Participatory methods

Crowdsourcing – participative governance


Crowdsourcing – online citizen engagement is a tool of e-democracy which enables involvement in decision co-creation process, in various extent. This method is basically an open invitation to every citizen, willing to participate in particular issues, via free-access online platform. There are 5 different forms of crowdsourcing (Noveck, Beth 2015), which serve to authorities, to align their policies with citizens’ needs and interests: crowdsourcing of opinions (1), ideas (2), funds (3), tasks (4), and data (5).

On-line citizen engagement aims to improve policy making process, by producing better policies, building trust, gaining policy acceptance and share the responsibility for policy making (OECD 2003). Furthermore, public engagement improves the involvement of marginalized or vulnerable groups (Gigler, Soren 2016).

Implementation time depends on complexity of the on-line engagement system, human resources involved and potential limitations (legal, technical, financial etc.). It also requires significant level of ICT competences, legal knowledge and communication skills.

There are numerous great examples around the world on method application. Hereby only 5 inspiring are provided:

  • Liège, Belgium: #RéinventionsLiège
    The City of Liège (Belgium) with its CitizenLab platform reached 15% of the city population, collected 1.000 proposals and 95.000 votes.
  • Reykjavik, Iceland: Betri Reykjavik
    ‘Better Reykjavik’ is an online platform that combines deliberative and participatory democracy and gives citizens a space where they can suggest, debate and vote for budgetary decisions and other communal projects.
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam Smart City
    Amsterdam Smart City works with companies, governments, scientific institutions and citizens to improve the livability in the city, by challenging parties to submit and execute innovative solutions to urban issues.

  • Melbourne, Australia: FutureMelbourne
    The wiki website (launched in 2008) encourages citizens to share ideas and to edit the content of the Future Melbourne draft plan.
  • Medellin, Colombia: MiMedellín
    Municipality crowdsourcing website that invites citizens to share urban solutions.

In its broader sense, crowdsourcing can be conducted in any stage of the process: problem identification, analyses, developing and/or improving solutions, implementation and evaluation process. However, two-way collaboration between government and citizens has a major relevance in the next stages (OECD 2003):

  • Agenda setting: active participation allows citizens to determine possible issues
  • Analysis: gathering evidence and knowledge from citizens, defining the challenges and opportunities associated with an agenda.
  • Monitoring the policy: allows citizens to provide their views on the policy in action and to suggest changes.

While more recent sources (CE Handbook, 2014) suggest that the citizens have to be included in the whole decision-making lifecycle (Define the issue, Gather information, Establish decision criteria, Develop alternatives, Evaluate alternatives, Make the decision, Implement the decision, Evaluate decision), the other claims that crowdsourcing should be used in the stages where still no decisions have to be taken, fostering the use of inputs of relevant stakeholders, i.e. collecting information for strategic decisions (Berg, GVD, Pietersma, P & Ambrosius, W 2014).

There is plethora of purposes for using crowdsourcing – from internal and closed systems (such as companies) to free-access international level issues. When dealing with online engagement of citizens, the crowdsourcing can be used for structured or unstructured collection of opinions in various thematic fields that tackle public matters (infrastructure, energy, mobility, living, regulations, etc.).



While some engagement requires participation of the general population, some engagements may concern only the specific group of the citizens (e.g. residents of city quarter or pet owners). Organizer(s), as well as facilitator must reach those specific groups, or ensure that a large proportion of citizens will be informed about ongoing engagement. The information can be provided through official communication channels, including social media networks and local media.

  • For the specific targets create a contact lists which contains all relevant individuals or entities you want to reach. It could be a mailing list, or any other type of direct contacts (messengers, skype, direct mail).
  • If the engagement includes only specific parts of the city, the information could be disseminated through local community boards.
  • Use support of local NGOs and associations to promote the engagement and invite citizen to participation.
  • Communication style and amount/depth of provided information on engagement topic are depending of target group characteristics.



  • PR expert
  • IT expert
  • Thematic field expert – depending on engagement topic

Technology and Environment:

  • Web space: official website, specialized website, app
  • Survey tool (if questionnaire added)
  • Tools for data analysis (depending on type of inputs)


  • When web space and logistic are established, no extra funds needed to implement the engagement activities.


  • For every particular issue a separate engagement session (purposes/ideas collecting session) has to be provided
  • The period of session duration has to be clearly determined
  • Citizens have to be informed about how their inputs will affect the issue
  • They must be given the information on who, when and where will inform them about results of the engagement session
  • The session must contain the information about public authority which organizes the session.
  • There has to be clear and simple explanation provided on how the engagement subject could affect their everyday life.
  • The best solution is to provide feedback to the citizen at the same place where they have made their contributions (i.e. on-line platform)
  • Motivation is the key factor: the subject of the discussion has to be presented in the way that citizen could understand and comprehend the possible impact on their life and environment.


