Type to search

Engagement Best Practices

3 TED Talks on the Power of Citizen Engagement


Whether you’re on your morning commute or at the gym after work, here are some bite-sized pieces of wisdom on citizen engagement from our favourite TED Talks.

Dave Meslin: The antidote to apathy

With declining voter turnout rates and growing skepticism of the public engagement process, citizens are often dismissed as apathetic. The prevailing narrative frames citizens as lazy and unmotivated to engage in their communities. Instead of blaming citizens for their lack of interest, Dave Meslin encourages people to think about apathy as a symptom of a broader societal malaise which, actively or inadvertently, put up barriers to participation.

Key Quote: “This is a newspaper ad. It’s a notice of a zoning application change for a new office building so the neighborhood knows what’s happening. As you can see, it’s impossible to read. You need to get halfway down to even find out which address they’re talking about, and then farther down, in tiny 10-point font, to find out how to actually get involved. Imagine if the private sector advertised in the same way. You’ll never see an ad like that because Nike actually wants you to buy their shoes.”

Watch it here:

Alessandra Orofino: It’s our city. Let’s fix it

Top-down planning processes can hardly be representative or inclusive when some local governments are elected with a voter turnout of 5%. Drawing from several anecdotes in her native Brazil, Alessandra Orofino discusses the importance of using technology to facilitate widespread citizen participation and grassroots organizing. By building capacity at the local level, people can be empowered to engage with their cities and engage in collective decision-making.

Key Quote: “If we want to change what our cities look like, then we really have to change the decision-making processes that have given us the results that we have right now. We need a participation revolution, and we need it fast. The idea of voting as our only exercise in citizenship does not make sense anymore. People are tired of only being treated as empowered individuals every few years when it’s time to delegate that power to someone else.”

Watch it here:

Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government

With open-source platforms such as GitHub, programmers and developers can simultaneously work on the same piece of software. Clay Shirky describes how the same open-source principles can be applied to governance and developing legislation collaboratively with citizens.

Key Quote: “The people experimenting with participation don’t have legislative power, and the people who have legislative power are not experimenting with participation.They are experimenting with openness. There’s no democracy worth the name that doesn’t have a transparency move, but transparency is openness in only one direction, and being given a dashboard without a steering wheel has never been the core promise a democracy makes to its citizens.”

Watch it here:

Bonus: Colleen Hardwick: Authenticating public consultation

While online means of citizen engagement have become increasingly ubiquitous, offering people a multitude of ways to participate, it comes with its own set of challenges. PlaceSpeak’s very own founder and CEO, Colleen Hardwick, shares her insights at TEDxBelfast on the necessity of authenticating online participation to ensure quality data collection and preventing negative online behaviour.

Key quote: “There’s no shortage of opportunities for people to speak their minds online. But the problem is, it’s anonymous. The biggest problem that governments and decision-makers have been having with online consultation because of anonymity, is that it’s fraught with trolls, or that they’re gaming the system.”

Watch it here:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.