Toolkit of GOOD PRACTICES on Citizen Participation!


Unconventional Public Hearing


Country: Hungary

Context

The Unconventional Public Hearing is an element of a 12-month-long project implemented by a local NGO named Mayflower Association (Galagonya Egyesület) in a village with 750 residents in the South-Transdanubian Region of Hungary, close to the town of Szekszárd. The whole project (called Act Together for the village Alsónána-TEA) aimed at the development of the local community and of the participation in the decision-making process in the village.
The whole project has 3 parts:
Research and assessment, education and training of a local task force group (4 months)
Strategic planning in the village: vision, long- and short-term goals, programs and projects (4 months)
Presentation of the project ideas to the local government and the village people at an unconventional public hearing, and starting to implement the project that received the needed support (4 months)
The crucial element of the whole project was the unconventional public hearing where the local government finally accepted the proposals of the public. In that case the first 8 months could be mentioned as a preparation of the decision, which enabled local people to think about the future of the village and take care of it.

Measure

Aim:
Enhance participative democracy in the village by involving conscious citizenship.
Project goal:
Implementation of a new methodology in the decision-making process of the local government, development of the cooperation with active citizens of the village through the projects that are initiated by local people.
Objectives:
Minimum 5 project proposals developed upon local initiatives
Involving people in project planning
Raising citizens' interest in participating in public hearings
Implementing the projects in cooperation with the local government

Target Group

There are five members in the local government, including the mayor. The mayor was first elected in 2010, so this is her first term. She had worked in public administration before she retired. One of the members had been the mayor of the village for 20 years, and he now works in the private sector in town. Another person is a teacher in the neighboring town. The fourth one lives in Szekszárd, and works for his own agricultural company. The fifth one lives in the village but works in Szekszárd for a private company.
The members are experienced and have practiced the routine operations of the local government for a considerable amount of time. They definitely believe that the residents are passive and disinterested and they have seen a lot of criticism and negative attitudes among the village people.
Residents of the village are not satisfied with the conditions of the village. They do not know their rights, try to avoid conflicts, but are judgmental and criticize everybody and everything in the background. They have no experience in representing their needs and opinions. They are frustrated and refuse to participate because they do not believe in their ability to change life in the village, or even just to influence it.

Methodology

Capacity building of local task force group with a training course
Raising the interest of local residents by providing information (creating a local newsletter) and with a survey: assessment in focus groups and personal interviews on the question of “What do you need for a better life in the village?”
Strategy planning process: vision, short-term goals, programs, projects
Recruitment of the members of the project groups
Project planning workshops
Consultancy on presentation of the projects
Introduction of all projects in the local newsletter
Recruitment of local residents to participate in the public hearing
Preparation of the projects to be on the agenda of the following local government session
Celebration of the achieved results
Motivation for the implementation of the projects
Sharing the experience among the members of the active citizens' group in the village

Stakeholders

Galagonya Association
Role: initiator of the action as a step of the whole process named TEA (Act Together for the village Alsónána) which aims to involve local people in the decision-making process, and also to develop the community.
Cooperation: the NGO was open to everyone's opinion and suggestion, and coordinated the preparation of the local project groups, provided them consultancy and coaching in project planning and in preparing the presentations. It kept in touch with the mayor and the notary of the local government in designing the event.

Local Government
Role: making decisions on whether they wanted to support/expand the project-proposals, how many of them, what their role will be in the implementation of the accepted projects.
Cooperation: the mayor was a bit distrustful, felt uncomfortable in this unusual situation. The members of the local government also seemed a bit fearful of the situation. Despite the informal everyday relation between village people and local government members, their behavior appeared to be rigid and very formal.

Local people
Role: to plan projects on building a better life in the village and propose them to the local government, asking for their support or subsidy, technical support or encouragement.
Cooperation: they were very open to partnerships among themselves and with the local government.

Assessment

They achieved what they had originally planned: at the public hearing all the intended projects were presented by the project groups themselves, who had the chance to put them on the agenda of the following meeting of the local government.

Impact

The target group of the whole TEA project are the inhabitants of the village, including the members of the local government. The local government (5 people including the mayor) experienced the first real public hearing in their life in which a great number of local people participated (usually 2-4 people from the village showed up). They were surprised by the quality of the presentations and started to trust the power of the community. They also became open to implement all these projects and joined the first community actions on 1st and 2nd of May (Village Festival and waste collection in the whole village and its surroundings).

Swot

1. Strengths (characteristics of the measure that give it an advantage over others):
The reliability of the local leader of the action (leader of the NGO)
Ability of the local leader to motivate people and create a group of activists
Commitment of the participants (people from the village)
Positive attitude of the mayor
Common responsibility for the future life in the village
Methods and skills learnt during the preparation period
Personal knowledge and skills
Common goals
Joint vision of the village life
Motivated local people (50)
Monthly local newsletter edited by the Galagonya Association
2. Weaknesses (characteristics that place the measure at a disadvantage relative to others)
Low self-confidence
Diversity of education level
Inexperienced participants
Passivity of local people
Lack of confidence in unknown methods, tools
Prejudices, preconceptions
3. Opportunities (elements that the measure could exploit to its advantage):
Experienced expert in the neighboring town
Similar projects realized in the region
Available case studies
Study visits to different villages in the region where similar projects were implemented in the last few years (for example Alsómocsolád)
Workshops to develop projects and personal skills
4. Threats (elements in the environment that could cause trouble to the measure):
Gossips among the mayors in the small region
Prejudices
Obstruction of the local government
Conflict of interests
Personal conflicts

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