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A lens on public participation

Oct 03,2017 - Last updated at Oct 03,2017

To give effect to the vision of the decentralisation and municipal law of 2015, governorate and municipal councils need to have the principles of inclusivity and equity for all at the heart of their work.

However, challenges lay ahead for municipal councils that engage with people and seek their input in the decision-making process.

The challenge is prominently, to achieve a truly demographically representative participation from their local communities in different governorates across the Kingdom.

To assume that municipal council committees are capacitated to act and work on behalf of the public is a pitfall. Rather, local councils need to forge continuous communication lines with the people, bring people’s knowledge and wisdom to the table, and seek public acceptability of and consensus on community and sustainable development related matters.

Minimal interaction with the public will not do the job; it will only widen the gap between local councils and the local communities.

Seeking the public’s input in identifying issues and decisions will facilitate understanding between local councils and the public and will result in better decisions. However, seeking the public’s input demands rigorous planning.

Moreover, local councils should avoid a centralised decide, announce and defend approach to decision-making.  Municipal committees need to understand their community’s demographics and manage stakeholder expectations of all those affected by a decision.

This requires careful attention to individuals who need to be represented and engaged in the decision-making process.

Stakeholder mapping will help enable effective citizen participation in developing sustainable development policies. For example, if it is a youth-related decision, the youth need to be predominantly represented and involved in the decision-making process.

Moreover, local councils need to identify a participation continuum and clearly pinpoint the level of participation required from the public.

People need to be informed of the extent to will they are involved. For example, will local councils merely seek the public’s input through gathering information about people’s opinions and feedback? Or will local councils involve people much further in developing alternatives to proposed solutions and collaborating with them to reach decisions?

Perhaps, local councils will hand the final decision-making authority to the people if it is right to do so.

Today we need to envisage the democracy we are seeking; what is it that we desire?

Is it a passive form of public participation that is limited to old-fashioned questionnaire/interview type of consultation?

I believe public participation needs to go further than consultation and heads towards collaboration and empowerment.

People need to feel they are taking matters in their own hands. Public participation is the right to freely express one’s opinion, to be equally heard, to feel safe and enabled to contribute to the taking decisions that directly affect one’s life.

In other words, a forum needs to be provided to people, taking the form of civic meetings where citizens gather to converse in face-to-face settings to tackle challenges and problems facing their communities.

Such meetings when facilitated properly, will create a disciplined democratic process that will look at how people behave collectively, how they voice their opinions, reach decisions, solve problems and share information. 

Civic meetings lie at the heart of democratic deliberations and provide a neutral forum for decision makers and citizens to work and learn together by engaging in participatory style workshops that will lead to specific outcomes.

However, such civic meetings are best designed and implemented in collaboration with civil society organisations, like non-profit ones, whose focus is community and youth development.

I believe today there is a dire need to design and implement inclusive public participation programmes that will seek to include the marginalised, the less empowered and voices that are rarely heard.

Therefore, the question posed today is not whether the government should seek the public’s input in the decision-making process — this is an inevitable necessity; rather, it is how local councils will adequately represent their local communities in the decision-making process.

Hard work lies ahead.

 

 

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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