3 Reasons to Use Technology for Citizen Participation
Citizen participation is important for both governmental organisations and NGO's. Any group that is seeking to represent it's community, should have a good mechanism in place to get feedback from that community. Despite the best interests of many individuals and organisations, community engagement remains a challenge. Both from the organisations doing the outreach and the citizens wishing to be heard. Technology can play a huge part in closing the divide between citizens and the organisations that represent them. Here are my top three reasons for using technology to improve citizen participation:
1. Ease of access
Your community is busy. Citizens have full time jobs, families, and interests outside of the goals of your organisation. It is a big accomplishment to get your community interested in your cause. Asking those citizens to then take time out of their busy lives to help you is another challenge altogether. By making it as easy as possible for citizens to participate in the process, you will show that you respect their time. By making it easier for citizens to participate, you will get more community engagement. It's as simple as that.
2. Equal representation
Those who show up, make the decisions. While this is true of both online and offline forums, you want to get the best representation of voices heard. If only a small number of people are able to participate, there might be entire viewpoints that you are missing out on. It is also possible that a small group of passionate people may show up to an event that don't represent what most of your citizens think or want.
Further, minority groups may feel uncomfortable in a setting where they are a visible or clear minority. The anonymity of being online can provide a safer space to citizen minorities to have their voices heard.
3. Disadvantaged groups
Some citizens, such as those living with disabilities, may not be able to attend a meeting. If someone is ill and not able to leave the house or you could not find a wheelchair accessible space you are excluding a part of your community. Further, young people often don't have access to their own transportation and are on the schedule of a parent or caregiver. Single parents or those working multiple jobs simply won't have the time available to come into an open meeting.
Taking your community engagement initiative online allows citizens to participate from anywhere, at a time that is convenient for them.
What have been your biggest challenges in citizen participation? Have you tried an online platform to help you reach out to the community?