08 March 2023
1. Engaging citizens near and far in digital participation
Civic tech allows people from different countries to take part in events and consultations online. A great example of this was the Conference on the Future of Europe, where citizens from all over Europe took part in discussions on a wide range of pan-European topics.
Many tools also have plug-ins that allow users from different language groups to communicate with one another directly. So, someone from, say, Bulgaria can read comments from someone from Spain even if they do not have a common language.
Even within the same city or country, this translation feature can help increase the engagement of migrant or refugee communities who might not be yet familiar with the local language. Having an opportunity to speak their native language means that these people are able to speak in public forums with more confidence and clarity.
2. Helping participants make more informed choices
Civic tech allows the provision of a wide range of additional information in different formats on the topics in question or the candidates standing in an election. It can serve as an information depository available to all at all times.
On a conventional ballot paper, there is very limited space for additional information. At participation events, information can be shared only with those present. Civic tech offers the option to provide pictures, PDFs, or videos long-term. Participants are able to look at them in their own time and make a truly informed choice.
And again, this can be done in a range of different languages.
3. Offers features that are unique to the online world
Civic tech provides options that real life doesn’t. For example, many cities use tools like “Fix my Street ” which allows a citizen to drop a pin on a virtual map and immediately identify a problem that needs fixing by local authorities. This feature also allows citizens to get feedback on the progress made by fixing it on the go by just checking their smartphones.
Another option is Virtual Reality (VR). Videos and photos of real-life locations can be enhanced with visual previews of planned alterations. This allows participants to see what different urban design options would look like in a particular place like their local park or community centre.
4. Citizens from all walks of life can participate
Remote participation means that more people can be involved. Travel time is reduced and flexibility is enhanced. For some groups – like single parents and people with reduced mobility – the opportunity to be part of a participative process from the comfort of their own homes or workplace can be a game-changer.
Civic tech means that more citizens from a wider range of backgrounds can be encouraged to get involved.
5. Gamification features can improve engagement levels, especially for youth
Gamification can be used with civic tech to help maintain engagement levels. For example, getting participants to answer a few follow-up questions by offering small giveaways or a chance to win something.
Gamification can also keep people engaged by splitting surveys into different topics and rewarding regular participants with digital badges or a draw for a prize.
Features like these mean that civic tech can be effective in arousing the interest and involvement of young people who may feel disinterested or disappointed in conventional political participation.
6. More efficient use of valuable resources
Online participation also means that organisers can save the cost and the trouble of arranging a meeting venue, transportation costs, and refreshments. Other additional costs like printing flyers and brochures can also be saved.
Of course, this only works if potential participants are aware of the online option. It is also worth remembering that civic tech is not totally free. There are still communication costs. But these can be more efficient given the wide range of potential participants you can reach with an online approach.