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How to encourage citizen participation in local life

  • Thursday, September 17, 2020

  • The city is an ecosystem in which each citizen plays a role: whether he or she is already involved in local democracy, a shopkeeper, a casual worker, or a simple resident... Based on their experience, elected officials and local authorities are trying to stimulate the involvement of this plurality of citizens in local life. A challenge that this plurality precisely makes complex!

    How can we ensure that it is not always the same people who express themselves? What means exist to arouse the interest of residents and facilitate their participation? How can we set up a network of active citizens on our territory?

    As a civic tech, Fluicity took care to study the question.

    Blog cover image

    Understanding the motivations for participation

    When we talk about citizen participation, we immediately think of consultation devices and consultation. These tools are valuable for connecting voices and managing projects. But communities must first ask themselves a question: what motivates residents to get involved?

    In their analysis Participate why? Sketch of a Sociology of Engagement in Participatory Budgets, Alice Mazeau and Julien Talpin highlight 4 motivational levers: civic duty, personal interest, sociability and cognitive enrichment.

    **1. Civic duty

    It will have an impact on people who are already involved, or at least aware of their citizen responsibility. But it will probably struggle to gather a clear majority.

    The 3 other levers are valuable to capture different audiences.

    **2. Self-interest

    Citizens will more easily take part in a project or a debate if they see a direct impact on their quality of life. In other words, if the time invested is worth it!

    How can we activate this lever? By proposing concrete projects to citizens. By being clear about the objectives and benefits that residents will find in their daily lives. Finally, by diversifying the projects in order to diversify the audiences likely to be interested in them: projects for seniors, for specific neighborhoods, for the active population, etc.

    Illustration showing citizens proposing ideas for local life](how-to-foster-citizen-engagement-local-life.png)

    3. Sociability

    Since local life is not just a community affair, it must be brought out of the confines of town halls and community houses! Places of leisure, culture or association premises can perfectly host public meetings, and combine them with more festive events. Let's remember that exchange and collective are the soil of citizen participation.

    Example of an initiative: In the 15th arrondissement of Paris, each neighborhood council organizes an annual party. This is an opportunity to have fun with the family while having the possibility to discuss citizenship with the members of the council.

    4. Cognitive enrichment

    Why participate? How do the processes and systems work? [What are the competencies of the commune? How to carry out a public action project? .... So many exciting questions that citizens can discover! As long as we know how to arouse their curiosity and solicit their attention.

    How can we do this? By involving them directly in the organization of projects or debates. By making them participate in the reflection on projects of general interest. In short, by giving them an active role.

    Examples of initiatives :

    In Aubange, citizens are regularly solicited on Fluicity on land use projects.

    For example, they could choose between two proposals for the development of a public square based on sketches and projections. A call for ideas was also launched to decide on the equipment of a large square, in the heart of the city.

    All of these levers make it possible to value the role of citizens in local life. Feeling listened to and solicited, they are more inclined to get involved frequently and over the long term.

    Read more: 3 ways to involve citizens in regional planning

    Communicating about initiatives and their objectives

    Want to get citizens involved? Gather their ideas for the city and opinion trends? Let them know! Many residents miss out on the consultation process just because they didn't know about it.

    Communication is not an afterthought and should be anticipated before the launch of a consultation.

    It is at the heart of 2 essential issues:

    **1. Making the process known to as many people as possible

    Social networks, the city's website, flyers, posters, the municipal newspaper... There are many communication channels. Each one allows you to reach a specific target: it's up to you to choose the different media that will allow you to communicate with a maximum number of residents.

    You can also get in touch with strategic local actors: associations, inclusion actors, active citizens in neighborhood councils, cultural animators, etc. These citizen "ambassadors " will help **to make participatory projects known (**by giving them a certain credibility) and to generate a stronger commitment, .

