Participatory Democracy: Bordeaux consults its citizens online
par Elsa Sidawy | 12.18.11
A new tram line, the redevelopment of a neighborhood, water policy . . . Since 2008 Bordeaux residents have been invited to comment on regional projects, big and small, on a dedicated website. The Urban Community of Bordeaux took advantage of the launch of a major project, the Jean-Jacques Bosc Garonne River crossing, to initiate this innovative citizen consultation platform.
A complementary approach to conventional participation tools
The objective of this urban community? Encourage people reluctant to travel, for physical or material reasons, to play a part in the public decision making process. “This site was set up in order to increase the participation of people who do not necessarily go to public meetings,” says Aurelie Couture, project manager of citizen participation in the Urban Community of Bordeaux. The result is a site that centralizes all open projects in the area. An added value? It is open 24/7, allowing anyone to participate regardless of scheduling conflicts. But the tool is meant to be complementary to physical meetings between leaders and citizens and should not replace them, particularly in the context of major projects. “In a dialogue, each tool has its own individual bias, but aggregating multiple tools reduces the overall bias.” For small projects, the site is a complement to town hall records where citizens can physically file their complaints.
Small and large projects
Major development projects as well as the more modest ones are visible on the platform. Citizens can browse projects on a map or directly access ongoing consultations. Today, 66 projects are posted, including 22 open to contributions. Those that remain closed, however, are always available for consultation.
The Metropolitan technical officers update the site as projects progress. When the consultation is closed, comments are sent to the appropriate departments who analyze the data and amend the project drafts accordingly. On large projects, “we further analyze the themes that emerged and their occurrences. Then we have to convert what was said from everyday language to technical language and than aggregate these findings with contributions collected through other tools.”
Tentative but encouraging results
While the project manager dodged the question of platform traffic, she noted satisfactory results overall. “Some things work well, for example people will more freely give their opinion on immediate local issues.” Some particularly studious citizens are researching ahead of time to give the most constructive advice possible. The site is also considered a support for those who have not had the opportunity to speak at public meetings.
Next step? Increase the visibility of the site to understand which generic topics residents are passionate about. “We could then go by these findings to set up a thematic institutional dialogue.” On the greater metropolitan scale, Bordeaux has launched its own “Grenelle des Mobilités”: suggesting participatory democracy is as critical at the local as at the national level.
The city of Montreal launched a new site dedicated to citizen involvement in early December: “Montreal, I make my city here! (Montréal, je fais ma ville ici !)” Residents are invited to submit ideas for projects throughout their neighborhood. Once completed, they will have the opportunity to promote their initiative via this platform and network with other concerned citizens.
Interview with Aurélie Couture, project manager of participation at the CUB, conducted at Métronum’ on December 9th, 2011.
Translated by Genny Cortinovis