Business - Written by Alex Marshall on Monday, February 16, 2009 18:16 - 12 Comments
Collaborative public policy-making, the Freiburg way
Getting citizen consultation in public policy writing is a difficult task. The first challenge is finding a venue for citizens to voice their opinions. By all accounts, the Web has improved this process – Obama’s Change.gov website gathered input from over 125 000 citizens. But the the next challenge, and the more taxing one, is tying the input to to policy-writing in a formal way. Change.gov, although it had an impressive user base, was really little more than a suggestion box.
This begs the question – how can Web 2.0 tools improve on this model and move beyond the suggestion box?
One innovative case of public policy consultation can be found in the city of Freiburg, Germany. In 2008, the municipal government of Freiburg invited its citizens to partake in a participatory budgeting exercise. The goal was to gather citizen input for the drafting of the 2009/2010 municipal budget. With the help of software company TuTech Innovation, the Freiburg government created a website that used discussion forums, wikis and a new innovation – the budget slider.
Citizens who registered for the website could manipulate these sliders to create their own individual budgets, by moving the sliders up or down to either increase or decrease spending to any one of the 22 budget areas. The key constraint was that the total budget had to balance to 2008 levels, so spending increases in one area necessitated economizations in another. Citizens were also invited to provide written justifications for their changes.
Following the completion of the process, all of the individual budgets were aggregated into one single “Citizen’s Budget”, which gave a clear picture of the participants’ wishes for the 2009/2010 municipal budget.
Overall, 1800 citizens registered to use the website, with 1291 writing individual budgets (750 of whom provided written justifications). Although this is less than 1% of the city’s population (217 000), it still represents a sevenfold increase over the roughly 150-200 citizens who might show up for an offline, townhall consultation process.
Building on the Change.gov model, this input was actually used as a focal point in the local government’s debate over the drafting of the actual budget. In one case, 400 000 Euros were redirected to childcare spending, a change that may not have occurred without the widespread support that the measure received in the Citizen’s Budget.
Also building on the suggestion box model, the final Citizen’s Budget was drafted into a report that was published by the municipal government. This allowed a great deal of transparency, as this budget could now be compared to the actual budget that was written into law, also providing an improved degree of government accountability.
Overall, this case demonstrates the new relationship that’s possible between government and citizens. Simple tools like the budget slider can add a whole new level of transparency to the public square dialogue.
Business - Oct 5, 2010 12:00 - 0 Comments
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