Who is Wietse Van Ransbeeck?
Wietse Van Ransbeeck is the CEO of CitizenLab, an online citizen participation platform for local governments in the digital era. The start-up helps local and federal governments as well as local collectives to reach out to citizens and to promote a more transparent and collaborative decision-making process.
Wietse’s leitmotiv? E-democracy, or how digital innovation can promote civic engagement and citizen participation to strengthen democracies.
A job at the heart of innovation
CitizenLab is an online citizen participation platform where citizens can have their say on local policy matters, by submitting proposals, participating in discussions and voting. The authorities can use the platform to set up participatory projects and reach out to citizens to hear what they have to say, in order to make their projects more democratic.
Digital democracy is innovative on two levels. On the one hand, our objective is to make citizen participation more accessible, increasing civic engagement in local democracy. On the other hand, technology helps governments to become more efficient, enabling them to make decisions founded on facts. With the help of the Innovative Starters Award, we hope to use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to translate citizens’ contributions into information that is useful for the decision-making process.
Project in the spotlight
CitizenLab works with a large number of political authorities, including small municipalities and national governments, in eight different countries.
The example of Leuven is important to me. In June 2019, the City of Leuven partnered with CitizenLab to get citizens to participate in its plans for the future, launching a campaign with the slogan ‘Make it happen’. In a span of just two months, more than 2,500 citizens shared just over 2,000 ideas and proposals with the city council. By early 2020, the City had already provided feedback on 96% of these proposals.
Brussels, City of Innovators
Brussels is the beating heart of Europe. According to Wietse, the presence of several political institutions only serves to increase the city’s enormous potential to become the most innovative region in the world in terms of digital democracy.
What he likes about his job
Wietse particularly enjoys the fact that he gets to work every day with employees who strongly believe in CitizenLab’s social mission and who are convinced that they are contributing to change.
After his commercial engineering studies in Brussels, Wietse obtained a bachelor’s degree from the VUB, followed by a master’s degree from the ULB. Around this time, in 2015, he came up with the idea of CitizenLab as part of a graduation project.
My partner Aline and I wanted to share ideas with our municipality for our neighbourhood but we were unable to find the right channel or this. We told ourselves that there had to be more to democracy than just voting every six years. With technology you can continuously power democracy, building bridges between citizens and the decision-makers that govern them.
The company now has a workforce of 20 employees. Wietse was included on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his impact on democracy. His company currently offers services to more than 125 local governments.
3 tips for Brussels innovators
2) Hire a solid and complementary team, with a good cultural fit rather than just focusing purely on people's skills.
3) Think long term and always look for opportunities that can have a leveraging effect.