Beyond Words´ Virtual Exhibition

How might Skärholmens political board meetings become the final step of a systematic and transparent dialogue process between residents and local decision makers?

Strengthening local democracy through dialogue

We are a multidisciplinary group of master students working with a challenge regarding citizen dialogue within the district of Skärholmen. On this page you will find the progress we have made throughout the course Challenges for the Emerging City. On May 28th our group will present our findings during an online meeting. For more information, please visit the following website: OpenLab - VIRTUAL EXHIBITION The link to the meeting will be made available 24h in advance. We hope to see you there!

Felicia, Matt, Beatrice, Josephine, Giulio, Shweta and Gijs.

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Introduction:

In January, 2020 our group received a challenge from the district of Skärholmen. Every month a public board meeting is held, where politicians make decisions about local government matters. This is an opportunity for residents to receive information on ongoing affairs and ask politicians questions during the open sessions one hour before the meeting. The public meetings exist to strengthen local democracy and improve citizen dialogue. Our challenge givers were unsatisfied with the current board meetings and asked us to find ways to 1) engage more citizens, 2) make it easier to attend meetings, 3) raise awareness of the existing opportunities to have impact on the district and 4) improve the dispersion of information from the meetings towards the public.

With design thinking theory and methods freshly acquired in our toolbox, we started tackling the challenge. We emphatized, ideated, defined, prototyped and tested repeatedly during the course of several months. We observed and immersed at board meetings, reached out to politicians, residents and clerks through interviews and surveys. This process resulted in the following solutions and prototypes which can be accessed below. Feel free to leave any comments or feedback, it is much appreciated!

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All prototypes

Prototypes

Here we will present our solutions and prototypes. We have four solutions that we would like to present and receive feedback on: the "Ideation Coach", "Overview of Existing Dialogues", "Dialogue as a mandatory step" and the "Education Package".

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  • Prototype 1: The Ideation Coach

    This solution concerns every citizen that has ideas for the improvement of its district. The logic is to have a responsible person, the ideation coach, who will help and lead people with the development of their ideas in order to present them during a board meeting. If the idea does not fall within the responsibilities of the district, the coach will make sure the citizen gets in contact with the right office. In our opinion it is important to encourage residents to give concrete contributions for its district; the more they can contribute with real ideas and results; the higher will be also the local political engagement.

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  • Prototype 2: Dialogue as a mandatory step

    This solution wants to underline the fundamental role of citizens in local politics. The main idea is that decisions can only be approved when citizens have been included in the decision making process through citizen dialogue. When a politician comes up with an idea, he/she presents it to the citizens in order to receive feedback for it. Once this has been done, the politicians can go over the feedback and make a decision. The dialogue must be well documented and transparent so that the politicians can refer back to the dialogue as a way to explain why that particular decision has been made. This dialogue could be done in several ways through meetings, online participation, votes or community boards.

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  • Prototype 3: Education Package

    The education package is designed for (newly elected) politicians who feel like they want to learn more about citizen dialogue. In the image we see an example of Sara, a newly elected politician in Skärholmen. The education package helps Sara to learn everything about citizen dialogue. She joins the citizen host during their activities, attends youth club meetings, talks to people on the street about their views. Hopefully Sara can then present the insights that she gathered to the other politicians at the board meeting!

    While we realize that not every politician has the time to do as many activities as Sara in the example, we do feel that politicians can benefit from the expertise of the clerks who interact with residents on a daily basis. They can share their insights with the politicians on how to have fruitful citizen dialogue with the residents of Skärholmen during the open sessions before the board meetings and at other events. The education package also underlines the importance of outgoing politicians who are visible and approachable within the community.

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  • Prototype 4: Overview of existing dialogues

    This idea enables politicians and clerks to easily get an overview of all the ongoing dialogues that the district is having with its residents. If a politician or clerk wants to have citizen dialogue about a certain topic, they can use the platform to search for summaries of previous dialogues, find upcoming dialogues and connect with the responsible person for the dialogues. This way politicians and clerks can benefit from all the dialogues that are currently being held in the district and put the gathered insights to a good use. During our research we felt that the opportunity of collaboration between clerks and politicians regarding citizen dialogue is yet to be explored.

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Key Insight 1: Existing dialogues

Employees of the district have many dialogues with residents all across Skärholmen, but these dialogues are often not connected and do not seem to reach the politicians on the board.

Key Insight 2: Setting of board meetings

The current setting of the public board meetings demands a lot from the residents. They are expected to show up at the designated time, read up on all the documents that are being discussed and ask questions that fall within the responsibilities of the district.

Key Insight 3: Engaging residents

The residents have ideas about the development of their neighborhood, but they lack the knowledge or trust in the political system to engage. Engaging in local politics should have a low threshold, be user-friendly and transparent.

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