British Columbia’s Attempt At Citizen Engagement An Epic Failure? What Can Be Learned

It must have seemed like a great idea at the time. “Let’s set up a blog and ask citizens questions about what they want from our provincial government, so we have a better idea how to meet their wants and needs”, someone must have said. So, that’s what they did. In early 2011, the British Columbia Provincial Government established its Citizens’ Voice Blog for just that purpose.

In most everything these days, the devil is in the details, so let’s look at how it all turned out.

1) While they announced that the results would be released in “early Spring (2011), if you go to the blog site, there are no results to be found. Or at least if they are there, it’s not obvious where they are. Even if they were published elsewhere in print or on some other site, that’s simply silly. People who responded and B.C. citizens should have the responses, conclusions and actions to be taken in the same place, and on the same blog as they were solicited.

2) If you go to the site, you’ll see that the questions asked have had their comments closed. Not only can additional information be solicited on an ongoing basis, but one can’t even read the comments made (although a few seem to have been left in an rss feed. That’s what happens when attempts at citizen engagement, or for that matter almost anything, becomes a PROJECT rather than an ongoing commitment.

3) You’d think they’d offer some explanation as to why links don’t work, and at least some additional links that do work, so people interested can view the comments and conclusion. But they don’t. In fact many of the links go nowhere, just returning you to the original page. The only messages are as follows:

We’d like to say thanks to everyone who stopped by and let us know their thoughts about provincial government services in B.C. Your contributions and the contributions of the people we heard from in our surveys and focus groups have generated lots of great feedback, and will all ultimately lead to improvements in the design and delivery of services.

We think that the best way to transform services in British Columbia is to engage in a dialogue with the service users-you!-to find out what your needs and expectations are. Then we can make the changes that will benefit you the most!

We’re glad you added your voice to this important conversation. Our next steps are to review all of the recommendations and suggestions you made.

We’ll be releasing the results of this consultation in the late spring. Tune in to see how we’re using your suggestions to drive improvements to the services that you rely on!

Uh Huh! It’s now almost one year later. Nada.

The other message?

This stage of the Citizen Consultation is now finished. Our next steps are to review all of the recommendations and suggestions you made. Thanks again for your contribution.

Finished? Since when does citizen consultation “end”?

Strange But One Possible Explanation

I’d prefer to think that the government staff responsible for this travesty were NOT stupid, but that the explanation lies in a somewhat embarrassing possibility. What if you give a citizen consultation online and nobody comes? Could it be that the government doesn’t want to admit that only a small handful of comments were made and that they weren’t that helpful?

We don’t know. Given that citizens say they want a voice, you’d think not, but if you look at the overall pattern of interactions on the Internet and social media, what you find is most people don’t ACTUALLY interact much, and often the quality of interactions about such issues are more personal horror stories or axe-grinding rather than constructive criticism.

There’s no way to tell how many people responded, at least from the blog, but because the rss feed of comments is partially in existence, we can see what kinds of comments were made. Here’s the comments, take from that feed with all the feed code removed.

In my experience with government services I have found the service to be very poor. Staff are not friendly or really very helpful or knowledgable. It’s as if they are doing you a favour or something when you ask for help. They are sometimes rude, its like the only peole that get hired by Government (at least on the front line) are all the same, they seem to think that they are something special becasue they work in Government…they have forgotten taht they are Public Servents. The sooner we get more things done on line, without having to deal with a govt employee, the better. Hope they hand the site build to a private company and keep out of their way….most govt sites, Federal for sure, time wasters. Far to much info and overcrowded. Makes one wonder if they can do anything well! We know for sure anything govt does takes twice as long and costs 3 times more….less govt, the better.
Thanks for your comment suggesting that you would like to see online voting offered in B.C. This is an excellent, forward-looking suggestion. Elections BC is a separate body from the BC Public Service, however, and this matter would be under their responsibility. Elections BC is an independent office responsible for administering the electoral process in B.C., while the public service serves the citizens of British Columbia impartially, and provides services such as the ones we’ve outlined in this post: http://blog.gov.bc.ca/citizensvoice/2011/02/03/how-do-you-want-to-access-government-services/. We encourage you to take your suggestions to Elections BC.

(Ed. Buck nicely passed! and a rather poor customer service response)

Online voting for all elections and referendums. This way the process for the above can be sped up and the vacant positions filled, and government given much faster results for pending issues.

I would like to see Recall as an online service

(note: recall is a legislative issue, and a constitutional one, not a government departmental concern.)

We want to know the daily result of nuclear radiation monitoring, please announc it in the newspaper or website!

After 35 years of living in BC, I moved on…the reason, Vancouver and surroundings are too crowded and service is poor. Even today I had to call to the Finance department for a cheque which is owed to me from MSP garnishing my pittance, I spoke to this department 4 times, every time I was given the run around by rude, obnoxious young men with a big EGO. I have to wait 4 to 6 weeks more for my cheque which they owe me….is that good service…I THINK NOT… I was never given an approximate date as to when I will receive my cheque…next stop will be a Forensic Audit for Revenue Services of British Columbia.

And, well, that’s it. You’d think there’d be many more comments, and we can’t rely on the rss feed to contain all the comments, but there you are.

Citizen involvement isn’t simple, but neither is it rocket science. An epic fail from what I can see.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>