Citizen engagement sounds familiar yet elusive.
It’s not a wonder since it includes different methods, examples, and actions. Since every country has a different political system, there are radically different opportunities and resources to engage citizens.
Encouragingly, governments across the world are digitalizing their public services in increasing numbers. This means the public sector is finally catching up with the digital transformation and starting to meet citizens where they already are: on digital platforms.
This opens up new opportunities to engage citizens in the digital arena.
What is citizen engagement?
Citizen engagement can also be found under the term civic engagement. It is a form of interaction between citizens and their government represented by different organizations and institutions.
Citizen engagement is viewed as a cornerstone of participatory democracy, and governments in many countries are trying to raise civic engagement levels.
When citizens are engaged, it means they’re interested in government policies and initiatives. Considering any government initiative concerns its constituents the most, it makes sense for citizens to be involved in the decision-making process and further policy implementation.
Citizen disengagement presents a major challenge for governments and civil society groups. In a 2020 research conducted throughout the EU, 45% of respondents said that in the last 12 months, a public consultation took place in their city or village, but only 16% participated.
Engagement vs. participation: the difference
To more closely inspect citizen engagement, it’s important to differentiate between engagement and participation.
In a more narrow sense, citizen participation is perceived as the percentage of the voting-age population that voted in elections. In a more broad sense, citizen participation includes bottom-up initiatives started by citizens.
Both civic engagement and participation have the same goal: to increase collaboration between governments and citizens. But, the first one that we’re discussing here — engagement — is started by the government trying to engage citizens to take part in certain activities or initiatives.
How to increase citizen engagement?
1. Meet citizens where they are: use digital channels
To increase engagement, you must meet citizens where they already are, which means approaching them on digital platforms.
Digital platforms can serve different purposes. Streaming public meetings, running surveys, and public forums to discuss new policies and ideas — these are just a few examples.
Of course, first, you’d have to raise awareness of those channels so you can use them at all.
Another important aspect of digitalization in the government is security. Any organization working in the public sector must be highly aware of stringent data privacy regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, and others, which differ from country to country.
That’s why IT professionals in government often choose to deploy on-premise solutions. This keeps the data sovereignty in their hands and minimizes the risk of breaches. Sometimes, government organizations even operate on air-gapped networks.
2. Actively include citizens in the decision-making process
Engaging citizens means giving them the opportunity to actively participate in the decision-making process. This is much easier to do on a municipal level where constituents yield more leverage on local issues.
Citizen advisory committees, focus groups, or panel discussions with civil society groups can increase citizen involvement.
3. Run community surveys
Community surveys help policymakers understand citizens’ concerns, attitudes, needs, and opinions. Local government offices, advocacy groups, and non-profits alike can conduct them.
Questionnaires can be distributed through online channels to reap the best results. For example, a chat on the local government website can be one of the ways to disperse the surveys among local residents.
4. Host workshops
Workshops are a great way to engage citizens. They are highly interactive and put citizens right in the central spot of the decision-making process.
You can hold workshops in the planning phase, or to gain valuable feedback on the policy framework. You can invite community members from the local advocacy groups, and representatives of the affected communities.
Workshops can also be hosted online, in which case you can benefit from using a solution that helps you build online chat rooms to discuss the project in smaller groups.
5. Start community partnership programs
A community-based participatory partnership (CBPP) is a collaborative body of individuals and organizations working together on a common goal or issue of importance to the community. It is a very intense and interactive form of civic engagement, but it is also highly beneficial for the local residents.
The community-based partnership allows a deep understanding of the issue at hand and builds community capacity through training and professional development. It enables the sharing of resources and ideas that help develop programs to address vital community needs.
To support community partnership programs, you can use a chat app built for this specific use case, such as Rocket.Chat, that allows you to connect internal and external collaborators on a single platform.
Digital tools to engage with your constituents
Online channels have helped build communities that transcend physical boundaries. But, they’re also useful for engaging citizens that live in the same county or municipality. After all, we all rely on digital tools for our everyday communication.
Here are digital tools you can use to engage with citizens on all levels.
Citizen engagement platform
Citizen engagement platforms are digital tools created to facilitate interaction between governments and citizens. As such, they involve numerous features that help public service officers better streamline their administrative tasks and citizens access government services.
Social media is a great way to engage with citizens. You can use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social networks to let citizens know about the latest government initiatives, but also to open up two-way communication.
Email is great for dispersing mass information when you need to do so. But, you need a secure way to collect email addresses from your citizens, so be careful to stay within regulatory limits when trying to engage citizens on this channel.
Chat applications like WhatsApp and Viber are very popular with the general population. As such, they’re a great way to engage with constituents, but at the same time, they can be a problem to manage from your end: tracking all the conversations going on and moderating them might be challenging.
Rocket.Chat is a digital tool that can help you engage citizens in multiple ways. How?
First, it’s an omnichannel solution, meaning that it can help you streamline communication coming from different sources: social media, email, chat apps, and other systems you connect it with.
Second, Rocket.Chat is an open source tool built with the public sector in mind. This means that it's highly flexible to fit into complex government tech infrastructure.
Third, Rocket.Chat incorporates high-security features built for the government. This allows public sector organizations to engage with citizens in a compliant way and secure vital private information.
Rocket.Chat has been recognized by the Swedish government which listed it as a preferred collaboration tool for the public sector.
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- Highly secure and flexible
- On-prem or cloud deployment