Over the last decade there has been a proliferation of methods and approaches to citizen engagement. From idea banks and competitions to co-creation workshops and online petitions, governments, public services and businesses are increasingly keen to garner insights and information from citizens, service users and customers.
The idea of citizen engagement itself is a broad concept and often lacks critical examination. It tends to be universally thought of as a ‘good thing’ – Sherry Arnstein suggests that “the idea of citizen participation is a little like eating spinach: no one is against it in principle because it is good for you”.1 But as several researchers have highlighted, this means it often escapes careful analysis.
In this paper, TEPSIE argue that citizen engagement is a key part of the development of successful social innovations. Citizens are best placed to frame and articulate the nature of the social challenges they experience, so it is important that they are brought into any process of understanding needs. And when practiced effectively, citizen involvement in the innovation process enables ideas for new solutions to be derived from diverse and unexpected sources. Engaging citizens in the development of new solutions, in particular, testing solutions in real life settings with target users should help make those solutions more effective. Furthermore, working in partnership with citizens, drawing on and developing their assets and capabilities, helps support society’s resilience and capacity to act.