Innovations in Citizen Participation

Image Courtesy of Austin Social Media Marketing

Image Courtesy of Austin Social Media Marketing

Community Participation Improves Healthcare

Community participation impacts multiple sectors. Typically, we hear about its impacts on a political decision or an election; however, community participation also has the ability to improve health standards.

As part of the 1998 health reforms, Bangladesh’s government established Health Watch oversight committees to encourage community members to monitor health providers at the local level. With help from local communities, the government created NGOs and ensured that NGO membership consisted of at least 50 percent women. Many in Bangladesh attribute the increased citizen participation with improved healthcare services. As a result, Bangladesh has experienced an increased awareness of available services along with an escalating number of people demanding health services. Additionally, improved nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation have also improved in rural areas. In order to improve healthcare accountability, individuals report complaints or comments regarding services to a Health Watch committee member who then discusses the issue with clinicians.

For more examples of citizen participation enhancing development, please visit Participedia.

Social Media Increases Citizen Participation

Whether learning late breaking news or finding the latest and greatest Harlem Shake video, social media serves as a powerful resource. Recently, social media usage has expanded to include citizen participation.

Uchaguzi, a project dedicated to helping Kenya have free, fair and safe elections, crowdsources citizen-reported election events. Events range from election violence to an electoral campaign to irregularities in voting. For the 2010 constitutional referendum, nearly 45,000 Kenyans contributed via Twitter, SMS, email and the web, enabling Uchaguzi to map incidents of violence around the country. However, increased social media presence not only appears in Kenya, but also the entire African continent.

Encouraging Political Participation in Africa: The Potential of Social Media Platforms, a report by Institute for Security Studies, analyzes the successes, challenges, and future of social media in Africa. Some of social media’s major successes include an increased interaction between government and citizens, a growing interest and ability for individuals to participate in political issues, and an enhanced access to government officials and decisions. However, challenges still exist in regards to social media and citizen participation.  Examples of challenges include access to the internet, fear by government officials of the rebellious potential of social media (i.e. an “African Spring”), and the targeting of those using social media to organize.

Although the future of social media remains unknown, the future of social media in participatory democracy looks bright. For everyday citizens in Africa and around the world, social media equates to an increased voice in elections, decision making, and people power.

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