Public empowerment approaches

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Public empowerment policies are initiatives and activities that aim at increasing the awareness and preparedness of citizens. They create resilience, self-efficacy and preparedness for risks and crises on the part of the public and specific groups. When collecting examples of initiatives, we found different approaches. Public empowerment can be undertaken using a top-down, bottom-up or cooperative approach.

Top-down approaches

Where the practical implementation of empowerment policies has started, but is not yet applied, the initiative often remains top down, for example in introducing preparedness campaigns. Initiatives like these can be seen as laying a foundation, but the effectiveness of such campaigns should not be overestimated. When the first signs of a change towards empowerment show, citizen groups - such as organized volunteers - have to some extent and at some points been included in the planning process, rather than just seen as target groups. There is awareness that implementation can only be effective if all societal levels work together, including the level of citizen groups.

Bottom-up approaches

A strategy that has often worked well is a citizen initiative that spontaneously occurs during a crisis or a campaign in a community and truly changes the attitude and behaviour of the target group. Such initiatives can be initiated by citizen groups, and public organisations can invite, facilitate and support these, for example by being open to them and creating a supportive infrastructure.

Cooperative approaches

Co-production with public groups is needed, especially in a high-impact crisis. Such collaboration is particularly feasible when the focus is on crises with a high probability of re-occurrence in a certain region. In such cases, competences and resources can be mapped and local groups included in crisis preparedness and planning.

After years of specialization, the quality of rescue services in Europe are often of very good quality and citizens can rely on them. However, major crises call for a strong citizen response as well, and the public sector mind-set does not (always) seem to be ready for this. In the response network a co-production attitude may be present be to a greater or lesser extent. If collaboration with publics is part of the official mind-set, this is an important building block for resilience. Such collaboration also needs flexibility, looking for possible changes in the division of tasks and in collaboration in emerging situations. Preparation of publics makes more sense when the emphasis is on re-occurring crises, while delegation to authorities and inter-authority cooperation is called for in the case of lower probability crises. An all-hazard approach can include preparedness for various kinds of crises.

Public empowerment policies include joint exercises involving citizens, starting preparedness education at an early stage, including in schools, and formulating a clear communication strategy involving online communication.

Public Empowerment – engaging the public in crisis management