Why local councils should care about ‘citizensourcing’
‘Citizensourcing’ can be a highly effective way for local government to gain innovative ideas and solutions that benefit the community – but only if they are sufficiently committed.
‘Citizensourcing’ can be a highly effective way for local government to gain innovative ideas and solutions that benefit the community – but only if councils are sufficiently committed, research reveals.
The civic equivalent of crowdsourcing, citizensourcing gives the public an opportunity to have input into local government projects and policies – from playground and dog park proposals, to how to improve parking, or suggestions for the design of a new library.
In a paper published in the journal R&D Management, Dr Krithika Randhawa from the University of Technology Sydney, along with colleagues, Associate Professor Ralf Wilden from Macquarie University and Professor Joel West from Keck Graduate Institute, California, investigated the use of citizensourcing by local governments.
The team analysed the citizensourcing efforts of 18 Australian local councils over a two-year period to see what factors improved success.
We found that the councils varied dramatically in their degree of commitment, and thus their strategies for organising and managing crowdsourcing efforts, and this was reflected in the outcomes.
Dr Krithika Randhawa
Success was defined by the degree of engagement and useful contributions from the public, as well as the implementation of contributions, and whether they led to significant improvements in the design and delivery of public services and infrastructure.
“We found that the leadership team’s commitment to the process was critical, as this shaped the organisational goals, resulting in better strategy and implementation,” says lead author Dr Randhawa.
The researchers interviewed representatives from each council, including engagement managers, and managers from an intermediary organisation that provided the online citizensourcing platform, as well as analysing data from councils’ platforms, websites and archives.
“This allowed us to get a rich perspective on the crowdsourcing intent, strategies and choices of the local government organisations,” says Dr Randhawa.
“We found that the councils varied dramatically in their degree of commitment, and thus their strategies for organising and managing crowdsourcing efforts, and this was reflected in the outcomes,” she says.
While some councils embraced the idea of crowdsourcing to achieve transformational changes for their community and society, others saw it as a way to simply signal to the community that they have a voice in decision-making.
At the lowest end of the scale, councils made minimal effort, and saw crowdsourcing as a box ticking exercise to comply with legislation before they could implement new policies or programs.
“Councils with a robust engagement strategy committed the necessary resources and processes for citizensourcing. They developed more capable project teams, sometimes employing up to four full-time staff, to plan and deliver citizensourcing,” Dr Randhawa says.
These project teams in turn implemented a wide range of citizensourcing projects through well designed, user-friendly online platforms, and also provided regular updates and feedback to contributors on how their suggestions had impacted the design and delivery of services and policies.
“Councils that had community engagement embedded in their culture, and where senior leaders articulated the intent of the project well, saw much higher effort from the project teams, and a much greater impact from their citizensourcing efforts,” says Dr Randhawa.
While the federal government requires all local governments to consult with their community, the research reveals some are embracing the opportunity, while others see it as a low priority. It also shows councils need to take citizensourcing seriously if they want better outcomes for their community.