A program that successfully grows citizen awareness and action requires critically thinking through three broad stages: identification, engagement, and evaluation. The process requires research to effectively diagnose the problem, tailored mobilisation strategies to spur action, and thoughtful and honest reflection to understand progress.
Identify hindrances to participation.
- Assess the capacities, knowledge and motivations of your stakeholders.
- Ensure that the capabilities to participate exist, and create participation procedures that match them. Consider availability of resources to enhance capabilities.
- Ensure access to knowledge about participation. Information should be available to and comprehensible by interested audiences.
- Understand political apathy and why citizens do not want to engage. Examine research on trust in the public sector, political expectations gap, and other notable factors of low desire to participate.
Case Study: In October 2015 a fire broke out in a Bucharest club during a concert - 64 young people died because hospitals were not equipped with enough resources to treat them. Together with doctors in those hospitals, citizens started deliver what was needed to those injured and monitoring purchases and distribution in spreadsheets. The effort saved many lives. It was also strategically leveraged to both motivate critical discussion on health infrastructure, and raise public scrutiny of public procurement related to hospitals.
Engage with citizens by encouraing citizens to spur action.
- Apply a “user-centered” approach.
- Learn about the citizen perspective through direct questions and involvement. Assuming needs or relying on third-party information is risky, and may steer you toward applying an ineffective approach.
- Think about partnerships with intermediaries whose job it is to work directly with communities. Pay close attention to the approaches and effectiveness of intermediaries to determine which should be partners based on their ability to raise and represent citizen voices.
- Create incentives for priority stakeholders.
- Consider linking your issue to that of an organisation that works with your same target group. Work with this partner to integrate new ideas into their approach that will still resonate with their stakeholders.
- Figure out what else motivates your target audience. Start from what people care about in their daily lives, and see how that intersects with open government and open data. This is an important strategy for showing citizens that opening of government concerns them on a personal level.
Case study: In Romania, there is a provision in the public finance law which allows citizens to ask for a public debate on the budget and formulate amendments to that budget. No one knew about that provision. However, people cared that there was an abandoned theater in their neighbourhood, and that city hall was not allocating funds to refurbish it. They learned about the legal provision, asked for a public debate on budgets, and secured the allocation of funding for the theater.
Evaluate progress of citizen engagement.
- Determine how to responsibly create indicators of progress.
- When collecting data on citizen behavior, follow responsible data practices. Ensure that they first know what you are collecting and why, and are able to provide consent to do so.
- Track citizen engagement patterns to understand when, how, why people are participating. A deeper understanding of behaviors will help to inform the design of good engagement approaches.
- Critically assess gaps.
- Ask “who is not around the table?” In other words, some groups might be completely excluded due to their vulnerability. Voices from groups such as minorities, elderly individuals, or youth might be missing, and can require different types of engagement.
- Encourage citizen reflection on processes and gather feedback to inform iterations on them.
Citizens are diverse in perspectives, backgrounds, and desires. To motivate participation then, a an engagement process must be flexible and tailored to specific audiences. The key to creating a program that effectively raises consciousness and feelings of responsibility is to know your audience - how they think and act. Leveraging these understandings at all stages of the process will contribute to a citizenry that see themselves in programs and services intended to support them.