The main challenge of the participatory budget project was to reach and activate as much of the public as possible with the resources at hand:
Reaching the public - citizens - activating the target groups
- Generating public attention
- Activating many different citizens
- Addressing the target groups in the best possible way
- Designing interactive web pages to be user-friendly
- Guaranteeing transparent processes
- Generating lots of contributions - selecting good proposals
- Securing the future
- Long-term embedding in politics and administration
- Establishing a new culture of participation
The success is surely due to the extensive PR work in mobilizing the public and to the structure of the procedure. Access barriers were set very low, allowing citizens to submit contributions not only via the Internet, but also by mail and via the call center. In addition, the participation platform was designed to be easy and self-evident and access criteria were set quite low. Another criterion is also the promise of politicians to deal intensively with the proposals of the citizens.
It soon turned out that the discussion took place on a very constructive level concerning everyday problems. The subject areas drawing the most attention, such as traffic lights, street lighting, bicycle lanes and networks, a bike-friendly city, dogs, dog droppings, dogging, teenagers and children, garbage, cleanliness, public pools, safety, playgrounds, road repair, traffic and traffic safety, in other words subjects that everyone encounters every day, were evidence of this. These subjects were a recurrent theme throughout the entire procedure, and it turned out that 4 weeks of active participationÂ had been sufficient.
Proposals that were only submitted towards the end had no chance of gaining sufficient votes to make it onto the list of best ideas.
The next participatory budgeting, scheduled to take place in November/December 2009, will run for five weeks, divided into two parts. During the first three weeks, citizens will be able to submit proposals, comment and vote, for the following two weeks the platform will be closed for new proposals, but will still be opened for comments and votes.
This should ensure that proposals only submitted towards the end still have enough time to be ranked high if they are considered sufficiently good.
It also turned out that the kind and scope of the Internet service was very well received by the citizens. An attempt was made to promptly clear up questions and react to suggestions, and the users were not given much "rein". Whenever discussions were on the verge of getting out of hand or there were problems with the behavior of some, a reaction followed immediately. This was helpful in preventing discussions from running out of control and politically incorrect opinions being disseminated.