In our vision, public policy simply means solving problems of public concern. We want to use our efforts to find those solutions that are valuable, sustainable and feasible, generating constructive impact in our lives. We also want this process to be based on the active participation of every day citizens, who offer a direction to the best line of action. It is well known that we play limited roles in public life. We are usually called upon during elections to vote and influence the public policies for the few years. But, during an elected term, we do not have efficient means to influence important decisions that affect our communities, be it at a local, national or international level. If we are lucky, some elected or appointed officials really encourage participation projects and we manage to make our voices heard in the community and influence public policies.
We also encounter limited access to the decision making process that is affecting our daily life. This is due to circumstantial and personal matters. The circumstantial problems are based on a lack of efficient means to offer our feedback to problems of public concern. The personal matters are based on "lower socioeconomic status, lack of impact of personal participation compared to collective participation, limited time and money, lack of information and knowledge about issues, and lack of confidence in people's ability to be effective" (Brian Adams, Citizen Lobbyists. Local efforts to influence public policy).
SMART Method of Public Policy is a combination of online and offline citizen engagement. We have set up an easy, straight forward, step-by-step approach to recommending solutions to community problems. The website www.Public-Policies.eu is the backbone of our method and offers two important services:
- It allows any person to raise a problem of public concern that needs a valuable, sustainable and feasible solution, accessing the "Publish a problem" link.
- It allows any person to recommend solutions to the existing problems that are published on the website.
Once we have enough solution proposals, our project team follows the next steps to support and endorse the best solutions:
1. First, we analyze each solution proposal individually, and select those that are valuable, sustainable and feasible. A feasible solution is one that can be accomplished by the existing organizations or with help from others. A "valuable solution is one that brings value to overseers, people in general or members of the targeted communities, while a sustainable solution is one that is likely to attract public support, as well as authority and money from the political, social or business environments" (definitions inspired from Mark Moore's Creating Public Value).
2. Once our team decides upon the best solution, we create a policy paper. This describes the problem along with the best solutions given by citizens. It also contains a recommendation at the end, based on the careful analysis of ethical criteria.
3. In the next step, we start building awareness around our solution, so we send the policy paper to elected and appointed officials, to implement our solution. If needed, we send it to the mass-media as well.
4. We also archive the policy paper on www.Public-Policies.eu, so that anybody can download it and send it to whoever might be able to implement our solution.
5. We publish every official response we receive from authorities, on the page of each problem. The problem poster has the option to either approve the response if he/she is pleased with the feedback of the authorities or reject it, motivating his/her decision. If rejected, the participation process is started all over again.
On the citizen engagement platform serving SMART Method of Public Policy at www.Public-Policies.eu, any citizen can raise a problem of public concern. The process takes a couple of minutes and is one mouse-click away from homepage. The problem poster will click the “Publish a problem” link available from any page and fill in the problem identification form. This form is gathering data that is aimed at creating more leverage to the participation process: title of the problem, category, language, a suggestive photo for the problem, and text that explains the problem. As people who participate online are many times looking for prestige, the citizen engagement platform allows problem posters to publish some personal details like: name, profession, education, a webpage, a personal photo, and the name of the organization that the problem poster is representing. The name of the organization that is able to solve the problem is also asked. In case the problem poster knows what organization could solve or put in practice a solution for the problem of public concern that he/she is publishing, its name may be mentioned in the appropriate field.
Once the form is submitted and afterwards approved by an administrator, the problem’s page is automatically created by a script. A status bar indicates step 1 or red color, meaning that the problem meets the criteria of SMART Method of Public Policy. The problem’s page has features that allow it to engage the participation process in an interactive and constructive way and to generate leverage in order to determine community action. At the top, there is the name of the category of the problem, the title of the problem and a “share” widget that allows for easy dissemination over the Internet. The body of the page contains the text explaining the problem, the photo of the problem, the photo of the problem poster with hyperlink towards his/her website, the name of the problem poster, his/her profession, organization, the date when the problem was posted, the target institution to solve the problem, and a status bar. This tells the visitor how far away in the participation process is the problem, according to the following legend:
1. Red: the problem has been approved by an administrator.
2. Orange: the problem has received at least one solution.
3. Yellow: the managing partners of the method have published a policy paper.
4. Light green: the target institution has issued a response.
5. Dark green: the problem poster is satisfied with the answer or the action of the target institution.
The lower part of the problem’s page contains the form that allows citizens to publish their solutions. The visitor has the option to write the text of his/her solution and publish it along with the name, photo, hyperlink towards a website, and the date the solution was approved by an administrator. Once a solution is published, the status of the problem is switched to orange, or step 2.
When the problem poster wishes, or when a problem receives a good number of solutions, one of the nonprofits managing the platform issues a policy paper. This paper is an official document, coming under the logo of a legally established organization. It is analyzing the problem, along with the most valuable, sustainable and feasible solution(s) and recommends a line of action. Once the policy paper is ready, it is sent by fax and email to the public institution that is able to allocate resources and solve the problem. It is also archived on the problem’s page. Once this happens, the status of the problem changes to yellow, or step 3.
Because the policy paper is sent as an official document, an answer is expected from the public institution that the paper is addressing to (target institution). Once an answer is received at the office of the nonprofit organization that sent the policy paper, it is scanned and published on the problem’s page. At this moment, the status bar of the problem changes to light green or step 4 and the problem poster receives a notification email that gives him/her two options:
If satisfied with the answer or with the action of the public institution, he/she will close the problem and nobody is able to offer solutions anymore. The status of the problem changes to dark green or step 5. This is a success story of participation. If not satisfied, then he/she will state the reasons why and the participation process is started all over again from step 2 or the orange status, until another policy paper is issued and a new answer is received.
We consider that if we follow these easy and straight forward steps, backed up by the functionality of the citizen engagement platform, we have good chances to influence public policies at local and national levels. Using the advantages of the Internet and of the website www.Public-Policies.eu specifically, we will fulfill our mission, to engage people in providing valuable, sustainable and feasible solutions to problems of public concern.
This website has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of SMART Development Center and can in no way reflect the views of the European Union.