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Rennes wants to get its inhabitants involved in social issues

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par Elsa Sidawy | 12.29.11

The queen of digital technology. This is how the capital of Brittany, which shows great dynamism in terms of participative democracy, could be described. And Jean de Legge, Chief Communications Officer of Rennes Métropole, will not deny it: “Rennes is famous for having been the first city to release its public data and has been working on urban mediation for a long time.”

For the record, the city council presented this year the latest version of its “De Condate à Rennes” 3D model, which enables inhabitants to navigate their city through time. But, to meet the challenge of remaining innovative, the metropolitan area is showing infinite inventiveness, especially in the field of civic participation in the life of the city. SMS walls, theme-related discussion spaces, surveys… the objective is really to “go beyond having an Internet user asking a question and to develop a community of Internet users.

In that field, the greatest success of the city council to this day is the second “Rennes Forum” organised by the Libération newspaper in March 2010, which had a total of 19,000 visitors within two days. They flocked to attend the 46 conferences on the topic of happiness. “Our intention is to make people participate in challenges and in the life of a common territory.

Coming out of city-planning consulting to start cooperating

But, on the Chief Communications Officer’s admission, the metropolitan area still lacks an additional spark today, and especially “applications that can give debates a collective dimension and participation a somewhat playful dimension.” The other gap is the fact that participative democracy takes place on the scale of districts and on the scale of the city, and not enough on the scale of the metropolitan area. “We are therefore trying to develop tools to enable the whole population of the metropolitan area to participate in our debates.” Duly noted.

The city council notably created, at the end of November, the Causes Communes debate website, which gathered almost 1,500 inhabitants intrigued by the community aspect of that platform. “They were people whom we probably would not reach before” with the more traditional tools, such as public meetings. The purpose of this website is to ask for inhabitants’ opinions on current events, in the form of surveys, debates or discussions, in order to “create group dynamics on important issues.” Even if, for the time being, important issues are city magazines layouts and Christmas time. “There are various moments and intensities of contribution,” Jean de Legge admits. Is the city of Rennes well on its way to deploying its “common strategy in terms of the organisation of participative democracy and of inhabitants’ involvement”? The debate is open.

Interview made at the Métronum’ event, on the 9th of December 2011 (in french).

Photo credit: D. Levasseur / City of Rennes

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