The University of Ulster has successfully piloted and modified a new time saving, hi-tech method of involving citizens in consultations about public policy.
The new Electronic Town Meeting (eTM) for Citizens Involvement service has been funded by the EC PARTERRE project.
The e-participation tool enables government bodies and public sector organisations to bring together stakeholders, lead a meeting and produce a transparent, verified and final report in just one session instead of having to undergo a lengthy process of note taking, report drafting and publishing.
Brendan Galbraith, a lecturer and innovation expert at the Ulster Business School, led the multidisciplinary PARTERRE project team in the University.
He explained: “In our pilots of the eTM service in Ulster, we realised that our smaller user groups required a leaner version of the eTM, so we made some minor modifications so that it could be set up and used in less time to make it a sustainable service.
“In our work for the PARTERRE project, I think we have successfully piloted a lighter version of the eTM. It is gratifying that the success of PARTERRE has been commended through its publication as an exemplar on the EC’s ePractice website. ”
The eTM service enables simultaneous group discussions to take place which are reported electronically by each group facilitator to theme-dedicated teams. The teams cross-reference the data they receive and produce a combined overall electronic report in real time.
This enables consultees to enjoy immediate access to the final consultation or meeting report which they can approve before leaving the meeting.
The final report is also presented in a ready-packaged structure, is typo free and accessible in an instant. Final approval is facilitated and transparency and accountability are greatly improved.
This versatile e-participation package caters for both online and offline consultations and provides the ultimate solution to high quality consultation events, regardless of the number of participants.
The eTM has previously been successfully deployed in Italy by Avventura Urbana with events involving up to 1,000 participants.
Through the EC funded PARTERRE project, the aim was to broaden the business case and make necessary minor technical adaptations to the eTM, in order to progress sustainable eParticipation across Europe.
The eTM has also been successfully piloted in Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Finland and trialled in remote and multilingual settings. Overall participant satisfaction levels were in excess of 90%.
Francesco Molinari, an external expert to the Regional Government of Tuscany and the dissemination manager for the PARTERRE project, said: “I see this project as a big step forward in the direction of sustainable eParticipation.
“By this I mean the integration of ICT innovation with citizen (or stakeholder) engagement in a way that is both politically correct and positively impacting on institutional and behavioural change
“In Parterre, we have kind of invented a recipe, a formula for sustainable eParticipation that is both simple to grasp and easy to adopt/adapt to one’s own policy environment. And I think that particularly here in Northern Ireland, we have started to realise its benefits.
The Ulster research team consisted of Brendan Galbraith (the Principal Investigator), Professors Jonathan Wallace (Work Package Leader for Pilot Implementation) and Maurice Mulvenna from the School of Computing and Mathematics, Dr Suzanne Martin from the School of Health Sciences, Professors and Brian Cleland Research Associate at the Ulster Business School;.
For more information on the PARTERRE project: