What will happen with my input?

Asking input from citizens can be done in a more democratic way. Give them more interpretation power, so you can work more objectively and inclusive as a civil servant. I tell about this new participatory phenomenon in this article.
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Dec 11, 2023

By Nick van den Tol

Involving citizens in your plans: of course, that also has a power dimension to it. For example, power to set the agenda, or power to make choices. What civil servants discuss less, in my experience, is how all the input given by citizens through surveys and all kinds of sessions are going to be interpreted. Who has that interpretation power?

The power of civil servants

That data often needs further interpretation, for example to come to a set of themes which people can use in the next steps of the process. Usually these themes cover the challenges ‘we want to tackle together’ or ‘possible solution pathways we see’. Mostly, I see civil servants who have the interpretation power to distil things like the aforementioned themes. And if the citizens themselves don’t do this, it creates a democratic problem.

Unfair processing

This problem is a bigger probability for the emergence of epistemic injustice, a term that was provided with a lot of literature in the past few years (Byskov, 2020). Epistemic injustice occurs when the input (like stories) of (groups of) respondents is consciously and unconsciously excluded from research. A practical example is described by Barbara Groot (2019). She saw how researchers struggled to process the input of several respondents, and eventually decide to leave them out. There are many other examples on this as well (Heggen & Berg, 2021; Del Campo & Limeres & Soler, 2021; Wee, Karkkulainen, Tateo, 2023).

The input of some citizens that you don’t really know where to put: does that sound familiar? They appear everywhere, and they can indeed be hard to be put in any category at all. If every citizen could categorize his or her input by themselves, it could fix the problem.

In the meantime, the citizen is wondering: what will happen to my input?

Citizens decide themselves

That is exactly why I am so enthusiastic about Sprockler. Not only does it help citizens to place their input directly into categories and statistics, it also saves civil servants a lot of work. They do not have to interpret all the input, which can be a lot of work, especially with many responses.

For me, this also shows the signs of a new generation of participatory tools: collecting input from citizens in a more inclusive, democratic and objective way by giving them the power to interpret. You can further democratize participatory processes by giving citizens interpretation power.

Interested how Sprockler works? Let me know and I will tell you more!