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Appearing before voters every five years is not enough

  • Monday, February 27, 2023

  • Xavier Roseren, Member of Parliament for Haute-Savoie, has chosen the citizen participation platform Fluicity to consult the residents of his constituency on the work carried out at the Assembly. He explains what the Citizen Council is and what he expects from it.

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    Why did you choose Fluicity to support your parliamentary work?

    I am currently serving my second term. During the second term, we know that we need to engage more in participatory democracy, not just as a buzzword but with concrete actions. It was a campaign commitment because we understand that appearing before voters every five years, while democratic and important, is not sufficient. We need to have a strong connection with the community.

    Naturally, I already have a strong connection with elected officials. I have thirty-two municipalities in my constituency, and I often meet with them. I am a former mayor of the town of Les Houches, so the relationship with elected officials was evident to me.

    Then we have social media. The problem with social media is that it often amplifies extremes. It does not represent the majority of people, and what we wanted was something balanced, where we could have meaningful debates. Although social media is very useful for disseminating information, it is not an exceptional tool for participatory democracy.

    That's why we were looking for a product. The Fluicity platform attracted us because it has a friendly team and the technical aspects seemed good to us. It is also within the budget range of a Member of Parliament.

    Does this platform work equally well for a municipality or a constituency?

    Implementing it at a national level is more challenging, but at the municipal level, it is truly relevant. I don't understand why there are still municipalities that do not have this tool for all their projects.

    However, it takes time, it's not mandatory, and we may face some backlash, so we should not be afraid of dialogue. I believe that the main obstacle, at least for some municipalities, is that they lack trust and may not necessarily want to engage in discussions with the public. When they do, they often do the bare minimum to keep it as sanitized as possible. In my constituency, we are not afraid of dialogue, and although we often don't agree, that's how we move forward.

    How will you use the platform at the constituency level? We wanted something that would be representative of the constituency, involving people who hold moderate views, not just extremes on either side. That's why we implemented this platform.

    We use it in two ways: with broad, open questions for everyone, and a citizen council through which we directly involve people in parliamentary work. Initially, we aimed to have between fifty and a hundred people enrolled in this citizen council, and today we have over two hundred registered on the platform.

    The next step is to actively engage this Citizen Council with dedicated time on the platform and physical meetings to complement it.

    What exactly does this Citizen Council entail?

    The idea is to anticipate what will come up in the National Assembly and to foster broader debates by bringing in experts on the respective subjects. We might even consider voting on certain proposals to guide my voting in the Assembly. Although my vote remains a personal one, I will genuinely take the Citizen Council into account, and if I don't, I will explain why.

    We have a local focus and a national focus. At the national level, participants will work on bills, drafting amendments, and interventions in committees, for example, during government question sessions. At the local level, we may have written questions and address local issues, such as air quality or hospitals, through inquiries to local authorities.

    How did you promote this platform to the citizens in your constituency? We used various communication tools: word of mouth, a successful social media campaign for registrations, a launch meeting, and a dedicated pamphlet that was sent to 57,000 households. The pamphlet was our primary tool for launching the Citizen Council. The press has also supported our initiative because having such a well-established and functioning platform is truly innovative.

    When we look at the statistics on our platform, we can clearly see spikes in visits and registrations when there is media coverage or leaflet distribution. We aimed for 50 to 100 registrations in the citizen council, and we have far exceeded those goals. We are very pleased with the results, and we believe this approach is essential.

    What advice would you give to elected officials for implementing an online participatory democracy platform?

    Either commit fully to it or don't do it at all. Because when you do it just a little, for example, by holding a public meeting once a year, people will attend with a lot of dissatisfaction, and it may lead to the cessation of public meetings or unpleasant experiences. Similarly, on social media, there are so many discontented individuals who come to disrupt things with their comments, making it difficult to manage.

    When you have a consistent engagement throughout the year and genuinely give people the opportunity to speak, discuss, and exchange ideas through a dedicated tool, you shift from a very negative environment to a positive one where we can build things together.

    For more information on the experiences of public actors in online citizen consultation, please visit this link.