Obtaining Feedback: A Key Component in Successful Stakeholder Participation

The activities in work package 3 of the IcARUS project are currently focused on tool development. This summer, the cities will present the final version of the developed tools to their civil society partners. In the coming months, tool validation workshops will take place in Lisbon, Nice, Riga, Rotterdam, Stuttgart, Turin. These validation workshops conclude the participatory development phase of the tools and should enable the cities to engage with their stakeholders and communities of interest. The collected feedback will be used in two ways: first, to generally validate the tool and inform the cities’ security strategies and second, for developing criteria for the implementation of the tool. Therefore, these meetings also represent a transition to the tool demonstration phase.

In a joint effort with the University of Salford, the Swiss research institute Idiap, EFUS, and other IcARUS partners, the six cities are each developing a tool in the priority areas of their choice: Lisbon and Turin on preventing juvenile delinquency, Stuttgart on preventing radicalization leading to violent extremism, Riga and Nice on designing and managing safe public spaces, and Rotterdam on preventing and reducing trafficking and organized crime. However, the collaborative approach in tool development is not limited to the IcARUS partners. Each city organized a local kick-off workshop in spring/summer 2022 to which a number of municipal and, most importantly, civil society stakeholders were invited. The goal was to discuss the respective security challenge in the city in more detail and to develop initial proposals for solutions following a design thinking methodology. The results of the workshops laid a first basis, and since then, the cities have been in a process of involving the partners in the tool development. Each city has done this in a different manner according to their needs, pace of progress, and possibilities, such as meetings with individual partners, group discussions, or events to present the design brief for the tool.

The preparation of the upcoming tool validation workshops in each city focuses on obtaining feedback from the participants. Together with the city representatives, Camino prepares these workshops and offers support in the form of training sessions on workshop facilitation. Apart from developing a workshop concept, the practical implementation of the events are planned, strategies for dealing with different forms of feedback are developed and tested.

Obtaining feedback is a key component in successful stakeholder participation and for the further collaboration with these partners in the area of urban security. Obtaining valuable feedback on the implementation of the tool is a necessary step to link the development phase to the demonstration phase within the project. In the IcARUS project, feedback is used for three aims:

-        validating the tool

-        developing criteria for implementation

-        informing the cities’ security strategies.

Dealing with feedback was therefore a central part of the first training session organized by Camino in cooperation with the citizen empowerment organisation MakeSense and the cities. A key takeaway of this first session was: a serious feedback culture does not mean that all suggestions and requests can be met, whether it is about validating the tool or taking it into account in the security strategy. Therefore, it is important for workshop facilitators to be clear and transparent about what will be done with the feedback, what kind of feedback can still be taken into account for the implementation, and how feedback can inform other aspects of the municipal security strategy.

Even if feedback is sought for the validation of the tool, it is crucial that feedback is not collected pro forma, but that it feeds into the further process, e.g. implementation or more generally into the development of the cities' security concepts. Otherwise, feedback as an approach to participation may be watered down to a form of “particitainment” (Selle 2011):   

“Particitainment" is becoming widespread. Instead of substantial debate in the context of a lively local democracy, citizen participation is merely staged, it only suggests participation in opinion-forming and decision-making and can’t deliver on its promise. In fact, many of the results of these processes have no significant influence on urban development and do not change established dynamics in local politics and administration. More importantly: The inflationary staging of ineffective participation processes risks further promoting disenchantment with politics and planning processes and political apathy.” (Selle 2011, p. 3, own translation)

Ineffective participation may thus lead to a feeling of frustration and rejection of the whole participatory process. Concretely, within the context of the IcARUS project, ineffective participation might diminish acceptance for the tools developed by the project and be a burden for future civil society involvement. If participants had the sense that their opinion was only formally requested, they might end up feeling that their time was wasted. This issue should be considered, as the time factor is one of the barriers to participation in such settings.

However, if feedback on participants’ feelings, opinions and wishes is taken seriously, it is then possible to learn from their experience and encourage engagement and cooperation. This can contribute to strengthening a culture of citizen participation. It is also a positive approach to criticism and a productive way of dealing with failure or disappointment, which in turn has a positive effect on the resilience of cities and on their respective security strategies. This is what the tool validation workshops, and the preparatory processes organised in their run-up, will seek to achieve.

The participation process varies greatly in the 6 cities, which is not surprising. Participative cooperation must be established locally and in view of a specific context, and that takes time.

In addition to these considerations on the importance of communication within the tool validation workshops, another important topic of the first training session was to deal with emotions using the “Emotion Monster Cards”. This was useful for finding out how the city representatives feel about the upcoming workshops and what their expectations are. Next to feeling pressure to meet all of the expectations of their partners or fearing unpredictable obstacles, they are also excited to enter this phase, hoping for constructive feedback. Furthermore, through the participatory approach of tool development in the IcARUS project, the cities seek to strengthen their relationship with their local partners and to build new sustainable collaborations.

“Time and again, experts who oversee citizen participation in various communities, make a puzzling discovery: In one city or district, their offer of participation is met with a lack of interest or tiresome discussions with only a handful of the same ‘regulars’. In the next city or district however, the room is full, the discussions are lively and constructive and lead to useful results for the further planning process. How can this be explained? There are various hypotheses for the causes of these local differences. It is clear that it is not due to social structures (the different experiences are also made in neighbourhoods or cities with similar constituencies), nor is it due to the content or the manner of planning. It is also clear that this question needs to be addressed more systematically. Nevertheless, one aspect is already clear: communication skills and interest in exchange require (positive) experiences. We are thus moving in a circular, or rather spiralled, processes. Out of experience with successful exchange grows a willingness and an interest in further communication.” 1 (Selle 2011 , p. 16, own translation)

1Selle, Klaus: Particitainment. Oder beteiligen wir uns zu Tode? PNDonline III/2011, www.planung-neu-denken.de

https://scan.gefuehlsmonster.de/de/

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