What challenges have you faced? How did you overcome them?

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What challenges have you faced? How did you overcome them?

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider the following questions:

  • Currently, where are the gaps that need to be addressed in your work/in your region/community?
  • Which tactics and strategies did not work and why?
  • What are the challenges you have faced that others can learn from?
  • Tell us about the challenges you faced while working to strengthen citizen participation – and how you overcame these challenges. 

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

Local agenda setting

I would like to know, what are the key factors to keep in mind when we aim to dwell on developing a local agenda in a given local setting. 

Let me give some information as to our organisation and to the practical context of the question; 

We are one of the umbrella organizations in Turkey, working mostly on issues of citizenship, democratization and social peace since 1990s. We are not a grassroots organization, have one office in Istanbul, work with a staff that does everything from project development, implementing, administrating and finances. We work as facilitators rather than experts. Very briefly, in the nature of our work, citizen as the subject is at the core of our issues. Typically, our thematic involvement has been on citizenship rights, democratization, plurality & rights of minorities. Local governance and social participation has been only a minor focus in our actions, limited rather within the thematic framework of democratization.

However, we have set the theme of participatory governance as one of our focus areas for the future, and to that end we are going to implement a two year project as part of a 6 nation-wide human rights organizations, a civic consortium funded by EU to facilitate/strengthen civic society dialogue with the public bodies.  

In this consortium, each NGO focuses on different aspect of dialogue, and the action designed by hCa is aimed to stimulate interaction between the public & civic actors at the local level – of policy processes. The approach taken to do this end is to inform the local stakeholders on a holistic view of the field of local actors and relations involved in local politics. In a sense, these meetings are going to be trainings for improving the analysis capacity of local actors in order to help them make informed decisions based on a nuanced understanding of what is possible and what are the strategic routes to take for participation in their local settings. The methodology is built upon a practical and active learning that pursues – illustratively – the process of collective problematization & definition of specific public issues that call for interaction, collaboration and commitment amongst different interest and rights-focused actors. 

Practically, we will organize 7 thematic + 7 geographic group seminar-workshop/tutorials, with participation of civic stakeholders from the selected localities. Each of the total of 14 meetings will take place in different localities within Turkey. For each meeting, we'll determine the local agendas after a process of mutual debate with local partners. What we aim to achieve are multi-party protocols of issue-based civic-public collaboration as the outcomes of each of these meetings.  

Just to make it clear, we are not specifically working on one theme or the other; local agendas for each meetings are to be set in due process of interaction. Each meeting will be with different stakeholders from different localities, in more or less independent working relation from each other. In these meeting, the objective is to facilitate an illustrative process of collective problematization & definitions of specific issues & arriving at multi-party protocols. 

So my question is, in facilitating these meetings, in order to make its local ownership strong, and the issues relevant, what are the key factors to keep in mind? 


The importance of analysis

keyhude wrote:

improving the analysis capacity of local actors in order to help them make informed decisions based on a nuanced understanding of what is possible and what are the strategic routes to take for participation in their local settings.

This issue of the ability to undertake nuanced analysis is key. Participation in local governance can only be effective if it is context-appropriate. There are many approaches to analysis and many useful tools. I encourage us all to share the ones we find useful in the resources and tactics thread of this discussion. One weakness in analysis I encounter often is a tendency to focus on the official systems - how things are 'meant' to happen - with insufficent attention to how things 'really' happen. We need to understand the informal elements as well as the formal ones. One approach I have found useful in a wide range of contexts is to include a deliberately deep and wide analysis of power relations in any analysis of local  (or, indeed, national) context. I'll do a separate post on this in the relevant thread. When we bump into difficulties with participatory processes, sometimes it's because we've failed to identify some powerful force or interest that is operating behind the scenes. When we look back on an experience it is easier to spot - but if we can anticipate it, more possibilities for action and engagement open up.

