Your participation journey starts with an idea of how to include citizens in a meaningful way, and it ends with a successful, inclusive project with citizen ownership. In many cases, you identify options for digital participation. At the same time, there are citizens or even groups of citizens that will not be able to participate digitally – reasons might be lack of digital access, limited digital literacy or lack of trust in digital tools. As PartiCipate, we always promote a blended participation approach. Blended participation is the smart combination of in-person and digital participation, ensuring that no one is left behind (LNOB).
We have formulated some key messages on how to practically implement a blended participation approach:
Even though it reaches more citizens than in-person participation, there will still be citizens that cannot participate: Not everyone has a smartphone or a stable internet connection. Rural areas in particular experience challenges when it comes to the necessary digital infrastructure.
Therefore, blended participation can be the best approach. By developing both in-person and digital participation offers, you can adapt to citizens’ needs and preferences. This combination of approaches can facilitate and encourage communication by offering participatory tools that work for everyone.
Integrating citizens into the debate is key when it comes to public planning projects, political endeavours, and similar activities. Internet connectivity enables more citizens to participate in discussions than ever before, leading to transparency and legitimacy as well as ownership.
Through digital participation, you can achieve efficiency, innovation, and inclusion. Citizens will feel that they are being heard, which in turn empowers them and can lead to even more participation. Often, those affected by a planning project have the best ideas for implementation and through digital participation, you can easily tap into the knowledge of the neighbourhood or region.
Those that would not typically participate in in-person events have a much lower threshold for active engagement with online participation tools. They are often anonymous and easy to use, which lowers inhibitions and eliminates challenges like time or travel constraints, meaning you can reach whole new groups of the population.
Of course, digital participation is no perfect solution. There are some downsides to this methodology. For example, digital participation depends on constant innovation and the investment of time and consideration. It needs a lot of resources and capacity development, not only during the participation process, but afterwards as well when evaluating the responses or results.
Digital participation also gives rise to new questions that advisory approaches must respond to. The right to the protection of privacy, data security and individual data sovereignty; questions surrounding the necessary digital skills and the digital infrastructure that is required to be able to participate in the online discourse; expanded and new forms of manipulation and propaganda as well as questions about respecting democratic rights and freedoms in the digital arena.
Before choosing tools and platforms for your online participation journey, make sure to speak with your team about responsibilities, time frames, opportunities, risks, and expectations. Most importantly, the results of your participation journey need to feed into an action plan or a change process so that participants see the impact of their participation!
It ensures inclusive implementation. In keeping with the digital principle of ‘understanding your local ecosystem’, for every participation process we start with a context-specific consideration which includes factors such as the utilisation rates of various digital applications as well as the risk of further excluding certain population groups.