PILOT STORY: The strive for representativeness in civic participation for a small-scale project in Brussels-capital region

PRO-Ethics' RFO partner Innoviris picked a mixed-method approach to reach and involve citizens in prioritising the topics for a call for projects.

Innoviris is piloting new ways of consultating citizens in thematic priorities for their programme calls. One important challenge has been how to ensure representativeness of the different groups in the Brussels-Capital Region. Only 25.7 percent of the people in the region has a Belgian background. This makes the Brussels-Capital Region a majority-minority city, with most of the population having a migrant background. There are more than 180 different nationalities. Furthermore, many inhabitants have low incomes – one in three is left below the poverty threshold – and there is a large gap between rich and poor.

It is quite challenging to reach all these groups and raise their interest, given that this is a rather small-scale project: choosing a theme for a call for projects. Innoviris had to carefully consider which segments to reach, how many citizens and by what means. On top of this, for most people innovation is an abstract concept, and only a few see the added value of participating in this type of consultations.

Innoviris therefore researched several regional players with experience in citizen participation, for example the Brussels parliament, where they regularly welcome citizens to participate in parliamentary commissions on certain topics. Allthough their results are encouraging, their methods require a lengthy administrative and legal procedure, as well the time-consuming education of citizens and overcoming language barriers.

For Innoviris’ pilot project, the costs and benefits had to be weighed. A mixed-method approach was then chosen. On the one hand, they applied a snowball method and a survey where citizens could prioritize between certain topics. By contacting local multiplier organisations which could spread the link to the survey, they hoped to reach a diverse group. To work more in depth, Innoviris also opted for the creation of citizen panels with 21 members recruited in two ways: through a social media campaign, and with interviewers in the streets. The street interviewers were specifically recruiting people who are not generally reached through social media or traditional communication campaigns. The final sample of 21 citizens was balanced by gender, representative of the Brussels age distribution and level of education, and sufficiently spread geographically. The ex-post evaluation of this approach is yet to be made and will identify strengths and weaknesses.

By Innoviris/DBT
Illustration: PRO-Ethics (Plott)
Published: 11.11.2022

Pilot stories
In the pilot stories, PRO-Ethics' RFO partners tell tales from behind the scenes during the planning and implementation of their pilot projects, offering a peek into how the pilots develop practically and over time. The goal is to better represent and learn from insights and tacit knowledge, some of which might be seen as smaller issues and hence downplayed or forgotten in official reporting, despite the learnings they may bring to others. The stories are fully available to all the project partners and support cross-learning activities and ultimately the ethics framework. Some of the stories will also be shared online with the wider public.