Public authority unit (department, office) which main purpose is public and media relations is considered to be a good facilitator for activities of citizens’ participation. There are several reasons for that practice:

  • Public relations (PR) experts own the skills on how to simplify the ‘stories’ and make them understandable to the citizens. Many of regulation and act drafts are written in legal and administrative terms, which ordinary people could hardly understand.
  • PR experts are very familiar with pulse of general public and social climate. They also have the abilities to estimate the importance of the engagement topic on citizens’ life.
  • Usually the PR department also manages the social media network channels, and could easily disseminate the news about engagement session via these channels.
  • PR department collaborates with local media and could release the news via non-government media channels.
  • To ensure unified and coherent participation procedure and language in every public matter, use the same facilitator. This will ease the act of engagement and reduce the dropout rate.
  • The collaboration between facilitator and organizer is crucial: the organizer has to provide all relevant inputs to the facilitator on time, along with unambiguous instructions on what is want to be achieved. The facilitator prepares the interface based on the organizer’s inputs. Weak collaboration may result with poor outputs.


The on-line engagement method tends to involve as many citizens as possible, especially those who are closely related to the engagement issue, and which may be highly affected by following decisions. The purpose of the engagement is to embed collected opinions into regulations, policies or planned activities. To maximize participation of the interested stakeholders, the facilitator has to set the subject of the engagement session clearly, explaining why it matters, and what can be changed by citizens’ engagement.

  • To highlight the subject of the engagement, make it more personal by explaining how it will influence on various aspects of citizens’ life (e.g. family budget, time consumption, children security etc.).
  • The reflection of citizens’ contribution must be clearly seen in the final decisions, and presented publicly in the final report. This is an objective and transparent confirmation that the engagement was productive.


Estimated time for preparation of engagement session is 2 weeks, after the facilitator receives all necessary documentation from organizer. Logistic includes following issues:

  • Web space setup
  • Creation of an e-form
  • Which e-mail address and postal address should be provided as official contacts
  • Who will be the contact person
  • Who will be responsible for collecting data
  • Who will analyze the collected data
  • Who is responsible for final report

When the engagement starts, the citizen must be given a reasonable time to react. There is no strong recommendation on how long one engagement session should last, but the common period is 2 to 4 weeks.


  • E-form: when asking citizens to contribute about specific issue ensure that you receive a complete feedback by providing mandatory fields for particular questions, but also leave an open field for free comments. Maybe the participants will address the issues not specified in mandatory fields, which importance may lead to better quality policies.
  • If the engagement topic allows, use the questionnaire form to obtain structured inputs. This will ease the analyses of collected data. Surveys must be professionally designed and administered to avoid bias and to obtain correct data.
  • Analyses should always be conducted by the organizer’s unit. The competent institution, department or office is conversant with the engagement topic and has ability to select and evaluate the collected data.
  • If the engagement session last more than 30 days, the feedback may be diluted. Also, if the period is too short (less than 2 weeks), the participants will not have enough time to react.


Within engagement session all related documents have to be attached: acts and regulations, action plans, strategies, maps, schemes etc. In the introduction part it is useful to provide links to relevant websites, where participants will be able to inform themselves more detailed about the topic. The sources must be authentic and reliable.

If possible, use infographics, video-clips, and multimedia presentations. It is easier to understand and requires less time to get familiar with the engagement subject.


Depending on specified target group(s), the participants can be invited or informed about engagement activity by e-mail, media, social media, advertising, or press conference. The facilitator can use any available communication channel to reach the interested parties, including off-line dissemination tools (for example posters or flyers on public sites or inside public buildings – libraries, municipal offices, sport halls, schools, faculties etc.)


  • To ensure balanced and effective communication with various publics make sure that the news is launched from one center (for example PR department).
  • Encourage the citizens to participate by using question-form (e.g. What is your perspective of X? What is the X main advantage? What else could be done to improve X? Are you satisfied with X?)
  • Make clear state on impact of the engagement: the citizens have to be convinced that their opinion matters and will become a part of the future decisions.


Step 1:
Public announcement of engagement activity, including:

  • Description of the engagement topic in understandable language style
  • Support documentation as well as more specific explanations of subject discussed
  • Start and end date
  • Name of the organizer and contact information
  • Participation form and directions on how to participate
  • Information on when and where the final report will be published

Step 2:
Active promotion of engagement activity:

Institution (owned) media channels, local media and other communication tools.

