People do not participate in the life of their community trying to influence decision makers to implement solutions to problems of public concern, due to reasons that include lack of success stories of civic engagement, lack of time, lack of money, lack of motivation, lack of knowledge about issues, lack of accountability, lack of efficiency, and lack of leverage of the participative processes. Every-day people have great creative potential and need the tools to bring their constructive solution ideas to community problems, to the desks of appointed and elected officials. This situation is affecting both public authorities and every-day citizens. The former do not benefit the most from the citizen’s creative potential, while the latter become more indifferent towards what is happening in their social – economic environment, more reluctant towards the decision makers and more enraged towards the public administration system and the political environment in general.
In a previous blog post I was writing about the importance of success stories of civic engagement. I am now going to tackle other problems that are affecting the level of civic engagement in various communities.
Lack of time is a major component of the problems that citizens have when they want to engage in participation attempts. Specialists, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders are engaged in various projects and leave little to none time for the community. To be actively engaged, they need to dedicate time to travel to public authorities, to wait, and to discuss issues. This may take at least two hours, which is huge time in an already-packed agenda.
Lack of money is more prevalent to the members of various organizations, when they want to organize civic engagement projects. The initiatives have the goals to identify and define solutions to problems of public concern, to discuss them and to recommend the most feasible ones to decision makers for community action. These attempts have costs associated with accommodation and food for participants, rent, transportation, and logistics. As a result, civic engagement attempts are rarely organized, when organizations manage to receive funding.
Lack of motivation is another major problem that is affecting the degree of engagement in the decision-making process. Scholars argue that citizens need a motivation to participate. The motivation may be related to the opportunity of the citizen to be promoted, to the existence of a prize, or to the interactivity of the participation exercise. Either way, citizens use valuable time and resources to participate, so they need something in return. The more a participation attempt contains a motivational offer, the more it has chances to engage grater audiences, who contribute with better solutions. I personally consider that a participation exercise should at least offer participants recognition for their efforts, in the form of publicity.
Lack of knowledge about issues: this problem is more prevalent to participation projects that last for little time and engage more people. Participants, who may be randomly- or self-selected, do not know all the time enough information about the issues being discussed. Moreover, they do not have time to do proper research during the participation or consultation exercise. I consider that the longer the participation endeavor, the more time people have to think about issues and thus propose better ideas.
To be continued.