Local government can substantially improve public perceptions of key decisions by engaging with locals through online platforms, new research shows.
Citizen sourcing, or inviting residents to contribute to policymaking and planning through online platforms, can substantially enhance perceptions of councils while also improving service delivery, according to the findings published in the International Journal of Public Sector Management.
The use of online platforms promoting citizen participation in government decision-making increases trust in and satisfaction with local government, according to co-author of the report Dr Lisa Schmidthuber, postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Public Management at Johannes Kepler University in Austria.
The research measured public responses to MyLinz, an Austrian platform that allows citizens to submit ideas on urban development and planning. It found that perceptions of government were overwhelmingly improved through engagement with the platform.
Participants noted improved perceptions of government across the board, including:
- perceived improved information flow between local authorities and citizens
- increased trust and satisfaction with local government, and
- improved perceptions of the legitimacy of council decisions and its operational capacity.
The use of online platforms “reduces the distance between citizens and government,” the research found, enabling citizens to more actively contribute to public decision making and driving down dissatisfaction with government.
“Citizens value these new forms of interacting with public employees independent of time and place. They take the chance to collaborate with the government online and respond to the call for participation. This active interaction between citizens and government might also increase citizens’ trust in government,” Dr Schmidthuber argues.
Optimising service delivery
Citizen sourcing can also substantially improve service delivery within local government, enabling councils to co-design solutions with citizens and potentially improving operational capability, the analysis finds.
Greater transparency within government and more active forms of engagement can improve service delivery, Dr Schmidthuber says, by allowing councils to develop solutions that are backed public support.
For example, governments could implement “idea generation platforms” and call on citizens for their feedback. Incorporating community ideas might increase the innovation of councils and add legitimacy to new services or policies, she says.
Call for collaboration
The rise of new forms of media gives councils an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with citizens, Dr Schmidthuber argues.
Public managers should be leveraging online channels and developing open government projects to improve perceptions of government and optimise service delivery, the paper argues.
Collaborating with more experienced local governments to develop ideas for public engagement is a useful starting point, Dr Schmidthuber says.
“There are multiple ways of leveraging modern technology in order to make public decision-making processes more transparent, integrate citizens in decision making and collaborate with external actors more closely.”
Locals share ideas on platform
In Austria, the MyLinz platform has been demonstrating the potential of an open government platform to improve trust in local government and optimise service delivery, says Dr Schmidthuber.
The tool, led by the City of Linz in Austria, allows residents share ideas with councils in order to tackle issues relating to local planning.
After registering, users can submit ideas on urban development and comment on other users’ ideas, including evaluation ideas.
“Users can read through the submissions, can further develop ideas, ask questions, and discuss concepts. At the end of the contests, a jury choses the best ideas that are rewarded,” Dr Schmidthuber says.
The platform incentivises participation, giving users the chance to win prizes for frequent interaction with the platform, and even the chance to further develop ideas in offline workshops.
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