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Citizen Needs Assessment

In order to integrate as many diverse citizen groups as possible into PB, it is of utmost importance to identify needs of different citizens’ groups before PB implementation. This can be realized for example by way of preparing and implementing a poll among the citizens. Academic studies and practitioners’ reports show that PB usually mobilizes a typical type of citizens (predominantly male, politically active, well-educated, 35-65 years old). As such, two important aspects of successful PB processes, i.e., representativeness and inclusiveness are limited. Hence it is necessary to figure out, what different citizen types expect from PB, how it should be designed and how they want to participate.

The EmPaci project partners have developed a citizens’ needs analysis, collecting the data through a survey of citizens in the project partnership countries – Germany, Finland, Latvia, Russia, Poland and Lithuania. This section presents the results of the needs analysis, as well as offers a practical tool to develop such poll in other countries. The information also includes the main principles underlying the questionnaire development to be applied by local administrators and citizen respondents.

The principles of designing questionnaire

How a survey should be designed

The logic behind the EmPaci project citizen survey

The structure of the EmPaci citizen survey

Questionnaire templates of citizen survey

Templates in English, Finnish, German, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian

Analysis of citizens’ needs in the Baltic Sea Region

Comparison of the needs of citizens across the EmPaci pilot municipalities

The principles of designing questionnaires

To make sure the communication and dissemination strategy of PB meets the citizens’ interests, the needs assessment has to be done prior designing PB activities. The most efficient way to prepare for the PB communication is a survey, which is conducted offline and online to reach various citizen groups. A survey should ask citizens to define their preferred areas of improvement when setting the strategy for PB. The survey should:

  • constitute the list of questions to be answered;
  • have a pre-determined sample size and types of citizens to answer these questions chosen in advance;
  • be conducted as personal or phone interviews, or digitally in a written form;
  • be summarized and disseminated and integrated into the PB strategy.

Generally, the needs that are rated as the most important are the ones that get addressed and are responded to by the citizens. As a result, a higher citizen engagement in the PB process will demonstrate the relevance of priorities, supported projects and a larger impact on a local society.

While carrying out the survey of citizens, all the target groups of interest need to be represented, considering the age and gender balance. It is usually more difficult to reach men than women by surveys, therefore special attention should be paid to the gender gap risk. Also, usually, paper surveys are more resource-consuming to collect than online surveys, as they do not require printing, putting into envelopes, sending, transferring answers back to the digital format etc. However, online surveys can leave specific target groups without attention – those, who have limited or no access to information and the communication technology (ICT), for instance, elderly citizens.

With respect to the design of the questionnaire and in particular to the phrasing of questions, the EmPaci partners followed several academic guidelines to assure that the questionnaire is easy to handle for both local administrations that conduct the survey and for the citizen respondents. For example, the following recommendations by Rowley (2014) were considered for the design of questions to the extent possible:

The questions:

(1) “are as short as possible;
(2) are not leading or have implicit assumptions;
(3) do not include two questions in one;
(4) only exceptionally invite “yes/no” answers;
(5) are not too vague or general;
(6) do not use double negatives;
(7) are not, in any sense, invasive, or asking questions
that a respondent is unlikely to want to answer;
(8) do not invite respondents to breach confidentiality.”

The logic behind the EmPaci project citizen survey

The development of the questionnaire has engaged all the project partners following the rule of engaging as many experts as possible to avoid knowledge gaps and relevance of future decisions to the citizen groups. The questionnaire has been structured in four parts, including the following information:

Part 1. Interest in politics and civic engagement – to measure the citizens’ engagement in local politics, the general interest in municipal issues as well as an individual engagement. In the Part 1, the questionnaire assesses how strong the general interest in politics and civic engagement is, how often these topics are discussed with friends and family, if a respondent has voted in the last elections, what participatory actions has been undertaken lately, what kinds of organisations a respondent has been a part of, etc. Part 1 was placed at the front of the questionnaire in order to start with some easy questions for respondents to answer. Still, another possibility would be to present the questions with personal data first (Part 4 here).

Part 2. Living in the municipality, citizen satisfaction and attachment – to measure citizen satisfaction with living in a particular area. The questions were focused on the overall assessment of an environment and the evaluation of specific attributes’ importance, such as:

  • urbanity and diversity (cultural activities, shopping, services availability, tolerance, atmosphere etc.);
  • nature and recreation (public green areas, environment quality, cleanness, outdoor activities, open spaces, tranquillity etc);
  • job opportunities (wages, promotion opportunities, an economic growth etc.);
  • cost efficiency (housing, a general price level etc.).

