Connecting public voices with public policies

February 17, 2021

Identifying effective means of increasing citizen participation in decision making is timely and relevant considering the impact of the pandemic on populations and governments preparing to lead their people through post-pandemic recoveries. In 2019, Kazakhstan introduced the “Listening State” concept, a constructive dialogue between the state/ government and its citizens as a key principle for public services delivery. UNDP Kazakhstan also stresses the importance of supporting the government in building effective and accountable institutions that will foster public trust. So, what are the effective ways of increasing citizen participation in the country, taking int account the current situation?

One of the key means of doing so is acceleration of global trends/ global solutions in digitization of public services as they present the potential for facilitating greater citizen participation in decision-making. More people are now digitally literate and can access services online than ever before. From the supply-side, the Government is also moving into a digital space, meaning that now is the perfect time to integrate the much-needed participatory component to its digital public service delivery.

We at the Accelerator Lab team in Kazakhstan, envision this period of increased digital services delivery as an exciting opportunity to strengthen ties between the state and its people, making collective intelligence and inclusive decision-making a new norm. Our goal is to move the perception of citizens as the final users to citizens as co-designers of public services.

Our team has recently held sessions with the Ministry of Digital Development who is currently creating a map of all life situations in which citizens require a public service. There are numerous situations throughout a citizen’s life in which this applies, and the analysis needed to map them all will take a considerable amount of time. Our plan is to first work on this integration for one specific life situation, and from this the same mechanism can possibly be replicated across all other life situations and services.

Overall, we will aim to achieve better delivery of public services through including the voices of those most in need – the people themselves. Once they see that services are designed to address their concerns, it will create a reciprocal effect: better services will lead to more satisfied citizens, which in turn will lead to their continuous engagement in decision-making, informing public policies. This feedback loop of citizens to government and back to citizens will also contribute to a higher trust among citizens, encouraging greater public support of government policies, such as directives during and after the
COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows that a significant predictor of a country’s efficiency in dealing with the pandemic is conditioned not only on the state of the health system, but on the level of citizen trust in the government.

The Accelerator Lab plans to accomplish this by using real-time citizen-generated data to inform the government’s decisions. This follows the pattern of data empowerment, when information is not extracted for the benefit of the third party, but for the benefit of those who generate this data – citizens. The Lab will use innovative tools such as citizen science, collective intelligence, ethnography, positive deviance, solutions mapping, systems thinking and experimentation. We will utilize the Accelerator Lab’s core learning cycle:

1.       Sense: We will identify early signals – emerging trends and patterns in the area of citizen participation in Kazakhstan.

2.       Explore: We will tap into uncommon data sources, such as people’s stories, social media, video analytics. Our Solutions Mapper will immerse into communities, investigate existing practices in Kazakhstan and see what solutions we can test further. One of existing national efforts to bring citizens’ opinions has been the National Council of Public Trust.

We will identify what solutions are there that we can bring to Kazakhstan. For example, Citizen Lab and Decide Madrid are international platforms that include citizens in the policy-making processes.

3.       Test: Our experimenter will identify potential prototypes or projects that can be tested at a smaller scale. We want to work with a wide range of partners, so if you think you are working on a similar topic – reach out to us! The goal of an experimenter is to test new ideas, knowing that not all will be successful, and then identify the best grassroots solutions that can be scaled up.

4.       Grow: Finally, our goal is to use a new framework for citizen participation to different processes and find a steward of this process – an organization that will carry on the work that we initiated.

We plan to use the experience of other Accelerator Labs that worked or are working on similar matters (e.g. citizen engagement in Argentina or Bhutan). We will also look into public innovation tools, such as Digital Democracy, Collective Intelligence, developed by Nesta – the Accelerator Lab’s strategic partner. Lastly, we will utilize existing UNDP efforts on improving public services driven by Astana Civil Service Hub to complement their work.

As we commence this learning cycle, we expect to, at first, have more questions rather than answers which is a unique way of working in development. Our next steps are to narrow down the focus to a specific life situation of a citizen needing a public service and to explore what has already been tried, what worked, and what did not. We want the system to recognize and empower the source of data that has the most say in public policies – people who use public services.   

If you are working in the area of citizen participation in decision-making or have ideas what experiments we should run, reach out to the Accelerator Lab team by sending an e-mail to