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We need a better citizens' initiative

19 of January '23

As a public institution, local governments have opportunities that no other type of government has - the ability to deal directly with residents. Each level of government upward means less and less understanding. Why is this directness often a salt in the eye rather than an asset?

As part of #ThursdayReport, we present well-known and lesser-known documents worth recalling.

Direct local actions organized by urban and non-urban residents tend to be depreciated. Their small scale of impact in the face of the problems we face for many people means a game not worth the candle. Climate change won't be stopped with a new green square, transportation problems won't be stopped with one new bike path, and engaged and developing societies aren't built on single projects. How about just that? Just where does the problem lie?

Bottom-up social power very often falls on unsusceptible ground in Poland, as the issue of public consultations very often proves. Officials, at least those who take consultations seriously, often face time pressure and artificial guidelines. The reaction of city residents is that they often don't want to participate, because they don't feel heard, don't believe in the efficiency of such consultations, or conclude that they are made to suit a thesis. This is a vicious cycle that fuels itself.

This problem was addressed by specialists from the Batory Foundation's Local Government Workshop, who published a guidebook "Design a Solution. Inspirations for Local Authorities." The Pracownia decided to look at solutions that can free us from the misuse of public consultation and make a real contribution to its use as a tool for innovation - so important at the time of crises facing local governments. The studio decided to undertake the creation of four solutions to diverse problems.

The guide is available on the Batory Foundation website - see here.

z tych narzędzi projektowych korzystała Pracownia Samorządowa

These design tools were used by the Local Government Workshop

© Batory Foundation

teaching democracy from the youngest

How should democracy be taught? Perhaps precisely through practice, rather than worn-out platitudes? It is difficult to have a democratic society the moment we do not listen to what future citizens say and suggest. The moment they see that they can realistically influence their neighborhood, perhaps we will realistically live to see a civil society.

How to accomplish this? Specialists from the Self-Government Studio decided, in cooperation with the small municipality of Pawonkow, to organize consultations on an investment so important from the perspective of the target group, which is a playground and skatepark. The basis of the initiative was a consultation that did not impose anything. The effect realistically exceeded expectations - children and young people eagerly took part in several sessions of meetings where they put forward their ideas and concepts. A better example of participation is hard to find. You can read about how to conduct consultations with the youngest in the report.

Jak zachęcić młodsze osoby do partycypacji społecznej? Podstawą inicjatywy były konsultacje, które nic nie narzucały, tak jak przywołany skatepark

How to encourage younger people to participate in society? The basis of the initiative was a consultation that did not impose anything, like the referenced skatepark

© Pexels

not solving the problem is also an experience

Has the law kept up with reality? Usually the answer is no, and the issue of garbage fees is a crowning example of this. By law, there are four ways to calculate fees: number of residents, area, water used or household. None of these methods takes into account the amount of garbage, which has grown dramatically since the year the law was introduced.

What is the result? In many municipalities, the difference between residents and those with garbage declarations is even more than twenty percent. This solution ultimately translates into passing on costs to all citizens. This problem, too, the specialists of the Local Government Workshop wanted to take into account. How to use the existing data, their verifications and fix the problem of billing? The solution was found in Swidnik, which created an application collecting information from more than a dozen offices. This solution has shortcomings, which you will read about in the report Can the billing system be improved? You will read about possible systems in the report.

Jak wykorzystać dotychczasowe dane, ich weryfikacje i naprawić problem naliczania opłat? Prawo wciąż nie nadąża za problemami

How to use the existing data, their verifications and fix the billing problem? The law still has not caught up with the problems

© Pexels

can residents co-fund something themselves?

The third problem cited is co-financing of initiatives by residents and municipalities. Sometimes breaking through with small projects, containing ideas up to a maximum of tens of thousands of zlotys, are met with a barrier of bureaucratic rules and laws. Specialists pointed to the possibility of initiating the so-called Local Moneyboxes, as well as their support by local governments. Such projects allow consolidation of the communities of funders, residents and local government officials - while leaving the bottom-up nature of the initiative.

strategies not only for the big ones

The final issue raised by the Local Government Studio is the question of village development strategies. As experts point out, such strategies are extremely helpful even on the small scale of a village or village district, although we usually associate them with large cities.

The ideas cited in the handbook show that realistically such a strategy, often forged about already existing structures that bring together residents (such as village housewives' circles), allow better targeting of investments - from infrastructure for the elderly, cultural facilities or places for children. Unfortunately, as the handbook also points out - most provinces do not support the development of strategy-making. Only four provinces are exceptions to this.

Strategie rozwoju nie powinny mieć miejsca tylko przy projektach miejskich

Development strategies should not only take place for urban projects

© Pexels

a set of ideas is fundamental

If we want to seriously talk about local initiatives, support their development, as well as educate civic attitudes. The problem of today's cities is not only the pouring of concrete, but above all the frequent inability to crush it. If local governments open up to the grassroots power of residents or non-governmental institutions maybe we can avoid over-scaled projects, revitalizations that nobody needs? It's worth trying and crumbling this concrete.

The guide is available on the Batory Foundation website - see here.

compiled by Wiktor Bochenek

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