A successful e-participation strategy is based on open and honest dialogue with citizens. Hannes Astok, Project Manager of "E-citizens II", stresses that citizens like to discuss about local development not only before the local elections. E-participation is more than a pro forma online consultation.
Hannes Astok: "E-participation should be promoted in all policy domains impacting citizens' life. It is not a one-shot activity of the Public Relations department, but a permanent and cross-institution dialogue process. This may sound obvious, however many public communicators still stick to traditional one-way communication."
What are the ingredients of a successful e-participation strategy for public authorities?
Start by sharing all available information with your stakeholders – citizens, enterprises, civil organisations. It must be presented in a clear and accessible manner. Avoid technical tables or planning schemes. Visualise your data and illustrate them with real-life case studies. Web, social media and smart phones are valuable tools for a citizen-friendly information process. Use the popular media available: rather than investing in governmental online tools, meet your citizens on Facebook or Twitter because that is where they are.
Allow citizens some time to take part in the dialogue. The details of the discussion are often new to them, so let them settle in the topic. Open the debate with clear questions. Accept critical feedback and be prepared to correct or change initial plans. And finally – communicate about the outcome of the participation process: what are the results, based on what arguments and how will they be implemented?
In your view, what are the main trends and most encouraging opportunities in communication technology?
Around the world, citizens are online 24/7, either by computer, digital TV or smart phone. Citizens in younger democracies are particularly open to online communication and accepting modern channels such as Facebook or Twitter to communicate with their government.
This provides cities or countries with excellent opportunities to consult their audiences and get feedback from them, and to develop an open and dynamic co-creation process. But we should never forget to embed e-participation strategy in a broader approach, adapted to the media use by most citizens, with a balanced mix of traditional and on-line communication.
Hannes Astok is managing the Interreg IVC programme E-citizens II. He will be one of the expert speakers at EuroPCom 2012