CitizenScape (CitizenScape)

Over a 12 month period, pilot trials of the CitizenScape programme integrated and tested Web 2.0 tools and solutions in a socially purposeful way, encouraging people to participate in concrete legislative and democratic processes.  With a clear objective of increasing citizen participation by 25%, four contrasting local authority pilot sites were trialled across Europe.  The specific focus of these trials was to engage citizens with the implementation of EU environmental legislation at a local level.   The CitizenScape project connected existing social web environments to democratic debate in order to create a co-produced civic space which can empowers individuals and communities to formally participate as decision-makers.

From the outset the CitizenScape consortium affirmed that in order to achieve a viable Deployment Plan for the rollout of the platform across Europe it was of critical importance to adequately quantify and analyse specific objectives and expected outcomes and criteria of success of the project.

Policy Context

CitizenScape has been developed to address the problem of democratic deficit, by utilising the phenomenal popularity of online social networking.  Co-creative online spaces such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace are successfully welcoming citizens to engage and build communities – places where everyone can have their say, sharing knowledge, ideas and opinions.  Engagement with democratic decision-making processes has meanwhile significantly decreased, and these state-of-the-art web-based tools have been neglected in their potential to bridge that gap.  The underlying assumption of CitizenScape is that people are already using the internet in a civic way – the question is whether it is possible to connect this to formal democracy. 

In this case study we describe some of the learning from the project and group these together into strategic, policy and process issues which we believe will be of interest to anyone who is trying to use new technologies in order to support democratic engagement.  This might include Elected Representatives, Government Officers and Community Co-Ordinators.  We also believe that the strategic issues highlighted are of interest to the practitioners and best practice leaders in the field of eDemocracy.

Description of target users and groups

The users of the service are Local Authorities. The end users are citizens in all Regions across Europe. The Local, Regional, National and European Authorities will buy, and operate the service, so these are targeted in the Viability Plan as the revenue providers to sustain the commercial operation of the CitizenScape Service across Europe.

Citizens were either be recruited for the site or be introduced to it via one of the offline marketing activities or events planned.

Citizens then access the CitizenScape service, using any standard Web-Browser on Dial-up (or Broadband) Internet access on any standard PC.  Much of the content will be available to non-registered users however anyone wishing to post content will be asked to sign-up and join the site - as per other social networking sites.

Once on the site the user is able to select their area of interest and either browse latest postings and events or add their own contribution.  Users are encouraged to migrate between informal social networking and more formal engagement with decision makers through online tools.

The site host aims to encourage the debate and regularly posts short video which provide a quick, easy and engaging digest to the site and signpost users to key parts of content.  They also recruit and train site moderators from the user community.

Users are also encouraged to attend online and offline events in order to create a sense of community and focus.

Users are recruited on one of two basis:

  • They have a strong interest in a particular topic and will benefit from the tools available on the site
  • They are prominent members of their community and can benefit from using the tools in order to create an online community to complement their offline activities.

The recent ePractice.eu publication "State of the art good practice in information exchange and Web 2.0" identifies the importance of recruitment in the success of any online community and suggests that hosts "try to find the people with personal attitudes closest to Web 2.0 values and community building" (P.85).

Once these two main groups are engaged then a wider marketing campaign will be initiated in order to recruit users more widely.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

During its 2 years, the project Partners researched the CitizenScape System user requirements, documented the project's dissemination and evaluation plans, developed a viability plan (to sustain the service after the project ends), designed and developed the prototype CitizenScape Service (which can be viewed at http://demo.citizenscape.public-i.tv), commissioned the service in the 4 pilot use sites in Bristol (UK), Donegal (Ireland), Genoa (Italy) and Zilina (Slovakia), for the Pilot Trials that were undertaken throughout 2009. These were evaluated and the results used by Public-i, who are now deploying the service on a commercial basis through their network of Business Partners across the UK and Europe as an online Virtual Town Hall civic space. CitizenScape is a citizen-driven initiative that provides tools, applications and services which empower citizens to contribute to legislative and decision-making processes and address the implementation of EU initiated legislation by Local Authorities. CitizenScape involves key stakeholders, i.e. actors from both civil society and public institutions in a shared environment that is moderated and managed by the Local Authority.

