CitizenLab’s mission is to build stronger democracies by making public decision-making more inclusive, participatory, and responsive.
2023’s most engaging projects
We reviewed the 100 most engaging projects of the year and noticed several trends in topics, engagement methods, and country preferences.
Most popular project topic(s)
Pilot projects that were open to public comment, like temporarily closing a street to get feedback on traffic patterns before proceeding, addressing waste management, dogs in public areas, or recycling led to high resident participation. This approach of focusing on specific issues, coupled with tackling more complex topics like Local Plans and Comprehensive Plans, which involved imagining a future more livable city, has been highly effective.
The reason is clear:
These are topics that residents have an intimate knowledge of, and therefore are local experts on. Their lived experiences provide tangible solutions to questions like, 'How can we make this street more biker-friendly?' or 'How could we make our downtown area more vibrant?' This not only benefits local governments in decision-making but also adds immense value to the broader community.
City of Düsseldorf plans more green spaces with the community (Germany)
“Always wanted to become a city planner?” With this intriguing question, Düsseldorf is sparking creativity and inviting residents to actively shape their local environment. The project to develop a green spaces framework plan for District 9, spearheaded by Düsseldorf’s Marketing department, is turning city planning into an engaging and collaborative endeavor – with a little help from the CitizenLab platform.
Using the interactive Mapping tool, residents can pinpoint specific locations within neighborhoods on a custom-layered map of the District and suggest areas for new green spaces, playgrounds, or communal open areas.
Besides adding ideas on a map, participants can also add general suggestions on an ideation forum, or share their opinions about what’s good and what can be further improved through a survey on the platform.
Residents were very eager to share insights, based on their lived experiences, and help come to impactful solutions: the engagement team collected over 800 survey responses and 100 concrete ideas submitted.
Most popular engagement method(s): Voting
Until recently, Surveys and Ideation have been the go-to methods for obtaining in-depth insights. And with good reason: they are particularly effective in the early phases of decision-making, aiding in the comprehension of complex issues. surveys were the method that governments were most comfortable using and they generally garnered the highest participation rates.
However, we're championing a more integrated approach. That’s why, in 2023, we released a suite of Voting methods to bridge the gap between insight and action. Our client community enthusiastically embraced these methods and we’ve seen that Voting projects have 146% greater participation than Surveys, up until now considered our most accessible engagement method for some residents - in other words, the method leading to the highest engagement.
Municipality of Culemborg empowers residents to choose a new annual cultural event (Netherlands)
Culemborg introduced a new annual cultural event designed to delight residents of all ages. What’s truly groundbreaking is how they went about it: the town let its residents decide.
Until the end of July, creative minds were invited to submit their ideas for an event that would become a yearly highlight in Culemborg. In August, proposals were evaluated against previously established criteria, emphasizing sustainability and the potential for long-term continuation. Three standout ideas were selected for a public vote.
Leveraging CitizenLab’s Approval Voting feature, one of the different Voting Methods available in the toolbox, the community buzzed with activity as residents cast their votes. The platform saw 1,020 people voting online, while an additional 121 residents participated in offline voting, demonstrating the inclusive nature of the initiative.
So what do 2023’s top projects have in common?
We identified 3 key patterns in how cities designed and managed their engagement; these projects:
Asked residents’ opinions on topics that they have intimate knowledge of by virtue of living in a particular city.
Truly gave residents a high degree of influence over decision-making or at least over project outcomes.
Closed the loop - acknowledged the importance of getting back to residents on not only the immediate outcomes of a consultation, and also the steps in between, implementation plans, and long-term implications.
Trends in participation
In 2023, we worked with local governments in over 21 countries. Here are some of the country-specific trends we noticed:
The highest number of participation projects were launched in these 5 countries:
UK with 20 projects per year per client
Chile with 13 projects per year per client
Netherlands with 10 projects per year per client
Denmark with 9.7 projects per year per client
US with 9.3 projects per year per client
A country’s culture of engagement is an indicator of the most popular engagement method(s) for projects:
Denmark saw the most open consultations with engagement methods across the breadth of our platform used (ranging across degree of influence from Voting to Proposals).
While the UK launched the most projects per client, the majority of these consultations still used a single method - Surveys - to consult their communities.
In the Netherlands, we saw a strong, communicative approach to open participation, with a higher-than-average use of informational engagement methods.
So what does this all tell us?
It’s noteworthy that we found no correlation between the number of projects launched and the amount of participation achieved. Instead, what seems to be a bigger factor in the most engaging projects are Culture of Engagement factors, such as using a robust variety of engagement methods, closing feedback loops, and reporting results. Additionally, the topic's relevance and the communication efforts undertaken by the local government also play crucial roles.
Let’s turn the spotlight onto some more projects that caught our eye and take a closer look at their impact.
City of St. Louis engages 3,700 residents in deciding on how to spend $250 million in Rams Settlement funds
We know from experience that some local governments hesitate to delve into open dialogues on sensitive topics, fearing backlash or overwhelming complexities. We also know for a fact that the City of St. Louis is certainly not one of them.
St. Louis took a bold step by launching its CitizenLab community engagement platform with a pressing yet delicate question: How should the Rams Settlement funds, a significant $250 million, be used? The city’s leadership is committed to using it to make big, lasting changes that help the economy grow, encourage more people to live in the city, and make life better for the people who live there.
The project kicked off with an online survey collecting input to identify the priority challenges. Next, the community was asked to share ideas matching these challenges. In 2024, a city-wide vote will determine the top ideas for implementation.
The community’s response to the project was overwhelmingly positive: within the first two days, over 1,000 residents signed up to the platform, eager to make their voices heard. The enthusiasm remained strong, ultimately leading to 3,700 community members participating.
Decision-making with resident input
Our mission centers on inclusive, representative, and responsive decision-making. And while most of the governments we partner with also aim to make more representative decisions, starting the process can often feel heavy or intimidating.
For instance, tackling objectives like climate change impacts, which over half (55%) of European mayors in Eurocities’ Pulse Mayors Survey identified as their biggest objective, might seem daunting. Yet, simple, engaging projects can effectively involve communities in these vital issues.
Take the following two climate action projects, for example:
Municipality of Waddinxveen empowers residents to take ownership in climate action with free trees (Netherlands)
You may be ready to engage your community on a policy, but want to keep things light both for your own learning curve and to make participation accessible to more people across your community. In 2023, Waddinxveen, a town in the Netherlands, did this by inviting people to apply to win a tree for free. In October, they sent all the winners an email, and in November, they gave out the trees so that residents could plant them. In February 2024, they plan to get status updates from the residents who planted a tree by inviting them to share a photo and tips for how to take good care of the tree.