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Yann Yves Biffe: "Articulate digital and face-to-face to consult your citizens"

  • Friday, June 3, 2022

  • Blog cover image

    The city of Les Sables d'Olonne has just finalized an unprecedented consultation on the future of a statue in the public space. An innovative approach, mixing physical and digital participation while measuring representativeness, thanks to an identity verification and anonymization technology.

    Interview with Yann Yves Biffe, DGA of Les Sables d'Olonne

    Interview with Julie de Pimodan, Co-founder and CEO of Fluicity

    Could you introduce yourself?

    I am the deputy general manager in charge of services to the population. This covers the fields of education, sports, culture and user relations.

    Why did you launch this citizen consultation in Sables d'Olonne?

    We had already thought about it in the past, but we had never been fully convinced by the existing digital systems, notably because of the question of the qualification of participation. Historically, we were more interested in physical devices than digital ones, but thanks to a very successful physical consultation on a land development project, the elected officials have evolved in the idea of taking the pulse of the population more regularly. Initially, for this vote, which had the objective of determining the future of a statue in the public space, we had imagined a consultation based on the electoral list, but then we discarded the principle in order to start with something broader to give the possibility to people who are not registered (second homes) to vote. This led us to a terrain that was ultimately a little further away from the strict electoral procedure, but always keeping this desire to qualify the participation.

    What do you mean by a qualified participation?

    For us, qualifying participation means being able to verify who participates. There is no such thing as good or bad participatory democracy: all layers of opinion are relevant, from year-round residents to people on vacation. What is important for us is to define what we want to measure and stick to it. In the context of this consultation, it was the Sables d'Olonne in the broadest sense. From that point on, we had to be able to certify that the people who participated met this definition and not any interest or pressure groups. We therefore selected Fluicity, a solution that allowed us to control the identity of the participants, while respecting their anonymity.

    How did the citizens react to this consultation, what were the benefits for the Commune?

    Many citizens came to thank us for having been able to give their opinion under these conditions. At the same time, this consultation gave us a basis for the city's position on the subject in question, namely the future of a statue on the public domain.

    In terms of volume, we only really collected the opinions of 4,000 people, which is low compared to the population of the city, but very satisfactory compared to other participation mechanisms.

    From the point of view of representativeness, the population of Les Sables-d'Olonne is relatively old and this was reflected in the results of the consultation: the most represented population is between 71 and 81 years old and 55% voted at the ballot box and 45% on the Internet. This was relatively surprising, but it proves that there was no generational barrier to internet voting.

    Internally, this consultation has allowed us to really commit the elected officials to the principle of regularly consulting the population. So we have already set the next consultation for November of this year, the theme still to be defined.

    What was the innovation of this device?

    Our goal was not to innovate for the sake of innovating, but to get a result. However, we were pioneers in two aspects:

    • Ensuring the qualification of the participation, while assuming to put barriers to entry for identity verification. Fluicity allowed us to verify the identity of the voters, to ensure their anonymity, but also to check that there were no duplicates with the voters in the polling station.
    • To offer residents the possibility to vote in parallel polling stations.

    Fluicity allowed us to verify the identity of the voters, to ensure their anonymity, but also to verify that there were no duplicates with the voters in the polling station.

    How did you experience the operational implementation of such a system, what would you recommend to municipalities wishing to launch such a project?

    It was relatively simple, and thanks to our service provider, we didn't need a lot of human resources for the digital part. On the physical part, it required a bit of organization, but compared to a classic election system, it was quite light. Concerning the choice of the mode of consultation, I think that all the options are good, but that one must make a choice and stick to it. If we opt for a very open consultation, we can hope for a nice volume of contributions, but the analysis and interpretation will perhaps be more complex. On the other hand, if you want to control with identity documents, you have to know from the start that this will lower the participation rate, but that each answer will have a real value. So it's a political choice that needs to be made at the outset, and you need to be clear internally about what that means. My second piece of advice would be to couple the internet consultation with the physical consultation. This double approach was really appreciated by the inhabitants who said that we were thinking of everyone.