Smart City Manager Céline Vanderborght presents her view on citizen participation in Brussels.Participation is a very broad topic.
Participation occurs for example in the framework of an exchange of information, on the local level, between citizens and the authorities, including public consultation as well as applications that enable citizens or businesses to collaborate by supplying data. This is a fundamental issue in Smart Cities. Digital transformation requires citizens to want to become more involved in the management of the city they live in on the one hand. At the same time, developers of Smart services must take users’ needs into account at an early stage of the process, and to a certain extent even rely on their contribution for the app on the other. The collaborative application FixMyStreet does exactly that. It relies on crowdsourcing, which in this case refers to citizens’ involvement in the service by generating data.
The BCR already has several compulsory citizen participation procedures, e.g., when a citizen requests planning permission or more recently with the introduction of the CoBAT and the new public information and participation process when developing land use plans or even during public consultations in the margin of strategic plans such as the noise nuisance plan (Quiet.brussels). Start-ups are simultaneously developing completely digital citizen participation apps, such as CitizenLab or FluiCity among others. In the long term, the idea is to combine regulatory processes (public meetings and publications) with digital tools.
In Brussels, several digital participation projects have already been implemented on the local level using Fluicity in the municipality of Woluwé-Saint-Pierre (https://www.woluwe1150.be/lancement-de-fluicity-plateforme-de-participation-citoyenne/
) and the municipality of Etterbeek. The City of Brussels also has an online participation platform https://www.bruxelles.be/bpart
and a meeting place that is entirely dedicated to participation https://www.bruxelles.be/directory-2724
. And as mentioned in the parliamentary question, in 2018, the municipality of Uccle tested the digital platform, which was launched by the DG Digital Transformation of the FPS Strategy and Support.
On the regional level, citizens have been able to share their suggestions using the region’s smart city portal since 2015 and following the launch of the smartcity.brussels portal by the BRIC. The suggestions are then published on this site, after which the online community can vote for their favourite suggestions. The platform can also be used for surveys. A communication campaign will be imminently developed to increase the site’s visibility and the number of suggestions.
In the spring of 2017, Good Move launched a call for ideas from the public, called “Good Move by Citizens” platform, which relied on the CitizenLab platform. This citizen participation project culminated in 100 specific, original and inspiring mobility proposals in the Brussels-Capital Region. Ultimately the public selected and voted for 30 practical, original and sustainable ideas.
In the spring of 2019, the Brussels by Us project will enable Brussels citizens to respond directly to their surroundings in three zones across Brussels.
In view of all these initiatives, developing a relatively uniform service for the Region and its municipalities seems highly relevant. The development or promotion of a generic platform and the required guidance that enables every level to engage in digital participation would create considerable added value for Brussels citizens.
It is worth noting that the “technological” aspect is simple. The knowledge needed to understand when, for whom and on which theme such a participatory process makes sense requires specific expertise. Administrations do not necessarily have the skills that are required for managing the responses and moderating debates.
On a final note, participation gives rise to heightened expectations. Formal agreements on how to incorporate citizens’ contributions in public policy and regulations are not always available.