For many public officials, participatory processes mean moving away from standard ways of working and creating new partnerships with individuals and civil society.
The municipality of Novi Pazar in Bulgaria works closely with a number of non-governmental organisations on promoting the fundamental rights of the Roma. This cooperation takes many forms as the example below illustrates.
A local non-governmental organisation, the Centre for Community Development, contacted the municipality about a homeless Roma man, called Mustafa, aged 63, who they were caring for. Working together with the municipality, the Centre was able to claim back Mustafa’s pension that was being used illegally by a third party. The municipality found a temporary room in a house where Mustafa could live without paying rent. Another local non-governmental organisation, the Women’s Association Hayachi provided clothing, blankets and other essentials.
Finally, the Centre for Community Development helped Mustafa fill in the necessary documents to secure a long-term place for him in a home for elderly people.
Source: Interview Centre Amalipe, 2012, Novi Pazar, Bulgaria
The example illustrates that public authorities working together with civil society organisations can produce win-win results.
Public officials who contributed to this toolkit gave many examples of how to realise the full potential of participation and civil society engagement. Some examples and recommendations on how to avoid potential pitfalls are listed below:
Explaining the ground rules and limits for participation
Civil society organisations and individuals who took part in focus group discussions and interviews for this toolkit were quite negative about ‘consultations’. They often had the impression that their input had little or no impact as the actual decisions had already been taken. They also felt that most consultations end up being an opportunity for officials to promote their policies. A strong recommendation, therefore, is that the purpose of a consultation should be clearly stated in the invitation, with an explanation of how input will be used in decision making.
Time and resources
Participatory processes during the design and implementation of fundamental rights initiatives initially require an investment of time and resources. Yet, they pay off in increased ownership and engagement among all concerned.
Participation means that officials should not take decisions on their own. It is important to consider the level of common decision-making and how this can be structured in a partnership. A general principle is to invite individuals and civil society partners to meetings where decisions are made.
Involving civil society organisations and individuals as volunteers in fundamental rights initiatives can be productive if roles and expectations are clearly defined. Volunteers contribute energy, time and valuable insights that help strengthen cooperation between authorities and the community.
Strong input from civil society organisations and individuals in the design and implementation of activities contributes to their impact and has a lasting effect in the community. Ultimately, if individuals are empowered, they will drive fundamental rights. This is illustrated in the example below.
The municipality of Utrecht in The Netherlands held a ‘Week of Local Human Rights’ in October 2012. More than 25 local organisations provided a diverse programme of events and activities. These included a workshop in sign language, a discussion on what it means to be stateless, a ‘living library’ where people could talk directly to refugees, and learn about their backgrounds and experiences of living in Utrecht, unusual sports and a theatre play on human dignity. The municipality facilitated the week but the programme of events and activities was planned and led by civil society organisations and individuals.
Source: Interview La’shan Lewis, 2012, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Standards for public consultations You can draw inspiration from the principles and minimum standards developed by the European Commission for the the consultation of interested partners.The Commission incorporates external consultation of interested parties into the developement of almost all its policies.