overcome them. Empathy will help you go through this not so good moments.

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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