Governments that are receptive to community engagement see better outcomes, new research finds

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday September 11, 2019


A civic twist on crowdsourcing could give local governments insight into innovative solutions that benefit the community, according to a new research paper.

The University of Technology Sydney’s Dr Krithika Randhawa looked at the use of ‘citizensourcing’ by 18 Australian councils over two years.

In collaboration with Associate Professor Ralf Wilden from Macquarie University and Professor Joel West from California-based Keck Graduate Institute, Randhawa assessed whether contributions from the public led to real improvements to public services and infrastructure.

Representatives from each council were interviewed, 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. Randhawa said this enabled the researchers to get a “rich perspective” on the goals, strategies and choices of the councils — which were key to the councils’ 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,” she said.

Some councils embraced the idea of crowdsourcing to help achieve transformational change for the public, the study found. However, some viewed it as a symbolic gesture to the community or a mere box-ticking exercise to allow new policies.

Randhawa said the committed councils were the ones who had greater success with the public interactions, making them more likely to see better outcomes for the community.

“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,” she said.

These project teams were found to implement a range of citizensourcing projects through well designed, user-friendly online platforms. They also gave regular updates and feedback to citizens 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,” Randhawa added.

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