GovInnovate Brief

The beginners guide to creating meaningful interactions with citizens

Posted by GovInnovate Team on 26-Feb-2016 12:21:04


Citizen engagement with government is constantly evolving, as mobile technologies and new methods for communications create an access anywhere-anytime landscape with public services.

A similar evolution is occurring within the private sector, as businesses have started to move away from “touch points” during the marketing and sales process, and they’re using social and digital technologies that help form meaningful and on-going relationships.

This post will outline the history behind participatory involvement between citizens and government, the technological changes behind the rise in developing meaningful experiences for citizens, and it will provide 3 examples of governments doing it right.

 Historical background to deliberative/participatory government

The philosophical framework for citizen engagement and participation is not new. The origins of the deliberative/participatory perspective famously stems from the 5th Century Athenian democrats who built a system of direct democracy where participating citizens voted on legislation and executive bills. 

More recently though, the approach to developing citizen engagement has become more fluid and nuanced. As modern democratic states become more complex, governance and the design of policies and services need to cater to a wide array of individual values on a personal and political level.

In 1996, theorist James Bohman stated in his book Public Deliberation: pluralism, complexity and democracy that current methods do not effectively engage with a diverse citizenry. He states: ‘It is certainly true that current arrangements ... do not promote the sort of public deliberation that is needed in complex and pluralistic societies’

Access to knowledge, and to other people, has been multiplied by several orders of magnitude, and governments across the globe are seeking to implement digital projects that will make their interactions more responsive and meaningful.


The switch to creating meaningful interactions

As more and more people choose the move to urban areas, city-making for local governments has become more complex. And in order for governments to maintain interactions with citizens across digital platforms, a more customer-centric approach is being adopted within the public sector.

Only meaningful interactions will survive, citizens are constantly and increasingly bombarded by digital stimuli. In the future, government agencies will need to create well-integrated interfaces and interactions that will only be active or activated when citizens really need them.

The increasing ubiquity of technology means that it is inherently democratic. Anybody who has a device in their pocket has a platform to express their views. Below we’ve outlined 3 examples of government agencies working to involve their citizens more actively in activities and the decision making process.


1. City of Surrey in Canada developments mobile first site

In the age of mobile devices with apps for everything from grocery shopping to vacation planning, cities are picking up on the trend to make city services available online via mobile phones. When the City of Surrey reviewed its website data in 2012, it found that 30% of all visits came from a mobile device. As a result, Surrey developed a mobile-friendly website in addition to several apps that provide information and convenient access to city services such as waste collection schedules, recreation services and locations, and building inspections.

This may sound simple in idea, but in practice, this creates greater citizen engagement through their portals because the City of Surrey is now reaching their citizens through the means in which they access services most.


2. City of Sydney builds Sydney Festival to attract visitors to Sydney

Sydney Festival has grown to become one of Australia's largest annual cultural celebrations and delivers a great program of events throughout summer, becoming both a favourite with locals as well as a big attraction for people traveling to Sydney.

One of the most interesting developments recently has been the festivals use of social media to encourage people to sign up to events and garner interest. The festival has been vastly popular among attendees with people often tweeting about their attendance to particular events, or liking events on the Facebook page.



3. New York City Council introduces participatory budgeting

New York City Council Members began asking members in 2015 how they would like public funds to be invested in their neighbourhood in order to ensure better decisions were made and money was being allocated to serve the needs of the community.


Participatory budgeting (PB) lets the whole community participate in decision-making over a yearlong process. Community members discuss local needs and develop proposals to meet those needs. Budget allocation is then determined through a public vote. You can learn about it in the video below.

The scope for creating meaningful interactions is really limitless, and it seems form the above that the more personal the interactions are, the more they are shared and liked on social media. Were there any other projects we should know about as well? Comment below and we’ll put your suggestions together in the next blog piece.

Topics: Citizen Engagement, Mobile First Site For Public Service, Citizen-Centric, Accessing Digital Government Services, Participatory Budgeting, Deliberative Government, Participatory Government

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