CitizenScape integrated and tested state-of-the-art Web 2.0 social networking ICT-based tools and solutions in a socially purposeful way in concrete legislative and decision-making processes - specifically looking at engaging Citizens to debate and participate in the implementation of EUenvironmental legislation at a local level. It defined the precise conditions to be fulfilled, the desires and needs expressed by citizens for collective participation in major EU issues, and the specific barriers to be overcome for deployment.

The project, in parallel, integrated "best of breed" components into the technological solution, and adapted the very successful Public-i webcast methodology to create a framework for recruiting citizens to CitizenScape and then moderating their inputs. From this experience it is planned that the platform and approach will be applied and contribute to other EU policies as a key driver to sustain and expand the service after the trial period. The project sought to create a 'democratic pathway' by attracting and recruiting citizens to use the Web 2.- style space of CitizenScape and then migrating them to more formal online democratic tools (such as petitioning). These formal tools are then the means to access the decision makers - in this case Local Councillors.

CitizenScape is unique in its combination of a strong and focused implementation methodology alongside the operational use of innovative technology. CitizenScape is a flexible online space that blends and integrates social networking and other Web 2.0 technologies with more formal online democratic tools. The Citizen eParticipation methodology has created an accessible and inclusive model for engaging citizens which ensure that CitizenScape implementations not only have effective technologies but also effective offline recruitment activities and support to guarantee that the CitizenScapes are vibrant and active democratic centres.

Technology solution

CitizenScape is a flexible online environment that blends social networking technologies with more formal online democratic tools such as ePetitioning and webcasting.  The project team also refined the eParticipate methodology in order to create an inclusive and accessible pattern for online and offline engagement with citizens which ensures that CitizenScape implementations not only have effective technologies but also effective offline recruitment activities and support to ensure that the spaces are vibrant and active democratic centres.

Citizens are actively involved as moderators of the discussion and are encouraged to engage with and influence decision makers.

Social networking is one of the greatest areas of Internet usage and CitizenScape seeks to exploit and harness this within a democratic context.

This shift to a more inclusive debate is an important one for Local Government to consider - and is clearly a big shift in behaviour for many organisations.  As with any major change there are also risks to be considered.  As a project CitizenScape looked at these risks and how to manage them.

CitizenScape uses web 2.0 tools in order to create interactive spaces which Local Authorities can use in order to encourage and stimulate debate around the legislative process.  Web 2.0 tools such as discussion boards, wikis and blogs are used in order to create citizen interaction around either a single issue or a single legislative process.  The project was not dominated by technology however as the project team also intended to extend and validate the project management methodology which has been used in the eParticipate project.  These tools are used to focus and channel citizens into formal online democratic tools such as online petitions and thereafter to influence Local Councillors.

Online democratic tools can be considered to be divided into those which replicate traditional offline democratic instruments and those which offer more informal engagement and participation in the general debate.  The key objective of CitizenScape is to connect into the current trend and interest in online social networking - the Web2.0 phenomena - and to use this in a socially purposeful way to provide a space for citizens to debate and engage with democratic issues.  These informal tools can then migrate people towards formal democratic instruments such as petitioning to ensure that the energy and interest created online can find its way back to into the mainstream of democracy in order to influence decision makers.  Importantly the Web 2.0 tools can also be used to directly feed back outcomes and responses from decision makers in order to sustain an ongoing community of debate.

