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Citizen participation: a strong commitment for the 2020 Municipalities

  • Thursday, March 5, 2020

  • Blog cover image

    Will the 2020 municipal elections be the turning point for citizen participation?

    In any case, this is the wish of many citizens, who are expressing themselves for a more direct and participative local democracy. The candidates for the Municipal elections seem to have heard this call. Co-constructed programs and promises of a more participative mandate are multiplying or being renewed, especially in the metropolises (Paris, Bordeaux, Grenoble...). But citizen participation should not be the exclusive domain of large cities. More than just a line on the election platform, it constitutes a major commitment and opportunity for future mayors. Anything but an empty promise.

    A great expectation of citizens for the 2020 Municipalities

    The polls are numerous and do not really leave any room for doubt. As early as June 2019, 89% of citizens considered that candidates for the 2020 Municipalsshould co-construct their program with them. 71% made listening to residents a priority.

    A basic trend that was already expressed in 2018, outside of the election period, in a study by the Observatoire des usages émergents de la ville. 3/4 of French people wanted to be more involved in major decisions concerning their neighborhood or municipality. 64% called for the implementation of a participatory budget. A device used by 6 communes in 2014 and more than 200 today, of all sizes.

    Extract from the infographic of the Observatory of Emerging Uses of the City

    To draw a comparison with 2014, let's add that citizen lists have gone from anecdotal ten to an estimated 300 to 400 for the Municipal 2020.

    The contributions to the Great National Debate also prove the appetite of the French for participation. There are 1,932,881 in all (1,364,000 contributions to closed questions and 569,020 contributions to open proposals).

    Citizens and mayors: a common desire to be heard

    Obviously, this desire for participation cannot be separated from a deep social dimension. Citizens need to be heard and to be given the means to act**. The local level is the most accessible level for taking action. It is also the place of trust: 71% of citizens trust their mayor** above all other elected officials. A (precious) link that connects them to institutions. The Municipals 2020 are an opportunity to renew this link, to unite voices, and to bring together the demands of communities (social justice, access to public services, budgets at half-mast, medical deserts, unequal access to employment, etc.).

    The question is how to communicate and work effectively between citizens and elected officials. Here again, citizen participation offers a great opportunity.

    **Integrating citizens into the municipal agenda

    Citizen participation can be seen as a threat to elected officials, who see their regal status undermined. If it necessarily modifies the role of the mayor (and we will mention it), it does not aim to replace them at all. Citizen participation reinforces the municipal program. It allows the mayor to solicit the population on specific themes, defined during the campaign: improving the city's cleanliness for example, renovating the downtown area, defining environmental priorities, etc. The contributions of citizens make it possible to identify concrete needs, and even to identify certain underestimated trends. Digital participation tools** facilitate dialogue, but also the involvement of certain populations, notably young people or working people (less available for public meetings or neighborhood councils).

    In addition to this practical aspect, citizen participation makes it possible to take into account a new complexity. The environment, purchasing power, justice... Citizens' struggles and priorities have become plural, so much so that environmental action can sometimes take precedence over economic concerns and vice versa. Frequent consultation with citizens is a way to not be surprised by this complexity, to regularly analyze trends and to better shape your municipal program.

    Feeling more trust and transparency, residents are more likely to take action. Frustration gives way to reflection and collaboration. The program is less challenged and can proceed more smoothly.

    2020 Municipalities: the starting point for a new collaboration

    Citizen participation has come a long way since 2014 in terms of tools, awareness and methodology. Unfortunately, a gap persists between metropolises and smaller municipalities, which are still poorly equipped with digital citizen participation tools. 81% of metropolises vs. 29% of large cities (with more than 100,000 inhabitants) and only 4% of small and medium-sized cities (between 5,000 and 100,000 inhabitants). The State has its share of responsibility in the acculturation of municipalities. But the latter also have a driving role to play: local democracy will never be achieved without their expertise and support.

    The organization of the Great National Debate, for example, has raised organizational flaws and reluctance that must be addressed. The six years of the 2020 municipal mandate must be used to address this in depth. It is an opportunity to reinvent the rules at the local level, in collaboration with citizens. It is also an opportunity to be bold and experimental. What if we came up with new ways to communicate about the next city event? What if we organized a survey on pedestrianizing downtown? What if we set an envelope for a participatory budget? What if we started educating city staff about participation?

    Change does not have to be sudden to be effective. It does, however, require conviction and a new organization of the decision-making process. The role of mayors is also changing: guarantors of a living democracy, facilitators of citizen action, guardians of collaborative governance... Their strength will be to find the levers that others do not dare to use.

    What if we really got going, with the 2020 Municipalities?

    Fluicity supports you in your citizen participation projects.

    For several years now, civic tech has been studying and experimenting with uses. They design tools and methodologies entirely dedicated to co-construction** - where social networks have failed to live up to their promise of contributing to the general interest. Far from partisan ideologies, they open up a new field of collaboration between elected officials and residents, based on trust and transparency. Contact us