Belgian neighborhood watch projects were inspired by neighborhood
watch projects in the United States and United Kingdom (see, for
Citizens, police, and the municipality cooperate in a neighborhood
watch project. One citizen functions as a coordinator, taking the
role of contact person between citizens and the police, and a
police officer is appointed as the contact for the public. The
municipality or police ensure financial and infrastructure support.
The first projects were founded in the province of West-Flanders in
1994, after working visits to the British neighborhood watch. The
projects were relatively successful, and in recent years, their
number has greatly increased. In 2005, there were 243 neighborhood
watch projects, 306 in 2006, 349 in 2007, and 390 on August 1, 2008
(a 61 percent increase over 2005). No other type of security
project is as widespread.
Using the analytical frameworks from various references, we
distinguish the following categories for successful citizen
participation: involvement and collaboration, resources, policy
involvement, communication, context, method, and continuity. We
illustrate the important aspects of these conditions with examples
from two municipalities with Belgian neighborhood watch projects:
Lochristi and Braine lAlleud.
Involvement and Collaboration
Public participation projects require an investment of time and
energy by the various participants. On an administrative level, the
public participation needs to be supported by all levels of the
organizations involved, and the aims must be agreed upon, so that
the results can be effectively put to use. It is also vital that
the right people are involved in the implementation. The
participants must represent diversity in terms of age, ethnicity,
sex, etc. All parties (citizens, municipality, and police) must be
involved, form a partnership, maintain their responsibilities,
which should be clearly laid out, and work on a reciprocal basis of
A second condition for success in public participation is the
availability of sufficient personnel and other resources
(infrastructure, money, professional support, etc.).
A third important factor is municipality support for the project.
This comprises various aspects:
municipality is willing to give up substantial influence at
different stagesof the policymaking process, and the policy
content has not yet been set entirely, allowing sufficient
influence from the other parties.
. Politicians and
public servants cultivate an open and stimulating
environment for participation.
municipality makes the process transparent for participants,
keeping the procedures short and rules straightforward.
retain the initiative: public servants avoid the tendency to
take over good initiatives and carry them out themselves
municipality is present at meetings and supports the project
with regard to infrastructure, finance, etc., and it has a
mechanism for supervision.
A fourth factor for success is the manner of communication. There
must be clear communication through various channels, so that the
goal and concept of the project are conveyed. At the start of a
project, the following points should be clarified:
The existence of the project (people have to
be aware of the possibility of participating)
Reasons for the project
Goals the initiators want to achieve
The role and the contribution of government
and participants (such as available budget and the roles
citizens can or cannot play)
The extent to which citizens input will be
used (to manage expectations because questioning citizens
about problems might lead to the expectancy that they will be
A project has a greater chance of success when people are addressed
directly and personally. At the end of a project, feedback of
results merits attention. When citizens note that their
participation is effective and their insight makes a difference,
they will engage more readily (because of a feeling of ownership).
Various factors determine the successful functioning of public
participation processes. First, projects are more successful when
they deal with an appropriate issue, which includes those that
allow sufficient time to discuss the subject; are important; are
manageable (the problem can be isolated from other problems, can be
sufficiently delineated in time, is not politicized to the extent
that participation is problematic, and is not too technical); are
not yet crystallized: the best policy approach is not yet known;
and do not require confidentiality.
Citizens also participate more in projects set up from a need in
the field, when the issue is critical or affects them directly
(such as a sense of insecurity in a particular neighborhood). On
the other hand, crime and fear of crime and victimization can
undermine the faith in a local solution. Other possible
consequences of crime are isolation, distrust, and powerlessness,
which do not prompt action either. Therefore, crime can also
function as a restraining factor for collective action.
Another condition for project success is the choice of the right
method and its proper execution. Often, public participation does
not work because initiators opt for the wrong method: working
according to the same method in all neighborhoods, regardless of
the specific needs; being obsessively occupied with
representativeness, while a well-targeted small group can sometimes
achieve more than a broad inquiry; applying the method
amateurishly; or not matching aims, strategy, and method.
During the preparation and operation of the project, initiators
should pay attention to the following elements:
Suitability of the method for the
neighborhood and the target group
Accessibility of the project for everybody
involved, in terms of information and interpretation of
information (such as witnesses and scientists) and with regard to
material (such as PCs) and time (such as ensuring that meetings are
scheduled at times when many people are available)
An independent process, perceived as such
(such as not allowing discussion leaders to take sides)
Early involvement of citizens, including a public
debate dealing with not only minor partial aspects, but also
with agenda setting and underlying assumptions
Setting proper purposes
Effectively using results.
A final condition for the success of public participation projects
is ensuring continuity. In the initial phase of the project, it is
already important to see beyond the actual project and focus on the
long run: Will the problem be solved when the project is finished?
Can others take over the initiative? Is there a budget for the
follow-up? When after a sudden increase in crime no considerable
problems arise any more, inhabitants attention diminishes quickly.
In the case of some initiatives, when a problem is solved at a
certain point, the initiative is put to an end. This is not the
case for neighborhood watch projects.
Table 1 lists the questions that appear relevant from our
application of conditions for successful citizen participation in
the cases of two Belgian neighborhood watch projects.