Using Technology for Public Participation
Social accountability tools (such as online blogs, forums, and discussions) provide a platform for large-scale citizen review, feedback, and dialogue related to public sector policies and services. This can be conducted through up-to-the minute news, meeting notes, postings, data, images, and so on. These multiple-format mechanisms offer new barrier-free models of public participation in which real-time collaboration, experience sharing, and participation are becoming the norm. This enables authorities to constantly remain in touch with some of the people in order to make governance more effective and representative. The various tools that support information and communications technology–based social accountability mechanisms in the framework of urban planning can be found in table below.
Table: Tools based on information and communication technology for public participation
Uses and characteristics
Surveys (forecast and retrospective)
Citizen surveys are investigations of the behavior, preferences, attitudes, or opinions of a target group sample collected through online questionnaires. Ex ante (or forecast) surveys can help governments and utilities to shape future plans, such as investment or infrastructure plans to expand services, institutional changes, and tariff changes. Ex post (or retrospective) surveys can constitute effective mechanisms for conveying citizen’s viewpoints and reviews of public projects and services to authorities.
Surveys may cover particular subgroups or geographical communities within the service area or the service area as a whole. Ex ante surveys may measure willingness to pay or preferences, for example, such as service levels and tariff structures. Ex post surveys can be used to evaluate and monitor the performance of urban projects and services from the point of view of the citizenry.
A wide variety of online applications exist for conducting surveys using the Internet. For instance, using mobile phones, respondents can submit their choices using SMS messages, touch-tone number punching, interacting with voice messaging systems, and so on
Outreach can be used to initiate dialogue and consultation, although it is mostly a one-way process, with information flowing from the municipality to the public through SMS messages and alerts or e-mail notifications. This is usually a better option in developing countries where poor communities do not have access to the Internet and computers but widely use messaging. Citizen outreach pertains to efforts by agencies to connect directly with the public for purposes of disseminating vital information and messages pertaining to a variety of issues, such as necessary health precautions, location of skill development workshops, change in tariff levels, tax payment information, and so on. Outreach can also be used to provide information about upcoming meetings or important steps in the project.
An effective way of ensuring the accountability of local governments is by making important documents (designs, plans, and maps) available through online publishing or disseminating relevant information using SMS messages. Such reports provide a mechanism for public review, and a tool to monitor performance.
E-participation mediums such as blogs, citizen forums, on-demand information channels (for instance, YouTube, Facebook), online chat rooms, and so on render a virtual feedback, review, critique, and complaint loop between citizens and the concerned authorities and service providers. The goal of such mechanisms in governance is to enable greater citizen participation in the decision-making process. Through e-participation, people can interact with local officials and make their voices heard. It allows citizens to immediately see how and why their representation is functioning the way it is. In addition, it enables citizens to share their comments and views about the functioning and performance of local agencies. Public officials or agencies can judge the prevailing mood of citizens and take a corresponding course of action based on popular sentiment.
Source: Relhan, Ionkova, and Huque 2012.
Note: SMS = short message service.