Study finds management cautious about citizen sourcing

Councils could be missing out on the opportunities and benefits of citizen sourcing because of pushback from senior management and fear of giving power to the community, a researcher says.

Dr Krithika Randhawa

Described as a civic equivalent of crowd sourcing, citizen sourcing can give the community input into local government projects and policies, such as redesigns of a local park or library, or solving parking problems.

It can help local authorities gain innovative ideas and solutions, UTS lecturer Dr Krithika Randhawa says.

As reported by Government News earlier this year, an Austrian study found that citizen sourcing can substantially enhance perceptions of councils while also improving service delivery.

Dr Randhawa conducted a two-year-study into citizen sourcing by 18 Australian councils.

Councils that participated in the research used a community engagement software called Bang the Table, which enabled them to engage the community in multiple ways, including surveys, polls and stories.

It also provided a single hub for them to keep the community informed on facts, project timelines and important documents.

Management must come to the party

Dr Krithika Randhawa and her colleagues, Associate Professor of Marketing at Macquarie University Ralf Wilden and Professor Joel West from Keck Graduate Institute, California, found the success of citizen sourcing was dependent on support from top management.

This was true regardless of how committed the community engagement coordinators and administrators were to the project.

“They almost always could not succeed if top management commitment was not there and they did not get the support from their chief executives and going on from the councillors,” she told Government News.

The research found that a lack of support from top management often meant there were no clear systems or processes governing community engagement, no clear engagement framework, and decisions about community engagement were made on an ad hoc basis.

“There was no clear expertise and competence which was being developed within the organisation on best practice around community engagement, which is a domain in its own right,” she said.

Out of the 18 councils that took part in the two-year project, only a third had support from senior management.

Engaging, not just informing

Councils need to break out of the mindset of thinking that community engagement is a one-way process rather than true consultation, Dr Randhawa says.

This is particularly true for councils who didn’t value community engagement, seeing it merely as a way of ticking boxes.

A shift in thinking is required to understand that community engagement serves a different purpose, Dr Randhawa says.

“It’s about co-creating with the community with the goal of doing innovation and creating something new,” she says.

Dr Randhawa says local governments are more aware of community engagement as a practice than they were a decade ago, but this doesn’t necessarily lead to better community engagement.

Dr Randhawa says one of the main reasons councils are failing to embrace citizen sourcing is fear of losing control over the decision-making process.

“It’s not about giving up control, it is about collaboration … and involving them in the process,” she said.

“It’s a slight mindset shift that’s required to actually realise that it’s not actually losing something – you’re actually gaining something not just for now but over the long term.”

The research was published in the journal RD and Management this year.

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