What if we really did evaluate participatory approaches ?

April, 2023. Parliamentary debates are re-examining how democracy works in France, while the publication of the results of the CEVIPOF barometer of confidence in politics[1] once again highlights citizens’ desire to oxygenate our democracy through greater involvement of civil society. However, citizen participation initiatives are proliferating, both nationally (Grand Débat National, Conventions Citoyennes, etc.) and locally (Budgets Participatifs, Assemblées Citoyennes, Conseils Citoyens, etc.), to the point where some are sometimes misused. This is why the question of their impact is of such concern to professionals.

Here’s a look at the need to evaluate participatory initiatives.


Why evaluate participatory approaches?


The good news is that, if it’s necessary to evaluate them, it’s because we’ve already passed the stage of generalizing participatory approaches! The idea is to capitalize on the experience we’ve gained, and to gradually refine our methods, without losing sight of our ultimate goal: to create a conversation in order to find the best solutions to complex problems.


The seminar co-organized by Démocratie Ouverte and the Société Française de l’Évaluation, held on March 16 at the Palais d’Iéna, was an opportunity for researchers and professionals to exchange views and clarify the opportunities raised by the evaluation of participatory processes:

Understand the impact of a participatory approach on the decision taken or on the commissioning organization (participative and managerial culture, acceptance of critical reflection, concern for the side step…)

Take an interest in the place of social groups and the representativeness of participatory processes, to reinforce the ability to listen to citizens who are far removed from public debate and institutional codes.

Measuring the impact of processes on citizens’ career paths and the politicization likely to ensue, as illustrated by the recent election of citizens from the Citizens’ Climate Convention.


What initiatives already exist?


The day’s discussions also provided an opportunity to present a number of initiatives and projects :

  • The DemoMeter: co-constructed with a group of stakeholders, this index enables everyone to measure the democratic vitality of a territory around 4 major pillars: the representation of elected representatives, the transparency of institutions, the participative culture of the territory and finally the level of cooperation between players. (To find out more about this initiative: https://demometre.org/).
  • The OECD’s “Open Government” project: the aim here is to support and guide governments in developing innovative democratic public policies through a set of concrete indicators.


What can be done to strengthen evaluation processes ?


In the light of work carried out, notably by the Institut de la Concertation et de la Participation Citoyenne, we have identified 5 lessons for improving evaluation processes:

  • Set measurable objectives collectively, and involve citizens in these evaluation processes, sometimes over a long period of time, in order to organize an evaluative follow-up, foster a participative culture and respond to the right to follow-up.
  • Define evaluation priorities and objectives as soon as the participatory process is launched. These objectives will enable the process to be fine-tuned and reoriented on an ongoing basis, and facilitate concrete evaluation at the end of the process.
  • Define evaluation criteria and indicators, shared by all project stakeholders, to ensure the ability to measure them, for each of the evaluation questions: knowing the social diversity of participants requires measuring, for example, their socio-professional category, an easily measurable indicator.
  • Think about the timeframe of the evaluation, in particular to measure the effects and impact of an approach on an organization or project over the long term.
  • Disseminate the results of the evaluation – simplified but accurate, positive and with identified areas for improvement – to ensure accountability and foster a culture of transparency.


A number of local authorities have taken up the first of these points by taking up the challenge of involving citizens in the evaluation of participatory initiatives. Examples include the Metropole de Rouen, with its Citizens’ Assembly following on from the Citizens’ Convention, and the independent Citizens’ Councils in Grenoble. While these democratic innovations are welcome, Julien Talpin, a researcher in Political Science at the CNRS, points out the risks of evaluative systems:


“Evaluating a process is not what concerns citizens: these systems require considerable energy and risk creating participatory fatigue. It’s by acting first on the power to act and the impact on decisions that we’ll get them back into public life”.


Indeed, evaluation practices require us to bear in mind that participatory democracy must remain a vast field of experimentation: it’s not a question of evaluating on the basis of a single formula, but rather of leaving the field of possibilities open to imagine, prefigure and test new ways of doing things.


What’s next? Evaluating for accountability and the right to follow up


The opportunities identified and the various underlying questions are an invitation to experiment. In the face of a deep-rooted democratic crisis, participatory approaches represent a real opportunity, but they need to be methodologically adapted and judiciously evaluated to ensure transparent accountability, at the risk of deeply disappointing and alienating citizens from public affairs.


At bluenove, while our tools for analyzing citizen contributions enable us to measure participation precisely and quantitatively, we’re looking to go further and develop a more inclusive democracy.

How do we do this? By mobilizing hybrid devices, both digital and face-to-face, and on a variety of scales, we animate communities of participants mobilized to delve deeper into certain subjects raised during a process. We work to ensure the continuity of interactions between decision-making circles and citizens, or we try to measure the impact and appropriation of decisions taken on citizens.

In particular, we believe that offering a concrete follow-up to a process is a prerequisite for developing a genuine culture of openness, responsibility and participation in the service of public policy, which will help to foster changes in practices within public and private organizations.

Do you share our convictions? Let’s talk! Contact Mathilde Maulat and Mattéo Delavaud to continue the debate.