Importance of analysis

+1 Jo

I agree on less than adequate analysis. However I would also like to present another side to it. The problem sometimes is not that we don't know the external players who can affect the programme, it is that we choose to ignore them simply because we do not have the wherewithal to reach out and engage with them. For instance, while programming in South Sudan one realises that a lot of factors like (1) the agreement with North Sudan on the oil front, (2) role playerd by the ex-combatants in government, (3) Ethiopia and indeed all neighbouring countries is critical. As a small player in S Sudan it is not always possible to do anything about these. Therefore one chooses to focus on short term gains or minor matters which do not really make a difference in the long term since they dont address the root cause. 

Importance of analysis

I think the issues you describe, Makarand, are exactly the kinds of issues that can be made visible though throrough analysis. A power analysis may indeed help us understand the areas where we do not have the reources to engage. It is iomportant to make that decision consciously rather than unknowingly - in your example, not knowing that an issue such as the role of ex-combatants in government exists could have the unseen effect of preventing an initiative from bearing fruit. If the only options for action don't address the root causes, then I would want to have a clear justification for them, or else choose to use the resources in a different way. Often, it's exactly the situations where it doesn't look as though the interventions will make any lasting difference, that a detailed power analysis can help us imagine different ways of engaging that will come at the problem/challenge from an entirely new direction.

How can we ensure that gov't efforts are genuine?

One challenge that has come up in this dialogue is the ability to reach genuine empowerment.  As Ben points out in his comment on the role of political parties in promoting citizen participation:

Ben Goldfrank wrote:

In all cases of formalized local participation processes where the government is providing new channels of participation, there's a danger of citizens being co-opted, and their participation serving more to legitimize the party or person in power than to offer genuine empowerment.

In your work, have you come across situations where citizens are co-opted into thinking that there is true citizen participation as Ben describes above? What can be done to ensure that this doesn't happen?  In other words, what can be done to ensure that the efforts of political parties/local governments/people to empower citizens with more participation is genuine? 

The need for reforms in gov't institutions in Angola

I believe that in many cases, at local spaces (informal or formal spaces) citizens have experience in involvement in community issues.  The challenge is how these experiences may be relevant in iterations with local government institutions.  Government institutions should recognize and consider these spaces as legitimate platforms for dialogue with citizens. 

Nowadays many of the actors of development in Angola recognize participation as a key component for the success of any action at the community level.  This theoretical approach was the result of various interventions made from different NGOs in the communities.

However, we recognize that there are still limitations to this approach.  For example, in contexts where citizens do not exercise their rights, people do not live in an environment of freedom and the institutions responsible for guaranteeing the rights have no capacity to response or desire to ensure the citizens participation as a right.  The participatory process can be rhetoric that serves only to legitimize autocratic decisions taken by those who have the power. 

To empower the civil society organizations, we must try to influence decision makers in order to create a suitable environment for the active participation of citizens.  At the same time we can facilitate specific training to citizens in terms of skills, competencies, mechanisms and methodologies to participate.   I wanted to highlight in particular the need to understand in the case of Angola that the level of citizen participation not only depend on training and capacity building of civil society that normally do, but also of appropriate reforms in the institutions government, the legal framework and the political willingness.

Challenges around changing tactics and changing gov't

Edicio brought up an interesting distinction between "pressure" tactics that are useful in certain situations, and the more collaborative tactics that are needed in situations where the local government has some openings. 

Edicio wrote:

In the Philippines, one of the influences from the 70s is the CO (community organizing) theory and practices associated with Sol Alinsky. At its core is the "conflict-confrontation" approach to building up "people power." In a context of repression-resistance, this could easily merge with an oppositionist, even revolutionary, strategy toward government, national and local.

Even with the restoration of formal democracy, the Alinsky tradition maintained is preference for "pressure' tactics (with various degrees of healthy mischief), and the strengthening of autonomous community-based alliances of people's organizations. This made sense then, and even now, in situations where local government is not open to substantive (and not just formalistic) engagement by their constituency.

But in situations where local government has some openings, the confrontational approach needs to be adjusted, if the citizens' organizations and alliances are to have sustained engagement, and not just one-off or sporadic encounters with local officials.

Has it been challenging for any of you to shift the way that communities engage with local government depending on the openness of government?  How did you overcome these challenges around changing tactics?

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