Toolkit of GOOD PRACTICES on Citizen Participation!


Public thematic forums in electoral process


Country: Albania

Context

Albania is on the road towards the integration in the European Union. One of the most essential steps for this to happen is to get citizens on-board, inspiring them to be more engaged and informed about the political process in their own country. This is essential for any thriving democracy and it is particularly critical if Albania wants to be a part of the larger European community. Vlora, being the third largest city in the country, is an essential location for working to change people’s ideas on how they are involved in the democratic process.
Using an environmental theme is one of the most effective means to do this. It is something tangible and easy for citizens to understand. It is much easier to get citizens engaged in the political process for something they see every day rather than just for some abstract idea. Environmental issues have the largest impact on minorities and underserved populations because they lack the resources to deal with these problems. As a result, tackling environmental and health issues is important for the quality of life, it is part of the human rights framework (economic, environmental and social rights), and it helps improve the human rights situation in Albania that happens to be one of the twelve priorities for EU integration.

Measure

Public thematic meetings aimed at holding forums with candidates so that citizens can discuss issues prior to the elections time. It gives voters a direct interaction with the candidates and informs them about the issues. This whole activity is meant as a learning experience for both the voters and candidates on how to be properly engaged in the political process and also how to tackle environmental change.

Target Group

Citizens

Methodology

Different forum meetings with each candidate, attended by at least 40 citizens.
Open public and thematic discussions with the participation of several citizens.
Lessons learned from community meetings.
Comprehensive list of problems and list of potential solutions were discussed at the meetings.

Stakeholders

The election candidates and the citizens are the main stakeholders in the process.
Candidates and voters will discuss and try to reach consensus on various environmental and health-related topics ranging from water quality, air quality, waste management, public transportation, green spaces, greater sports opportunities, proper spaces and opportunities for child and adult participation in formal and non-formal education initiatives including arts and sports as part of interested education etc. The aim is to encourage the audience to be very engaged in these forums so that they feel they are actively participating in the discussions with the candidates because an informed and active electorate is an essential part of a local democracy. Having a more informed electorate that holds its elected officials responsible will lead to better governance in Albania.

Assessment

At least 500 citizens engaged in public thematic discussions during electoral process.
Better informed citizens lead to more accountability on the part of elected officials.

Impact

Public thematic forums during local elections made citizens become more active and informed from the beginning, and had a lasting impact. However the most important part is changing citizens’ ideas on how they can be involved in the democratic process. Democracy is a lot more than simply voting, it is about being heard and informed, and also holding your elected officials accountable after the election. Thus activities like this empower citizens to become more involved in the future, too. Social networks can be an important communication tool between citizens and elected officials to get a permanent feedback on their expectations and needs to be met by the local governments. Media also have a big impact in informing the community. Encourage citizens to act and impact the local agenda by presenting issues that are crucial to them during the election process. Empower citizens to be more engaged with local officials after the election.

Swot

1. Strengths:
Candidates and citizens are very interested in participating in these thematic and public discussions.
2. Weaknesses:
Level of knowledge of participants to discuss in specifics topics.
Citizens were more focused on problems rather than on solutions.
3. Opportunities:
The candidates built their political agenda and electoral platform based on the main findings emerged from these meetings and public discussions.
4. Threats:
N/A

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