Step 3:
Collection of the citizens’ proposals.

Step 4:
Data analysis.

Step 5:
Creation and publication of the final report.

Step 6:
Integration of citizens’ proposals into final decisions (regulations, acts, activities, processes, manifestations etc.)


  • Avoid legal, administrative or technical terms when engagement topic is explained
  • Avoid abbreviations or provide explanations on their meaning
  • Use specific questions to improve feedback, especially when the initiatives and creative ideas are requested
  • Use auto response to inform the participant that the proposal is successfully submitted. In the response provide date and website where the final report will be published.
  • Registration of the participants can be required as mandatory. This may increase the dropout rate, but also may result with valuable statistics on engaged citizens’ personal characteristics.
  • The final report must contain a list of proposals accepted. The citizen must give a permission for indicating his/her name in the report.
  • Unaccepted opinions are also a part of the final report, and require an appropriate argumentation.


Beside general information on engagement session, the final report is containing results of the data analysis. If the engagement included more sub-topics, there should be synthesis of results for every one of them.

The form of the final report is adapted by the form of the engagement session:

  • If the questionnaire was the central part of the engagement, then the report has to provide numeric and graphic overview of the results, following by explanation and conclusion.
  • If the proposals and comments are rejected, the participant needs to be informed about the reason of rejection.

The results have to be shared publically. The best way is to provide them on the same website where the engagement session took place.


  • Sharing the results on institutional media channels, including social media, proves that the engagement activity was productive, useful and will have an impact on future decisions. In order to improve results dissemination, the organizer could hold a press conference.
  • If the issue of the engagement activity is a regulation, act, strategy or similar document, it is recommended to publish a final document. By that, the participants can ensure themselves that their proposals were integrated in the final decisions, and that their engagement was worth.


Always use on-line citizen engagement:

  • In decision making process (regulation, acts, action plans etc.) which directly impacts on citizens’ life
  • When planning new facilities for new purposes
  • When improving the existing facilities, manifestations, processes or procedures
  • When planning the activities that have dual or multiple competences and/or involving more than one public authority unit (for example: education and culture institutions; tourist board and entrepreneurship department etc.)
  • In operational stage for particular issues: the more specific the subject of participation is, the more feedback is obtained.
  • The more citizens can identify themselves with the engagement topic,the higher involvement rate will be achieved.


Berg, GVD, Pietersma, P, and Ambrosius, W: The 8 Steps to Strategic Success: Unleashing the power of engagement, Kogan Page, 2014

Betri Reykjavik,

CE Handbook, Government of Canada, Canadian Institute for Health Research, 2014,

Citizen Engagement, The World Bank, 2017,


Dean, M, Engelbert J, Hirzalla, F, Hussey, S, Schokker, L, Walker-Love, A, Zoonen, LV, Zuijderwijk, L: Public Engagement with the Smart City, Bang the Table, 2017,

Estellés-Arolas, E & González-Ladrón-de-Guevara, F: ‘Towards an integrated crowdsourcing definition’, Journal of Information Science, XX (X), pp. 1-14, 2012.

EUCrowd - European Citizens Crowdsourcing,

Gigler, S: 10 lessons on citizen engagement, World Economic Forum, 2016,

Government Technology: 5 Ways to Improve Citizen Engagement Initiatives, 2013,

IBRD & ENoLL: Citizen-Driven Innovation: A guidebook for city mayors and public administrators, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank and European Network of Living Labs, 2015.

Kurin, K: Inspiring Examples of Citizen Participation, WeThinq, 2015,

Leong, M: Online Citizen Engagement Trends to Watch in 2017, Tamarack Institute, 2017,

McGinty, S: Top 5 crowdsourcing initiatives in government: better engagement with citizens, Idox group, 2016,

Noveck, BS: Smart Citizens, Smarter State, Harvard University Press, 2015.

OECD: Promise and Problems of E-Democracy: Challenges of Online Citizen Engagement, OECD Publications, 2003.


Priručnik za provedbu savjetovanja s javnošću za jedinice lokalne i područne (regionalne) samouprave, Povjerenik za informiranje, Zagreb, 2016,

[Handbook for Implementation of Public Consultations for Local Authorities, by Commissioner for information]

Ransbeeck, WV: 5 Ways Crowdsourcing Serves Our Governments, CitizenLab, 2016,

Riviere, P: How to Implement Successful Online Citizen Participation: 5 Tips We Heard from the Citizens Themselves, CitizenLab, 2017,

Walker-Love, A: Citizen engagement in urban transformation: smart cities, smart citizens, but smart projects?, Bang The Table, 2016,




SHOWCASE On-line Public Engagement