Technology choice: Standards-based technology

Main results, benefits and impacts

The Citizenscape project delivered 4 pilot sites in which each acts as the portal for a number of citizen engagement tools known as widgets in their respective regions. The widgets are used to engagecitizens on a single issue in that region. Each of the User partner sites' URLs are:

Bristol: www.bristol.CitizenScape.public-i.tv

Donegal: www.donegal.CitizenScape.public-i.tv

Zilina: www.zilina.CitizenScape.public-i.tv

Genoa: www.genoa.CitizenScape.public-i.tv

Throughout 2009, the project's pilot trials explored the use of the new technology and methodological approach. It did this within the context of creating a co-production environment. Though the Social Web is by its nature a co-created space this does not automatically commute the top down approach of most government / citizen interactions easily. Many online consultation tools ask citizens if they want option A or option B - social web users expect to be able to suggest Option C. One of the early challenges of the Citizenscape approach was to ensure that the new Civic Space had been co-created - and this involved coaching for both the citizen and council participants. One of the conclusions of 06/09/2010 Final Report, V1.0 Page 6 of 12 the project is that this idea of co-production can and must be explored further if Government is to work effectively within Social Web Spaces.

This issue of identity management is also critical in order for participants to move seamlessly from their Social Web Spaces to the Civic Space. It is clear that a shared identity management system would make the user experience far simpler. The use of OpenID has started to address this but the issue of how to create a permanent civic identity which can also be used in Social Web Spaces is an important topic to explore in future projects.

The pilot trials found that this level of reliance on the Social Web assumes a level of technical sophistication from the participants which is more available within certain demographics. In designing these spaces it is important to try to avoid building for the enthusiastic early adopter and to aim at building for a participant who is less engaged with the technology in the first place, as the usage of these technologies is on the increase. This means that the offline engagement which needs to accompany the service must include a large element of en-skilling the participants if this approach is to work. The project team approached this by spending time training Community Moderators and Activists and encouraging them to pass these skills on. Based on the success of the CitizenScape pilot trials, Public-i are now running the Web 2.0 eParticipation service as a Virtual Town Hall, in a beta run of deploying a fully commercial service to Local Authorities across the UK and Europe (see www.public-i.info./product.php?id=44&c=CitizenScape ).

The success of this strategy depends on the service being sustainable and repeatable in many contexts.

Track record of sharing

Evaluation of the Pilot Trials found that more work is needed - the project has been a strong Proof of Concept that is now being explored in further UK and other beta trials planned for 2010). Public-i are continuing the evaluation and piloting of this work with the UK based Virtual Town Hall Pilot, that is being reported at www.public-i.info  and on a blog at www.curiouscatherine.wordpress.com . However the real impact and results of the CitizenScape Pilot Trials will be not be seen for 2 to 3 years in the future.

While the CitizenScape pilot trials are the alpha run of the Web 2.0 eParticipation service, Public-i are now running the service as a Virtual Town Hall beta run of deploying a fully commercial service to Local Authorities across the UK and Europe.

Lessons learnt

Key learning points from the Citizenscape Project

Strategic issues that were addressed

  1. You need to build trust in the process
  2. Co-production of content and process can help build levels of engagement
  3. At some point you need to address the need to involve the elected representatives and bring together the engagement and democratic agendas
  4. Democracy requires Accountability – to work effectively online we will need to consider how to manage online democratic identities

Policy points to be discussed

  1. Co-production means that you can’t always moderate content – you need the right policy ion place to manage this risk
  2. You need to consider if you want to ‘short-cut’ the recruitment process by offering incentives

Process:  Some practical advice

  1. Take the time to establishing the level of current activity before you start
  2. Don’t expect to be able to choose the topic – its more likely it will choose you
  3. Building these communities takes time – you need to build this into your project plan
  4. Make sure you have made the right assumptions about user knowledge

Project Learning for future funded projects

  1. Try to use an agile method for gathering requirements on an ongoing basis
  2. Devolve site administration to the project participants wherever possible

The project started with a very wide set of objectives and provided an opportunity for the team to explore some of the wider issues which are highlighted when you look to engage with citizens within their own social web spaces.  Some of the issues that were encountered were at a more global and strategic level – these really highlight some of the big questions that are arising around discusions on eDemcracy and the democratic deficit.  In a project this size we were not able to address these topics to any great depth but have been able to add to the body of evidence that should be encouraging more work and thinking in these areas:

Scope: International
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