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Community dialogue is inevitable

Aug 28,2017 - Last updated at Aug 28,2017

If the government intends to transfer sustainable development responsibilities to citizens, it needs to foster community dialogue and involve citizens in the decision-making process.

To foster dialogue, it is important to see how members of local communities collaborate and how municipality councils intend to reach out to people.

The Decentralisation Law provides a mechanism to foster and facilitate collaboration between governorates and municipal councils, each with distinct roles and responsibilities in collaborating with local communities. 

But collaboration does not stop there. For example, Municipality Law No. 41 of 2015, Article 4, item 6, states that “the council’s sessions shall be in public and every citizen with a direct interest in any topic listed on the agenda may participate in the discussions on that topic… .”

Furthermore, Article 5, item 3, states that municipal councils need to collaborate with local communities when drafting and implementing programmes to achieve sustainable development.

I believe it is the “how” that we need to delve further into. As in how will the citizens engage in discussions? How will the councils involve local communities in drafting and implementing local municipality programmes? In what manner will the public be consulted and how will they influence the decision-making process? This remains a gap in which, I believe civil society organisations need to fill.

Moreover, there is need of creative facilitation tools to engage citizens in dialogue.

Community engagement requires meticulous attention to people, culture, group dynamics and participatory decision-making tools.

In other words, a great deal of attention must be paid to the way local municipalities and citizens work together. But this cannot sensibly be the responsibility of the local council committees.

Expert and independent neutral third party intervention efforts are essential to engaging people in participatory dialogue. The aim is to foster a sense of collective achievement.

Such intervention may be performed by civil society organisations whose focus is community and human development. Therefore, a community body that will operate at the interface between the local councils and the public is a necessity.

It may help to establish a “community engagement group” that consists of volunteers from the public, NGOs or other stakeholders, such as community development specialists, facilitators or specialists in conflict resolution. The aim is to foster and lead a “national dialogue” project across communities in Jordan to prepare for public participation.

By establishing an independent, neutral, third party “community engagement group” responsibility for ensuring community engagement is transferred to organisations, groups or individuals with expertise in the subject matter.

Moreover, giving this task to an independent third party will ensure neutrality and impartiality upon leading and facilitating dialogue amongst citizens. This will provide a democratic and a neutral venue for local governments and the public to work together.

The community engagement group would ideally be given distinct responsibilities, like leading other local sub-groups in different governorates.

Ideally, the group would have duties such as identifying key community organisations, groups and individuals that may be capable of forming an alliance with the municipal councils to help engender community dialogue; and planning for and holding public workshops where citizens are invited to engage in dialogue, hear divergent perspectives and opinions and move towards common ground, and thus reach consensus on community related matters.

Moreover, public meetings may be an ideal venue for local council committees to inform citizens about municipality related tasks that requires input from the public, such as identifying major community challenges and concerns or discussing new development projects.

Such public meetings should not be limited to informing people; rather, they should involve consulting people, getting their feedback and opinions, and working with them in a manner that shows that their concerns and aspirations are understood.

The success of such public meetings depends very much on carefully designed workshops to ensure transparency in sharing information, and equal opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions and share their experiences. This way, municipal councils and local communities may collaborate and thus citizens will be enabled to contribute to the decision-making process and ultimately influence the national development policy.

This, in brief, is empowering citizens and ensuring their participation in taking decisions that affect their lives.

Public workshops will expose citizens to consensus decision-making tools, brainstorming sessions, creative problem solving, exploring focus questions, long-term strategic planning, short-term action planning and a whole wide range of engagement tools. This exposure will undoubtedly help engender a culture of dialogue in local communities.

Today, more than ever before, newly elected municipal council members need to prepare to engage with local communities.

A bottom-up approach to sustainable development is a multiparty process that will eventually evolve into citizens’ involvement in making decisions. It all boils down to engendering a culture of dialogue.

 

The writer, [email protected], is founder of the International Association of Facilitators Jordan Chapter, www.iaf-world.com, an initiative to promote a culture of participation towards driving positive change in organisations and communities in Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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