Public participation in 2020 - disaster or opportunity?

Due to contact restrictions, many participation procedures are currently at a standstill. Do we have to?

Analogue or digital?: 3 tips for public participation in 2020

Will 2020 be a lost year for public participation? 

The current corona pandemic has upset many areas of everyday and public life. Due to contact restrictions, events on a large scale are falling through. Public participation procedures cannot be implemented at present. It is unclear how many ongoing approval procedures can continue. The Berlin Institute for Participation has asked 1,700 actors how they assess the year 2020 for public participation. Conclusion: 2020 could be a lost year for public participation. Because switching to digital formats alone would not work. Many respondents would like to see direct personal discourse and do not want to do without face-to-face discussions and exchanges - even if it has to be under strict hygiene conditions. 

Challenges for online participation formats at different levels

Many of our customers face these challenges: How can public participation be kept alive in Corona times? What opportunities do online alternatives offer? What needs to be considered when planning corona-compliant events and alternative formats on the Internet?

Three tips for citizen participation in Corona times

  1. As much digital as possible, as much analogue as necessary – in some cases on-site events cannot be replaced by online formats
    The current trend is to organise every event as an online format. But this does not always have to be the best solution: In some situations, the on-site event - of course with strict hygiene concepts - is still the better choice. This is particularly the case when the event to be planned is about initial contact with the citizens concerned. Here, the personal handshake cannot be replaced by any online tool in the world.
    An online format has different accessibility requirements than an on-site event. Some older people are not so familiar with the use of the internet so that they can not easily attend an online event. If there are many older people in the target group, it is important to consider whether online participation will not leave many voices by the wayside.
    This has to be weighed up in each individual case: Can an online format also offer what an on-site meeting offers? Or do the participants want to be able to look each other in the eye?
  2. There is no online tool that can do everything - depending on format, target group and requirements, adapted solutions are necessary
    There is no such thing as an online tool that can be used for any online format without further planning or adaptation. Therefore, it is important to think carefully in advance what the tool has to do: 
    Is a presentation planned or an open discussion round? Should the direct exchange with citizens be established in one-on-one conversations in which individual and confidential documents are discussed? Or is it a workshop where the participants should meet at different times in different small groups? 
    Therefore, the following applies: First clarify the format, target group and requirements, then select the appropriate tool from the wealth of online tools and test it before use.
  3. Come to stay - online tools as a useful addition or replacement in post-corona times 
    If local events are soon possible again, this does not necessarily mean the end of online tools for public participation – it’s the contrary. The experience that is now being gathered with this will complement and enrich classic public participation through online tools in the long term. The online formats are now experiencing their practical test, and organizers, authorities, project sponsors and many more are getting to know a new terrain in these weeks, which can bring many advantages. We hope that they will also learn to love it. Because if online formats prove their worth now, they can be offered permanently in the future.

If local events are soon possible again, this does not necessarily mean the end of online tools for public participation – it’s the contrary. The experience that is now being gathered with this will complement and enrich classic public participation through online tools in the long term. The online formats are now experiencing their practical test, and organizers, authorities, project sponsors and many more are getting to know a new terrain in these weeks, which can bring many advantages. We hope that they will also learn to love it. Because if online formats prove their worth now, they can be offered permanently in the future.

Your contact person

[Translate to English:] Fabian Herbst

Fabian Herbst
+49 911 530 63-121
fhe[at]kaltwasser.de

2020 will not be a lost year

for public participation. It will be a year of learning, in which many new paths will be taken and many new ways will be paved for the future."