Citizen participation? Hell no! (EN)

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Citizen participation? Hell no!

Citizen participation? Hell no! is a game created originally by Christophe Gouache for the Active Citizens’ URBACT action planning network. The game was created based on the long experience of Strategic Design Scenarios on citizen participation, forms of participatory approaches, social innovation and design for policy projects, initiatives, action-research processes, etc.  SDS has worked for more than 10 years together with elected officials and civil servants, hearing a lot of comments, arguments, explanations from some people which justify their non-engagement towards more participatory processes…

We have, based on that experience, created a game composed of 42 cards which are 42 reasons, arguments, pretexts, etc. of NOT doing any citizen participation! We all know, indeed, that not everyone – especially within public authorities and both from the elected officials side or the civil servants one – is keen on developing citizen participation. Not everyone is convinced of its added value, not only for democracy but also for better policies and services. Opening governance to a form of co-creation and co-decision process with citizens is quite uncomfortable for most people who hold a certain level of power (again both from the elected officials and civil servants side). What are the arguments of those who are against or at least ‘not convinced’ by citizen participation? What are you often told? What are the critiques of citizen participation that you hear?

Identifying all the reasons of NOT supporting citizen participation

This game is meant to put everything on the table, to speak out, frankly, honestly, about all the challenges that are to be faced internally within public authorities (but no only). Because we know that the problem of citizen participation is not so much a question of tools, methods, budget, etc. but rather and primarly a question of being convinced of its added-value for more efficient policy making, better designed public services and a healthier democracy in general.

We know from experience that acknowledging and identifiying these difficulties contributes to better taking care of them, and even trying to solve, deal, respond or counter them.

Trying out the game for real

The game has been tested for the first time in the City of Agen (Fr) at the occasion of the kickoff of the Active Citizens network. Acitive Citizens network is composed of 8 european cities engaged in a 3 years long exchange process of practices and experiences on the topic of participatory democracy and citizen participation to public governance. 16 elected officials and civil servants from France, Estonia, Germany, Portugal, Romania, Czech Republic and Italy played the game, appliying it to their own city administration… Here are some of the feedback from the elected officials and civil servants who played the game :

‘We’ve been asked to make 3 piles of cards based on our own situation as a local authority : the pertinent ones, mildly ones and not pertinent. We felt a bit desperate to realize that half of the cards ended up on the first pile…’

‘It gathers all the things that we often hear either from colleagues but also from some elected officials themselves, because even if our Mayor wishes to go towards more citizen participation, he is not entirely backed up by all the council members…’

‘Within our city administration, we are actually not that many who are convinced about citizen participation. Most of our colleagues exactly think what’s written on the cards’ 

‘As I was going through the cards, I could clearly visualize many colleagues of mine, within the city council who have exactly the same things…’

Here is a small pick of the most common chosen cards from the game by the Active Citizens’ network of cities…

“Citizen participation slows down every process or project’, ‘citizen participation is useless because citizens are not experts!’, ‘it’s too complicated to work with citizens’, ‘citizens are better at complaining, than at finding solutions’, ‘citizens have no interest in public actions & matters’, ‘no need for citizen participation, we already work with NGOs, unions and associations of consumers’, ‘with citizens, conversations always remain superficial and without depth’…

Yes. We still have a long way to go to deconstruct these ‘reasons’ of not doing citizen participation.

About the game

The game is yours to print out and cut. Ordering the game gives you access to its PDF version. In case you wish a printed out version, please get in contact with christophe@strategicdesignscenarios.net
For the moment, only the English version is available but a french version will soon be released.