Published on December 12, 2012

People and Participation 5 years on

By Edward Andersson

Edward Andersson is European Associate for Involve and an established expert on methods of participatory decision making. He set up Participationcompass.org – one of Europe’s leading public engagement sites, and has advised a number of organisations on public engagement strategies, including the Home Office, the European Commission, the OECD, WHO Europe, UNDP Turkey and numerous Local Authorities and Health Trusts.

closed sign

As Involve prepares to close PeopleandParticipation.net in favour of our new platform ParticipationCompass.org, Edward Andersson reflects on the past 5 years and what has changed.

It’s been nearly five years since Involve launched our practitioner site www.peopleandparticipation.net and in a few days time the site will close forever.

It was on the 19th of October 2007 that then Communities Secretary Hazel Blears launched the site as part of the ‘Empowerment Action Plan’. On reflection it has been a good five years; although 2007 feels like a very different time compared to today’s reality. The Government in power was different. The organisations were different (of the three key funders of peopleandparticipation.net -The Sustainable Development Commission, The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Communities and Local Government – one has since folded, one no longer has a remit around democracy and one has seen drastic changes in focus). The budgetary situation was of course vastly different –the operating assumption was that next year’s budget would be bigger than the last.

The buzz word of the day was ‘empowerment’ –the ‘Big Society’ lay three years into the future; Participatory Budgeting was unheard of outside of a few pilot sites and Twitter was a small niche service just over a year old.

Much was different back in 2007 when we set up peopleandparticipation.net, but on the other hand much remains the same. One of these constants is the need that policy makers and Government has for impartial advice around engagement.

Peopleandparticipation.net was one of the first interactive sites which provided people with the ability to find methods that worked for their situation. We’ve since had a number of other good examples like Participedia.

Peopleandparticipation.net has been a great success for the field at large and Involve. We still receive thousands of hits per month and we get a steady stream of positive feedback so it may seem a shame to close the site and redirect the trafic. However over the last years we’ve begun to worry about the site. It was very popular but also beginning to show its age.

The platform it is built on is a wiki –exciting in 2007 but old news in 2012. The design seems a bit old and sadly due to the custom nature of the site the whole thing needed revamping.

The content was also feeling out of date with many case studies referring back to 2007 and earlier. The online community hadn’t really developed in a way where the wiki platform was really useful and the experience of using the site wasn’t great on a mobile device. In 2011 it turned out that due to upgrades to the platform we’d need to invest thousands of pounds in rewriting code in order to keep the sites functionality up and running –an investment just to stand still.

At this point we were approached by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German Foundation with an interest in democracy who suggested a collaborative venture. Using the information and structure of Peopleandparticipation.net they wanted to create two new German and English language sites. Here we are 8 months later with participationCompass.org.

We launched the English version a few weeks ago and your feedback has been great. There is also a German version.

When it comes to ParticipationCompass.org I am excited by what is new: the mobile app, enhanced video content and real time search; as well as being comforted by what has not changed:  the focus on providing impartial advice on Methods, Experts and Resources around participation. See here for a tutorial video.

I will feel some sadness when we pull the plug on peopleandparticipation.net, but I am also excited about the recent launch of ParticipationCompass.org and what we face in future. I can’t help wondering what new platform we’ll be launching in 2017?

Image by mhartford.

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