Participation is, for many people, one big unknown. They often fear that it will be something complicated, risky and dangerous. In reality, none of these fears are justified. When the participation process is implemented by professionals, it is just, understandable and of course also completely safe for all participating parties.
1. If the citizens do not show interest in participation, it is not their fault
Badly designed projects are usually to blame. It may be that they did not get enough information to understand the whole project and be able to engage with it or incorrect timing that led to the citizens finding out about the option to engage in public life at the last minute.
2. In exceptional cases, people might not be interested in participation even when you prepare everything correctly
Then you need to think about when and why citizens lost interest in what is happening around them. The issue might be a series of bad experiences with actions of politicians or authorities in the past.
3. Engagement of the public in decision-making cannot become a tool in personal political campaigning or merely an opportunity for good PR
Such cases end in a complete loss of trust – and gaining it back is very difficult. The goal of participation is not to fight for popularity. It is the creation of sustainable values and building of harmonic society.
4. There is no magical solution for all instances
Participation uses a wide range of tools to engage the public in decision-making and communicate with individual social groups. Each municipality is distinctive in its location, demographics, economic situation as well as issues it faces. It is always necessary to customize participation.
5. It is not about money
Participation is always surprisingly cheap because it does not require to look for new resources in the budget. It is for example enough for citizens themselves to decide on how to use finances allocated for restoration of public spaces. Citizens can sometimes also come up with more effective solutions and conversely, contribute to public savings.
6. Successful participation begins with the town hall
Officials, politicians or representatives should educate themselves and obtain know-how on how to correctly involve citizens in decision-making. Successful participation has its rules and it cannot be implemented in a qualified manner without at least basic knowledge. Authorities should therefore invest in educating people that have the possibility to initiate and lead participatory projects before their beginning.
7. Public participation is a multidisciplinary field
It is necessary to think like a sociologist, communicate like public relations and be able to process information like a data analyst. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Additionally, participation tools are refined every year – this means they are even more complicated for a layperson. It is therefore convenient to collaborate with a team of experts that have experience in participation, divide the work and provide you with understandable results.
8. Participation has to be initiated by governments, authorities or international institutions
It sometimes happens that they want to not only support but also direct it. It is of course impossible to control public opinion and opinions of citizens. Authorities have the power to help, implement and coordinate – not to steer public opinion away from where it is truly leaning.
9. Participation and engagement of communities in public life significantly benefits municipalities, citizens and local companies
Whereas in the past it was mainly non-profit organisations that helped with it, nowadays it is becoming a commercial service. The field is professionalising and brings a high added-value to all participants. It is therefore also necessary to expect an adequate price for professional service.
10. In order for participation to be meaningful, its outputs have to be visibly implemented
Whether a winning project in participatory budgeting or an initiative to revitalise a park, it is important for the public to see tangible results of their effort.