Governments are drastically cutting down budgets, and not only in Greece, but also worldwide. Citizens have to play a more active role in this very important activity. Is this an opportunity for e-Participation (tools)?

e-Participation is a way for both citizens and governments to cooperate. There are many initiatives already, but the main challenge is finding true cooperation, because on the one side, citizens don't see the added value in cooperating, and they are already busy with their daily lives; and on the other side, public workers are uncomfortable with delegating responsibilities to “normal” citizens.

Citizens Play a Role

An e-Participation website is a lot of work. It is not a matter of “Let's publish a website with social media and nice things will happen.” With e-Participation, citizens are an equal party to the prioritization, development, decision making and evaluation of the initiative. Citizens have ideas themselves and they will start their own initiatives; public workers have to facilitate all of that, and responsibility over these initiatives must be shared by both citizens and public workers.

This cooperation means careful planning and communication, in which social media could play an important role. Especially with social media, careful communication is key. Social media -- and e-Participation -- is not merely broadcasting; it is a combination of listening to what citizens have to say and responding to that, as well as letting citizens react to what public workers have to say. In other words, this is a true dialogue.

Know your Information Strategy

Developing an e-Participation website isn't too difficult. Define your information strategy in which your goals, target groups, information and analytics are clearly written down. The difficult part starts on day one of publishing the website. With a successful site, using social media is a full-time job. People will start to generate ideas, and upon reacting to these ideas, people will then expect to be immediately responded to in return. Subject matter experts must deal with these ideas and respond. Management and board must participate and promote the initiative. This approach will be totally new for most public sector organizations.

Implement the Right Tools

If you are planning an e-Participation website, make sure your CMS and other tooling are ready for the task. Can you publish a landing page? Can you link from your organization’s website to the e-Participation site and vice versa? Can you communicate through social networks and follow and analyze the dialogue in the blogosphere? Can your tools help people vote for initiatives and react to them; easily publish initiatives; and share initiatives and ideas in a community?

I see many e-Participation sites with either no support from the organization’s website or with no social media integration. Often times these sites show analytics that are not in place, an infrastructure that makes voting impossible, and a cumbersome process of making people register and log in to respond to ideas. This is a non-communicative approach that will fail in the end. e-Participation IS a dialogue, so make sure your tools can help you with starting, maintaining, following, analyzing and improving this dialogue.

Share Your Experiences

Are you involved in an e-Participation initiative? Please let me know. I think we can all learn from each other. Please join the discussion here at CMSWire or in the eGovernment LinkedIn Group.

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