Offerman Consulting
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Look for internal factors to increase citizen engagement

Author: Adrian Offerman

Now that eGovernment services are quickly becoming the default way to communicate between public agencies and citizens, citizen participation and engagement are lagging. This is often blamed on the so-called digital divide, i.e. a lack of skills, trust and confidence. The Slovenian Housing Fund, however, found that they could greatly improve the citizen engagement by actively searching for internal rather than external factors and mitigating these.

Their findings were presented at the International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2015 (CeDEM15) held recently at the Danube University Krems in Austria.

Mitigating risks

In a public tender for renting and buying housing facilities, the Housing Fund found that in the first instance only 38 percent of the applications submitted online were completed before the appointed deadline. The success rate for paper forms was much higher at 82 percent.

Aiming to increase the success rate of online applications, the Fund followed the methodology proposed by Andrew Chadwick in his 2011 research paper 'Explaining the Failure of an Online Citizen Engagement Initiative: The Role of Internal Institutional Variables'. The Fund analysed the characteristics that would increase the risk of a failed application, and developed guidelines to mitigate the identified risks.

Actions

For the following public housing tenders, three concrete actions were implemented:

  1. review and revise the user interface for online forms;
  2. review all the communication messages for better clarity; and
  3. more frequently include social media as a channel for communication.

In a new tender, the completeness rate for online applications improved from 38 to 92 percent, while the ratio between electronic and paper applications remained at approximately fifty percent.