Part 3. Participatory budgeting – to learn about how respondents want the participatory budget of their home municipality to be designed. Questions are devoted to each of the process steps of PB (information, consultation, and accountability). Since the status quo of PB processes is very diverse in the BSR countries, this part can also be adjusted individually. Since it is not clear whether a respondent even knows PB, Part 3 starts with a general enquiry, whether PB is even known. This is followed by a general definition of PB, in case that PB is not known by a respondent and to make sure there is a common understanding of PB before further questions on the topic are raised.

The definition of PB used in the questionnaire:

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which citizens decide how to spend a part of a municipal or public budget. Thus, citizens decide how to allocate a part of a municipal or public budget. PB started in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989. Since then, PB has spread to over 3,000 cities around the world and has been used to decide about budgets from states, counties, municipalities, housing authorities, schools, and other institutions.

This definition can also be adjusted in case there is an own national definition of the term PB.

Part 4. Personal data – to assess demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the respondents. The questions were primarily drawn from the Census Europe (2011). These questions support the assessment of the representativeness of the survey compared to the original population of the surveyed municipality but are also used to gather group specific information on the respondents’ preferences (e.g., distinguished by gender, age, or an employment status).
To read a full report about the Citizen Survey development and to download questionnaire templates in any of the 6 languages, please see subsections – Questionnaire templates of citizen survey.


Eurostat (2011). Census Europe: Census Hub, URL (Access date: 25.01.2020):

Rowley, J. (2014). Designing and using research questionnaires, Management Research Review, Vol. 37 No. 3, pp. 308-330.

Questionnaire templates of citizen survey

This subsection contains the template of a citizen survey on Participatory Budgeting (PB) in English language as well as the translations of the template into the national languages of the EmPaci project partner countries: Finnish, German, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian. The EmPaci project team aims to allow for other interested local authorities or other institutions in the Baltic Sea Region (i.e., the EmPaci project partner countries) to take this ready-made questionnaire to conduct their own citizen surveys.

Please, note that the adjustments were made to the questionnaires translated from English (the original questionnaire) according to the local specifics!


Surveying tool in:

Also, a full document providing information on how the questionnaire was developed and which measures were used is available

Analysis of citizens’ needs in the Baltic Sea Region

This section provides an analysis of citizens’ needs and expectations with respect to certain PB process design factors. It addresses which are the citizens’ needs with respect to the implementation and design of PB and also provides insights with respect to specific citizen groups. More specifically, the EmPaci project’s target groups, i.e. females, the youth, the elderly and unemployed persons are separately analysed. A comparative approach is sought for by analysing the needs of citizens in 17 municipalities in six European countries along the BSR (here Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia). Data of more than 20,000 persons were collected based on a survey using a joint questionnaire.

The citizen poll is evaluated building on the different citizen groups on a local but also transnational level. Thereby, the involved municipalities can be categorized depending on their citizen groups and needs. This supports building transnational relations and to ensure that the PB types implemented are of relevance for the citizen groups.

In addition, the pilot municipalities have analysed their poll results individually in order to inform the design of their PB processes. These individual analyses were presented and discussed at local workshops in each partner municipality and communicated to the public. Also, the results of this survey were considered when setting up the PB type groups’ document, a categorisation scheme of PB process steps, published by the EmPaci project.

The analysis of citizens’ needs first provides information about how the data was collected and how the sample is composed. This is followed by descriptive statistics of the data, especially with regard to the socio-demographic characteristics of the sample. The general part of the analyses of citizens’ needs is then presented by showing the transnational differences between the citizens’ wishes regarding PB also based on their socio-demographic characteristics. This is followed with a more specific citizens’ needs analysis of the target groups of the EmPaci project: females, youth, the elderly and unemployed citizens in four subsections. To enable other municipalities to do the analysis on their own, material is provided on how to analyse the citizen survey. This includes a process model for analysis, an easy to use statistical guide with simple methods, but also information on how to handle specific outcomes of the survey. These analyses materials will provide guidance in particular for municipalities outside the project consortium on how to handle and analyse the data collected with the citizen survey.