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Reasons behind citizen participation

15 June 2015

Citizen participation, it is also on the agenda of the government in The Hague. However: is it just a ‘fashion phenomenon’ or is it a sustainable thing that will still benefit us in future? Robin Valkeman investigated the subject: “It would be great if a ‘kick-start’ was caused by my investigation.“

Robin just graduated from the University of Twente in Health Psychology. As a completion of his ‘master’ he wrote his thesis at the GHOR, which is the regional medical aid organisation of the Dutch safety region North and East Gelderland. In 2007 the GHOR and the North and East Gelderland Ambulance Service coöperated while investigating how a higher regional coverage ratio could be accomplished in addition to the existing ambulance services. At that time HeartsafeLiving arised from this collaboration and investigation.

Jimmy Korswagen, at the time working as a policy officer at de GHOR (but now working for the emergency dispatch center) supervised Robin when writing his thesis. He has a Safety Science as well as Management and Innovations background. Especially the latter was appropriate for Robin’s investigation. As a matter of fact Robin did research on people’s reasons for participating or not as a citizen responder at HeartsafeLiving to be able to fall back on citizen responders more often in the event of other disasters or crises.

Citizen participation: just a fashion phenomenon?

Jimmy: “Citizen participation seems to be just a fashion phenomenon. Politics call on people and business organisations to solve problems themselves. That sounds nice and reasonable and it is a good starting point in theory, but from the GHOR organisation’s point of view we preferred to investigate if a practical implementation of citizen participation was possible and wether it actually provides added value.”

Research questions were for example: how can the HeartsafeLiving principles be employed in other ways? Are citizens really appreciating something like this and what are the exact reasons for them to register or not for a project like HeartsafeLiving? 

One of the reasons for not registering at HeartsafeLiving for example was fear. “During the investigation people indicated they were afraid that they could not resuscitate well enough or that they had to resuscitate someone they know”, Robin says. “In the investigation I made a distinction between rural and urban areas. It was expected that, because of the strong sense of ‘neighbourhood connectedness’ in rural areas more people would be willing to participate at HeartsafeLiving. Eventually it appeared that there was no difference between rural and urban areas” he continues.

You see how people appreciate it when someone’s life is saved

Before the investigation Robin was not familiair yet with HeartsafeLiving: “To be honest I did not know about it at the time. So I first started the investigation from the starting point why people do follow a CPR course. That is how I became familiar with HeartsafeLiving and I also learned many stories that way.”

He then heard that someone from his own village was saved by HeartsafeLiving, because people could resuscitate that person and use an AED directly on the spot. “In that way you get more and more affinity with it and you see how important it is” Robin says. “You see how happy people are when someone’s life is saved and how involved people are. In that way I noticed that HeartsafeLiving is something really beautiful and important.“ 

  • "It is really fun to see how enthusiastic people are!"

    Robin Valkeman

In the meantime Robin has done a CPR course himself: “During my investigation I interviewed people that are involved with HeartsafeLiving and people that are responsible for local citizen participation in their own region” Robin says. “I had an interview in Laren for example, with someone from a really committed CPR team. This person asked me if I had done a CPR course myself. I hadn’t, but he gave me the CPR training. They offer you a free training there, provided that you sign up to HeartsafeLiving afterwards. So I did.”

“I noticed that people are really involved” Jimmy says. “This was also represented in the response. There had been a lot of response to the investigation, while this participation actually was also just voluntary. I found it surprising that so many people were willing to help with it. They can certainly be thanked for that!”

Based on the outcomes it is now investigated how it can be implemented. “It would be great if a ‘kick-start’ was caused by my investigation. And that it appears that something is actually being done with it” Robin says. 

As HeartsafeLiving we have that same wish: we continue following developments in the field of citizen participation closely and we participate in various initiatives on this subject.