    2. Explain why to get involved

    Engage yes, but how and why? Will my voice really be taken into account? These are all questions that echo what we mentioned earlier: is the investment worth it? Communication is an opportunity to prove it.

    For example, by explaining the objective of participation: why did you choose to consult on this specific project? Is it part of a long-term ambition? Is it an experiment? What is the scope of action granted to citizens? etc.

    Example of an initiative: for its first participatory budget, the municipality of Bertrix took care to explain all the details to the inhabitants. Several educational articles were published directly on the Fluicity platform. Clear explanations beforehand that allow to establish a contract of trust.

    Results: in 1 month, 10% of the population was mobilized and 45 citizen projects were proposed on Fluicity. A success!

    Discover the detailed use case of the first participative budget of Bertrix.

    You can also explain how the participation will be taken into account. And above all, disseminate widely the outcome of the project (data obtained, next steps, etc.) to show its impact.

    As a citizen, one wonders if one's opinion will be listened to and considered. If I speak in an empty box and nothing happens behind it, there is no point.

    Camille Morio, researcher specialized in the law of participatory democracy. (extract from our interview "The voices of democracy")

    Providing the right conditions to get involved

    1. Adapting to schedules

    Schedules, location, length of meetings or projects... all of these elements can make participation easier or more difficult. For example, the working population will find it difficult to participate in meetings or neighborhood councils during the day. They will be more receptive to online participation (as will young people) or on weekends. On the contrary, physical meetings will be preferred by seniors, generally during the day.

    Depending on the project and its target, it is therefore advisable to adapt the conditions of participation. And do not hesitate to go directly to meet your target population: shops, cultural, sports or associative places, events, markets, people's homes, etc.

    **Build a network of active citizens

    The advantage of an online platform is undeniable for informing, communicating, collecting ideas, analyzing, etc. Everything on the same tool! Unlike social networks, the consultation tool** invites constructive reflection and allows for more peaceful exchanges (see our article on the subject "Why social networks cannot be a place for democratic debate").

    Citizens invested on the platform are more quickly mobilized for large-scale projects (participatory budget, development project, thematic consultations...). This is especially true if the dialogue and the participative processes are renewed frequently.

    On Fluicity, it is possible to create territorial spaces grouping several municipalities. This is very practical for consultations on a regional scale for example, which immediately benefit from a network of active citizens in several communities. This is the case for the Bureau Économique de la Province de Namur.

    Read more

    2. To give confidence

    Talking about the conditions of engagement, it is inevitable to raise the subject of trust.

    First of all, there is trust in the elected officials and in the good faith of their approach. Communication on the objectives of the consultation, its progress and its results (mentioned above) plays a direct role in creating this relationship of trust. Note that the direct involvement of elected officials will have a greater impact.

    80% of French people believe that the organization of a consultation process by an elected official is a sign of attention that inspires confidence.

    Barometer of French opinion on local consultation and public decision making](

    Self-confidence** is also essential. Many citizens may feel intimidated or illegitimate to participate due to a lack of knowledge about a subject.

    Two elements can help build their confidence and develop their culture of participation:

    • sharing information and knowledge about consultation topics - early enough to allow citizens to think about them. The ideas proposed will be of better quality!
    • welcome their proposals with kindness, and demonstrate pedagogy.

    In order for citizen co-construction to be effective, we must be ready to hear what the inhabitants will tell us. Sometimes, they will propose things that are unfeasible, because they do not know all the constraints of the administration.

    Let's take the time to listen to them and ask ourselves questions. Let's take the time to listen to them and ask ourselves questions, and let's not get bogged down by even the most far-fetched and complex proposals. Then, let's surround ourselves with experts.

    Let's trust the municipal services that will allow us to bring their analysis and to reflect on the inhabitants' proposals (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, risks...). The final decision will be made by elected officials.

    Sébastien Prévot, cabinet director in Saran (Interview Fluicity, Les Voix de la démocratie)

    More details can be found on this article about participatory budgets.