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How to choose tools for community engagement

In the past few years, promoting citizen participation has become an important strategy for many governments. Municipalities and regional administrations are starting to create designated departments and councillor positions that are dedicated to managing citizen participation. The most advanced ones are even launching participation websites in which residents can get involved in local political development.

Today, there are multiple technology providers offering tools that deal with citizen participation. If you are an elected official or a public employee and you work in the community engagement sector, it is possible that you have already been approached by more than one of these companies offering their services. But how do you distinguish the grain from the straw? What solutions are best suited to your needs? And, just as importantly, how much should you be willing to spend?

Kuorum has years of experience advising local and regional governments in six countries about citizen engagement. In most cases, the greatest administrative challenge is not technological, but is rather strategic. Some invest in a technology before creating a participation census, analyzing the associated network within the municipality, or adequately researching the modernity of the participation rules. This will make the results suffer. And because of this, our consultants offer a free first meeting that addresses key issues such as these.

Once the strategic part has been resolved, it is time to choose which technology best suits you. The first thing to consider is how the platform is going to help you organize your contacts. Is it going to let you segment the participation census? Will it help you identify users based on activity level? Will you be able to use it to send mass emails? All of these features are essential to raising rates of participation.

Furthermore, a participation strategy will be very different in a large city with millions of people than it will be in a small rural town. Participatory budgets, for example, can make sense in the first case, especially if there is already a strong culture of participation in place. However, in the instance of a small town, organizing digital or in-person assemblies may be more convenient for most citizens. For this reason, you must ask yourself what kinds of processes will allow you to open your platform and how well they will fit your specific case.

You have to keep in mind that web service development is a highly complicated task that requires the work of many qualified professionals: engineers, designers, and, crucial to the platform?s success, experts in charge of optimizing user experience. If you try to use a participation platform and begin to feel lost or don?t know where to click, then your provider has not invested enough in the tool?s design. This will cause your participation rates to plummet.

Lastly, remember that you can choose between the implementation of a web on a server (either on your property or in the cloud), or the use of a software as a service (SaaS). The second option has the appeal of a more advantageous price because it includes free updates that will be made to the software as time goes on. And don?t forget, the participation platform should not serve as an end in itself, but rather as a tool. Your constituents are of the highest importance. And if they adopt your technology, everything will go smoothly.

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