Interview with Reiner Greve (Community of Usingen): Implementing Online Citizen Participation
Background: The community of Usingen uses WE THINQ to promote civil dialogue. Ralf Greve, head of the office of Youth, Culture, Social Affairs and Citizenship, was kind enough to give us some insights about his experience using WE THINQ.
How did the usingen-gestalten.de project come about?
The idea is to give citizens an opportunity to discuss ideas and suggestions. It’s not about emphasizing the usual voting on projects that have been decided on, but rather new and innovative ideas the citizenry come up with. Innovators Club Germany was searching for a partner for this type of project. We were happy to contact them.
To what extent can you plan a process like this?
Planning the process itself is virtually impossible since it depends on so many factors. Primarily on what ideas and concepts the citizenry put forward. However, it’s crucial that you establish some general conditions.
What were the challenges?
The biggest challenges were posed by the "skeptics" in relation to abusing an undertaking of this type. In addition, there were a number of concerns as to whether "couch potatoes" should really be included in the various processes.
Did everything go as planned? What were you surprised by?
Actually, everything went as planned. We were well-prepared after discussing things at various levels. Most of all, I was surprised by how well and disciplined the citizenry handled the initiative.
Did you end up having to deal with so-called angry-as-hell citizens?
We never ran into any "angry citizens". All the topics were discussed in a very objective manner. There was a single instance where a user peppered his word selection with a bit too much sarcasm, but the other participants immediately called him on it and asked him to keep it fair.
So how are you implementing the ideas now?
Currently we don’t have the political viability to view the project not only as a pilot, but to permanently continue it. It's safe to say that there are still some concerns about interference in day-to-day goings-on, as well as regarding the effort required to operate the platform. But there is a simple solution. A topic would only qualify as a management and policy issue if 50% of the users approve of it. So each person would have to promote his or her idea, meaning you wouldn’t have a situation where one individual’s ideas dominated. A few ideas have already been guided through the process and implemented.
What did you especially like about the WE THINQ platform?
I particularly like the way the citizenry is treated. Contrary to any preconceptions, the platform works outstandingly well. Of course, it certainly helped that only the citizens of Usinger were allowed to participate and everyone was using real names. This didn’t turn out to be a problem for anyone and it ended up helping maintain discipline. One should also keep in mind that an undertaking like this is only possible with a sophisticated software solution. The software offered a large number of options to respond to different wishes and ideas while remaining very clearly structured for the users and easy to use for the administrators. Trainees, in our case. For us as a community, this is a software solution that has reduced the amount of work to a minimum.