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Why must we become active co-creators of our future cities and municipalities?

If your city or municipality offered you the opportunity to actively participate in the decision-making on public administration issues and projects, would you accept the challenge?

Much has been written and said on the issue of citizen cooperation in the decision-making process at local, national and EU levels. Practice, however, continues to lag far behind ideas, and the implementation of such cooperation is far from widespread. Why? Is the problem found in governments and regional administrations, who see such cooperation with citizens primarily as interference in administrative procedures? Is it simply the issue of citizens failing to loudly express their interest for more active inclusion? We won’t attempt to answer this question today, but will rather discuss the benefits of citizen participation and how current technology can help us develop active cooperation between citizens and public administrations.

Why should we participate in the creation of our future cities and municipalities?

In order to achieve reliable development, cities and municipalities rely on organized community management. The approach taken to this management has a major impact on whether a community will evolve or stagnate. One of the key requirements of successful modern city and municipality management is the development of good trust-based relationships between local management and their communities. This requires, among others, the development of a transparent, open, accountable and responsive government, which quickly identifies key community problems and resolves them in an efficient and timely manner. The described qualities are difficult to achieve without active involvement and participation of the citizens in the decision-making on public affairs. The involvement and participation of citizens in decision-making is being recognised as a key factor for community development:

  • Key advantages for the city and the municipality: improved communication with its inhabitants allows the city or municipality to receive quality information on key challenges in a simple and timely manner, which supports a more effective distribution of available resources to address these issues more efficiently.

  • Key advantages for residents: the city or municipality that is aware of its key issues and citizens’ aspirations provides better services, efficiently resolves problems and provides a better living environment.

Everything described is entirely feasible by using the existing technologies. Why, then, is a more active cooperation between local governments and their residents not taking place?

The opportunities of the internet and technology

In the last decade, the availability and cost of technology has dropped considerably. Solutions which were previously only accessible to large cities and wealthy organizations are now generally available. Smart devices enable us to be connected to the Internet 24/7 and the time we spend on the Internet increases every year. Research shows that the average European Internet user spends 27 hours per month only for web browsing, and yet we use the Internet primarily for entertainment purposes and reading news, ads, shopping, movies and music. We’re minimally engaged in the more “productive” areas of the web, such as professional uses and education.

What if a small part of our time spent on the Internet was dedicated to the improvement of the quality of our city or municipality? Instead of browsing social media, we might browse through city and municipality development projects and instead of liking Facebook statuses, we might offer our likes and comments to the planned development projects. We could even propose our own projects and innovative development ideas to public administrations in a simple and quick manner.

Using the technology that simplifies our access to public participation in governance brings many advantages: lower costs of living, increased flexibility, and efficiency of administrative processes. The main goal of electronic participation (e-participation) is to improve the citizen’s access to information and public services, and to encourage their participation in public decision-making, impacting the well-being of the community and the individual.

Establishing effective cooperation in practice is not easy, but not impossible either

The use of the e-government services had already surpassed 40% at the EU level in 2012 and it continues to increase every year. On the other hand, participation remains primarily at the level of public information access and accessibility of certain administrative matters (such as tax declarations, changes of address of residence, etc). More sophisticated forms of e-government and e-participation, such as direct two-way communication with public officials, effective and user-friendly systems for expressing opinions, and giving suggestions on the public administration decisions and future plans are not (yet) commonly used.

According to a recent survey by the European Commission, the main obstacles to effective e-government services lie in their complexity and incomprehensibility, discouraging people from using them more often.

Dealing with the described challenges will be the main theme of this year’s Ljubljana Forum on Future of Cities, held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on October 8th and 9th. The forum will also discuss the development of smart cities, the advantages of promoting a more active inclusion and participation of citizens in the public decision-making, and present existing smart city good practices.

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There are good practices to be found in prosperous cities and municipalities. Are you ready to accept the challenge?

Tools which easily enable and improve cooperation of cities and municipalities with its residents are already available on the market. You can find more information about these tools HERE.

If your city or municipality offered you the opportunity to actively participate in the decision-making on public administration issues and projects, and improving the quality of life in the community at the same time, would you accept the challenge?

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