In a Participative Value Evaluation (PVE), citizens are, as it were, put in the seat of a councilor. What do councilors actually think of this? We asked Jelmer Schreuder, councilor D66 Utrecht about his experiences with (the outcomes) of the PVE for Heat Transition Vision Utrecht. In this PVE, a group of citizens was asked for advice on how they would make 22,000 homes in the municipality natural gas-free before 2030.

Another group of residents

Jelmer: “I think the PVE has involved a different group of residents in considerations about the heat transition and it is a very valuable instrument for that. My view is that opponents of proposed policy are often overrepresented at the well-known residents' evenings. On such an evening they want to try to convince the municipality to steer the other way. In my opinion, proponents are less inclined to come to these kinds of evenings, because the policy is already moving in their direction. If you are in the minority, you must have a lot of courage to speak up. It seems as if many proponents of the heat transition also participated in the PVE in Utrecht. I get that. It's anonymous and doesn't take much time to join, so proponents are more likely to join as well. Different people are drawn to each method and that is why they are not mutually exclusive, but I see them more as additions.”

Confirmation of the direction

The PVE provides a lot of information about the preferences of citizens about policy choices made by the municipality. But what can a councilor actually do with this information? Jelmer: “To be honest, the results of the PVE mainly confirmed the line I was on. That doesn't mean the PVE is any less valuable. As a council member, it is nice to know what a large group of people think about this subject and that your image of what is going on among the residents is verified. The PVE is ideally suited to an issue such as the municipality's transition vision. In everything this issue is an enormous weighing of interests, including people in such a weighing of interests is communicative: you also explain to the residents what we are doing and what we are doing. In addition, participation can also be good for making certain decisions understandable. Hopefully, the results will also be acceptable to more people.”



A matter of timing

“What I do have questions about is the timing of the PVE. Was this the ideal time to use this instrument? We are now very early in the heat transition plan for the entire city. Can we already give people fair choices? I can imagine that the PVE can now provide guidance (which way are we going), but the chance that you can use the information very concretely increases further down the process as the choices become more concrete. From a political point of view, too, I think it's important that we can really do something with the information we receive. If you use the P/vE a little later in the process, you have more certainty that you can do something concrete with the information.”

Advice from residents

Jelmer: “Only a minority of the participants in the PVE now said that the outcomes should play a very important role in the decision-making process, but I do not think that the PVE should have a completely different role if a majority of the citizens had said that we should take their advice. Then you exclude your role as councilor. I have to make a choice and I am responsible for that, so someone has to hold me accountable. The fact that I include residents' advice in my consideration may be a form of explanation, but I should never hide behind residents' advice.” Jelmer continues: ”You should also always ask questions about the representativeness of a sample: I have yet to see the perfect poll. You should always think for yourself how representative the result is, the more representative the heavier it weighs. But I would also talk to the people who are involved.”

Qualitative information and communication

A PVE provides both qualitative and quantitative information. The qualitative information is also interesting for municipal councilors. Jelmer: “Qualitative statements give the feeling of what is behind the considerations of people, which is certainly worth it.” Jelmer concludes by saying that the tool can also be used purely for communication purposes: ”What makes this issue complicated is that we don't know so much yet. The value of such a tool can also be purely communicative by showing which considerations the municipality will have to make in the coming years.”




Jelmer Schreuder