Photo: World Bank Group
Citizen participation is a process which provides private individuals an opportunity to influence public decisions and to act as drive of changes for their community at every level. It has long been a component of the democratic decision-making process.
We obeserved the way citizen participation is experienced in West and Central Africa and the many obstacles in the domain, especially when it comes to implementing public projects targeting the resolution of problems faced by citizens. Either being implemented by national or international bodies, most of these projects end up being a failure because of the lack or mismanagement of citizen participation. We decided to list 5 ways to enhance citizen participation in our countries. Here there are.
Most of the time citizens complain about leaders and those in charge of development (organisations, ministries...) being disconnected from their reality and therefore not working towards the resolution of their problems. Citizens’ participation through consultations or public meetings can help ensure that existing issued are tackled, that the development initiative is relevant and is going to help people the way they need to be helped.
Transparency is key. Cooperate with citizens and involving them in the implementation process of projects targeting them is the best way to nurture ownership and to make a project sustainable through participation. Citizens do not feel they belong to anything they do not have clear details on. They will not participate if they do not know the clear motives and the objectives to reach, especially in terms of how they will benefit from the public project and how they can get involved towards it.
Lack of information from both parties (citizens and planners) is one of the principal reasons why development initiatives and public projects fail. Either citizens are not informed about the existence of a project targeting them or planners are not informed about the real needs of the community targeted. Information sharing is essential when planning a development initiative or a public project, and at every stage of the project.
What is to be done? Why? Which part citizens have to play for the project to be a success? How citizens can get involved? To what extent? Which part planners and public authorities have to play for citizens to benefit the program? What are the stages? What should be done for each stage to be a success? Public participation is one means of decreasing tension and conflict through direct dialogue : each participant has the opportunity to express his or her views, respond to the ideas of others, and work toward consensus.
Soliciting ideas and opinions from citizens is one of the best ways to solve the problems they face. Most of the time development initiative planners and public authorities wanting to solve problems do not experience them on a daily basis so they do not really know what is to tackle and what should be done. Their actions are lead by assumptions. One thing to bear in mind is those experiencing a problem know the best way to solve it but do not have the means to do so. Asking them directly through public consultations is a good way to increase chances of success for a project. Additional dimensions those designing the project may have not thought of will emerge and will lead to new research to enhance the project. Collaboration to identify solutions is essential for ownership of public projects by citizens.
The first 4 points have this particular point as ultimate goal. Increase public support through making citizens’ input a key component of the project. People support what they are part of, what they are involved in. When it comes to public projects, the process should not be a top-down, because the "down" part of it knows better than the "top". Top-down approaches foster disconnection between what the project proposes and the needs of the citizens or the way to fulfill those needs.
Citizens’ participation is withing the reach of every community. See how the citizens of Mingalar Thaung Tan, a small village in Myanmar, became an example of community participation for disaster risk reduction through mass meetings and working together with public authorities to protect inhabitants from stormy days and floods.
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