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10 Ways ICTs Can Support Citizen Engagement with Governments

By Guest Writer on February 14, 2013

I am Adele Waugaman and I have the pleasure and honor of joining the board of Technology Salon, which many in the ICT4D community know as a regular in-person convening of professionals interested in the use of technology and to strengthen global development.

The Salons, which started in Washington, D.C. and were first hosted by the United Nations Foundation through its Vodafone partnership that I managed, now meet in a growing number of cities across the United States and around the world. For example, last week, within a 24-hour period, Salons met in Nairobi, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

citizensI joined the How Can ICT’s Support Citizen Engagement with Governments? conversation in D.C., which looked at how technology can strengthen citizens’ voices to inform and improve governance processes.

The discussion covered a broad range of topics, from participatory budgeting projects led by governments and multilateral organizations, to participatory mapping projects led by start-ups and civil society groups. Join us for the next Salon.

Here are ten takeaways from the discussion*:

  1. Check your assumptions. Participatory processes presume that citizens want their voices heard, but it’s important to verify this assumption. Do citizens trust their government to use the information provided in an appropriate way? Is the government able to respond in a constructive and meaningful way?
  2. Be mindful of labels. Terms often used to describe participants vary include citizen, beneficiary, customer, and client. Each carries its own connotation and suggests its own assumptions.
  3. Seek buy-in. Participatory processes are only as effective as the people who partake in them, and are unlikely to have the desired effect if the host government in question is unresponsive, or if there are an insufficient number of participants.
  4. Secure informed consent. Participants should understand all of the different ways in which the information they provide could be used, and consent to participating on that basis.
  5. Plan outreach. Outreach is critical to the success of participatory processes, in promoting both the availability and outcomes of open government projects and citizen-led initiatives.
  6. Listen, and be responsive. Participatory processes, by their nature, create expectations. Build trust by engaging participants throughout the project lifecycle, from inception through implementation and evaluation. (See a post by Glen Burnett on parallels between citizen engagement and customer experience.)
  7. Manage expectations. Participatory processes in most cases won’t create immediate system-wide transformation, but can be instrumental in driving incremental change.
  8. Measure impact. Identifying success metrics and representative indicators from a project’s outset is critical to enabling project impact to be effectively monitored. The Knight Foundation suggests some metrics for measuring the success of digital citizenship initiatives.
  9. Make it repeatable. Four questions that participants will need to be able ‘yes’ to for participatory processes to be repeatable include: Do I care about issue? Is it easy to do something? Do I believe that my voice will make a difference? Do I feel like I’m being heard?
  10. Be patient. Change is hard, and doesn’t happen fast. Be prepared to have to think outside the mandate of your organization, and beyond the scope of your current project funding.

Interested in learning more? You can find a reference document on Google Drive here, and you can follow the conversation on Twitter using the #TechSalon hashtag.

This post was originally published as Can You Hear Me Now? Strengthening Citizen Voices through Technology


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