Practical Tips for Citizen Engagement: Insights from TRANSCEND’s First Pilot

In today’s fast-paced world, disaster preparedness has become more critical than ever. With the rise of technology, innovative solutions like smartphone applications are transforming how individuals can prepare for emergencies. “Team Österreich app” utilizes a smartphone app to empower citizens to enhance their disaster preparedness.  

The Team Österreich app was launched by the Austrian Red Cross in 2019. It allows individuals to assess their own disaster preparedness at home by answering a different set of questions, including topics such as evacuation, family preparedness plan and knowledge of risks and hazards. Besides these questions, the app also provides official alerts to weather-related events in locations the user registers beforehand. Other functionalities of the app include the option to volunteer online in case of a disaster, and sending information to the Austrian Red Cross about an ongoing disaster, citizen needs, or any other situation where citizens may participate as “human sensors”. This feedback may be used by emergency response authorities to better understand the impact of a disaster on citizens, and plan better a course of action. 

Due to recent challenges in the world, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Eastern Europe, it became necessary to evaluate if the “Team Österreich app” could still provide an accurate and inclusive evaluation of disaster preparedness.

To ensure the effectiveness of the evaluation, a workshop with 16 citizens was held on February 17th, employing the TRANSCEND Toolbox. This Toolbox is a comprehensive resource supporting citizen engagement through various methods. The workshop utilized “focus groups” to evaluate the content of the disaster preparedness evaluation questions, providing invaluable insights into disaster preparedness perceptions of the citizens participating. By running the workshop using the transcend Toolbox, we were not only able to receive feedback about the Team Österreich app, but also, we were able to identify practical tips about running workshops with the participation of citizens. 

Below, you can find a set of practical tips you can consider when involving citizens into your security research:

  • Inform Participants about the Workshop’s Purpose: Transparency is key in engaging participants effectively. Clearly articulating the workshop’s objectives and the importance of their contributions fosters enthusiasm and commitment among participants. When inviting participants, inform them why their participation is important and what their role in the activity is going to be.

  • Provide Clear Details on Workshop Logistics: Clarity regarding the workshop’s location, duration, and schedule ensures smooth participation. This not only helps to start on time but also give participants a sense about the planned breaks. Examples of these are: Providing the participant with the exact location address, a clear map about the entrance, public transportation routes or availability of parking places, agenda of the event, clear signalling about toilets and catering, providing hangers or spaces where participants can leave their personal belongings.

  • Consider Pre-Grouping Participants: Understanding the composition of the participants enables organizers to create balanced groups. Factors such as gender equality and group size influence the dynamics of discussions, promoting inclusivity and diverse perspectives. If you know beforehand your participants’ demographics, you can prepare a paper sheet with the number of the group and the names of the participants.

  • Participant recruitment: Based on the target groups you are expecting to address with your research, you need to consider group demographics such as age, gender, migrants, and persons with special support needs among others. You may approach already-established groups to participate in your activities. Examples of this include schools, retirement homes, sport clubs, volunteer organisations, church groups, organisations working with migrants, pregnant, persons with special support needs, amongst others.

  • Prepare Materials Thoughtfully: Efficient organization of materials enhances participants’ experience. While some materials are better tailored to work for a group, other materials need to be for individuals. For instance, a flipchart can be used for the whole group, but readings are better for individuals since persons read at different paces.

  • Incorporate Icebreakers: Fostering early interaction among participants is vital for productive discussions. Icebreakers not only ease tension but also helps to create connections, encouraging open dialogue and active participation.

  • Clarify Workshop Objectives Early On: Setting clear expectations at the beginning of your session aligns participants’ focus and efforts. You can prepare some slides at the beginning of your activities and ask participants about any questions they may have.

  • Provide Clear Instructions: Clarity in instructions minimizes confusion and promotes participation. Offering concise guidelines ensures that participants understand their roles and responsibilities. A way to do this is writing activity instructions on a paper or on a slide so that participants can get back to them when needed.

  • Consider Experienced Moderators for Complex Topics: In discussions involving topics that may be difficult to understand or where the experience of participants is low, seasoned moderators can provide invaluable support. If you need to split participants into smaller groups, consider allocating a single moderator to each group so that the discussion can be aligned with your workshop objectives.

  • Be Flexible with Timing: Sometimes, you expect sessions to run for a specific time. However, the discussions may take longer or shorter than expected, depending on discussion dynamics. If participants are not yet finished, asking them to finish may leave aside important conclusions and give them a feeling that their input is not relevant or important. On the other hand, participants that have finished before the scheduled time will keep waiting until the plenary session resumes, making them lose focus and interest. Be prepared to read those signs and to react accordingly.

  • Allow Sufficient Time for Expression: Encouraging participants to share their thoughts fosters a sense of inclusivity. During the preparation of your activity, consider having sufficient time for question and answers 

 

Written by Camilo Palacio, Austrian Red Cross.

 

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