Supporting citizens participation

One of the important roles for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) both within the EU and globally is the facilitation of citizens’ participation in decision-making processes, whether they be at the local, provincial, national or even international level. However, this is a role that CSOs often struggle to fulfil effectively and it is a particular capacity challenge for CSOs in countries in transition.

The participation of citizens in the decision-making process, regardless of social class, ethnic group or gender, is a key cornerstone of good governance. CSOs may play a part in involving people in the processes of planning and decision taking, and fighting for their interests. They are also able in cooperating with authorities, providing services to support their positive initiatives. Active involvement in the development of environmental plans and policies is a way to influence development at the local, national and regional levels.

What is the Decision Making Process?

The ‘decision making process’ basically refers to the mechanisms and the specific stakeholders within public authorities, be they at national or local level, that determine the public policies that are to be enacted and the means for doing so. These mostly involve formal and explicit procedures, carried out at specific times. However, there are also many informal processes that can influence decision making and the process itself. Thus, whether working at either national or local level, CSOs  need to undertake mapping exercises  in order to have some understanding of the various steps in the decision making process of the public authority and of the actors involved. As part of the mapping, it is useful for CSOs to differentiate between pre- and post-decision-making processes. 

Entry points for engagement in citizens participation

Some of the activities that can be conducted to facilitate the citizens participation in decision-making processes can be summarized in three main categories:

Contribution to civic education: raising citizens’ awareness about specific issues; informing citizens about specific problems in which they can make a difference; persuading them to change their behaviour and actively participate in the life of their community.
Improving access to public information: assisting the provision of information to citizens; helping to build a capacity to use that information; playing a continuous role of ‘oversight’ to ensure that official information is open and inclusive
Facilitation of citizens participation to agenda setting and/or policy reformulation: organising opinion polls and surveys, online forums, ‘open house’ meetings, roadshows, video ‘soapboxes’, or formal public meetings; launching public hearing, citizens advisory groups/panel, consultative meetings with specific interest group

 

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