There are consistent themes coming from the research on how governments can improve and increase people’s participation in decision making.
We reviewed how other jurisdictions are engaging with the public. We looked at the tools they used, barriers to engagement with the people (and vice versa) and how they overcame the barriers. International governments reviewed included Belgium, Canada, Estonia, France, Iceland, Spain, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
How are government and people engaging?
Engagement is done through multiple online and physical channels. The factors involved include the organisation’s budget and resources, knowledge of the available tools, people’s availability, digital literacy and remoteness.
The Pirate party in Iceland uses offline meetings to debate and vote on ideas. The ideas that gather at least 5% of the votes proceed onto an online portal where 50% majority is required for the idea to be adopted as official party policy. In Taiwan they use a wide range of digital and physical engagement methods. Through the Taiwan forum the people can interact directly with government ministers and ask them to share information. The relevant ministry is required to respond within seven days.
Governments are using videos to explain complex issues. For example, in France each consultation is accompanied by a video from the representative leading it. In Brazil’s e-Democracia portal each project includes a short video explaining the project’s aims and how people can participate.
Participatory budgeting is being trialled in Belgium, France, Iceland and Spain with citizens voting on their preferred projects. For example, the city of Madrid in Spain allocated 60 million Euros of its annual budget for a participatory budget exercise. They organised public spaces for people to discuss ideas before holding a public vote. The city checks the feasibility of the winning projects and then holds a final public vote. Each citizen is allocated a portion of the budget and may vote on any project until their budget is depleted.
Citizen juries have also been trialled to help develop ideas to solve social problems. For example, in the state of Victoria one was established to tackle obesity. One hundred ‘jurors’ were drawn from a pool of 570,000 to provide a representative example. Over six weeks, they engaged in online deliberation in a facilitated forum. Seventy-eight of the jurors then met in person over two days. The main objective of the two days was for the jurors to collectively produce a report with recommendations on how to make it easier to eat more healthily.
There are barriers to people engaging with government and that governments face when engaging with people. International research highlights a number of ways to overcome these barriers.