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Influenced by developmental state models that promise rapid socio-economic progress, nation-building in the MENA has commonly been achieved through top-down strategies short on citizen input. However, efforts to promote citizen participation in government decision making are emerging. In one of the region’s first policy experiments with unprecedented citizen transparency, we were asked by an Arab government to rebuild public trust in national strategy development.
Given the country’s youthful demographics and widespread embrace of mobile technologies, an online national portal offered a channel that was both scalable and accessible. To establish the direction of content, we consolidated the strategic plans of all government institutions and mapped key priorities and initiatives to national vision objectives. Over 500 government initiatives were identified for inclusion onto the platform – each with details on project profiles, impact objectives, implementing stakeholders, status, and location.
The platform included several regional citizen engagement firsts: channels to allow citizens to provide feedback on initiatives, a tool for citizens to suggest changes to existing initiatives or to propose ones, and project geo-mapping to hold local authorities to account. This unparalleled level of engagement has enabled citizens and the government to work together on solving the major challenges and started a process of trust-building that favors cooperation over opposition.
By providing a well-defined vision to steer collective development efforts, the portal engaged citizens in the nation-building process while providing transparency and enhancing collaboration. Proposal recommendations provided a way to petition leaders to take action on a range of important issues important to residents and citizens. If a project received enough support or if citizen comments proposed a different project course, an official response was issued.
Following post-Arab Spring expectations for more say in government decision making, this engagement set a new standard of public participation in the region. The launch of the national vision portal signified a watershed moment by proving that citizen feedback could complement and enhance government development plans. The creation of a participatory space has generated over 2,000 proposals to tackle issues that previously escaped federal attention. The portal now stands as testament to the government’s renewed commitment to transparency and accountability to its people.