Kortrijk, the Flemish city known for its textiles, medieval bravery and mayor Vincent van Quickenborne, kicked off its participation project with ambitious plans. The West-Flemish town aims to become “The Best City of Flanders”, and gave its citizens a starring role in that mission.
To prepare for the creation process of its multi-annual plan, Kortrijk presented 5 important statements to its inhabitants, based on the current administrative agreement.
Should there be a fine for whoever litters chewing gum or cigarette butts? Should the city install more targeted speed checks or ban highly polluting traffic from the city streets? Should they invest their urban resources in poverty reduction? And should the city magazine be distributed digitally from now on?
Under the name of the “Big Questioning”, Kortrijk put these topics up for debate since January 5th. The citizen input will form the foundation of the city’s new policy objectives and will be moulded into tangible action plans.
A great move, because involving citizens in political decision-making is essential to create supported policies. But the city really got the hang of it, because in addition to putting the 5 statements to a vote, the city council launched a policy proposal that was appropriately named ‘Draft Plan: Best City of Flanders’.
The draft plan, which tackled 10 topics, was presented to the city’s inhabitants on the participation platform. Among other things, it stated the city’s intentions to become the most pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly city in Flanders, achieve solidarity in diversity and lower poverty rates, to put biodiversity and lower pollution on the priority list, and to focus on the local sense of pride.
So what are the final results after the input phase? Let’s take a look at some stats!
Since the platform launch on January 5th, it has attracted around 1.323 registered users. After the official launch, the number of registrations kept rising proportionally, which sends a positive message about both the communication and campaigning of the city council and the true participation need the inhabitants felt in the first place.
These active users voiced their opinions in over 4.929 votes, 462 ideas and 371 comments. Of the nearly 5000 votes that were cast since the launch of the platform, the lion’s share are positive pro-votes, an indicator that Kortrijk managed to host a constructive and high-quality debate in a positive climate.
Now, let’s take a look at the hottest topics. The draft plan touched upon pretty much everything, but which were the topics that kept the inhabitants up at night?
Our stats show a clear focus on mobility and traffic safety, general biodiversity and eco-friendliness, and the opportunity to walk and cycle through the city in a safe and healthy way.
But what were the key factors that made the participation process in Kortrijk run so smoothly? How can we explain those high participation rates? And what are the things to keep in mind if you want to implement citizen participation in your own city or municipality?
Okay, it’s a cliché the size of the Burj Khalifa, but it’s also a universal truth: a good start is half the battle. The “Big Questioning” was launched at the city’s New Year’s reception, which created massive momentum for the project.
The city created catchy videos that encouraged citizens to voice their opinions. They gave the project a clear and visible spot on the city website and in the local newsletter. Moreover, they consistently referred to the project on social media.
The takeaway is this: the fewer hurdles your citizens have to jump in order to participate, the more they’ll be inclined to do so. The easier people find their way to the platform, the more qualitative your democratic process will be. It seems simple, but that’s not always the case. And that guides us seamlessly to key factor no. 3: an easy, low-threshold questioning.
The 5 statements that were up for debate on the platform were all matters that were relevant and linked directly with the citizens’ daily lives. Besides, voting is inherently an easy and low-threshold action that requires little effort while still having an impact. Citizens can express their opinions with a single click. The easier it is to take the action you ask, the more people you’ll be able to convince.
The project launched on January 5th. The first results were widely communicated only two weeks later.
A smart move, because this sparked a new wave of attention and awareness (which in turn brought about a new rise in participation numbers), and clearly demonstrated that the city took the output seriously. The conclusion is simple: citizens will always be more likely to participate when they feel like their voice is actually being heard.