Date Published: May 7, 2018, 2:19 p.m.
he practice or project “A More Clarified Community, a More Participative Community” consists of several tools and actions that have been developed throughout the past four years with the objective to promote direct participation and involvement of the citizen. Within this event, we intend to focus on three of the initiatives developed under the umbrella of “A More Clarified Community, a More Participative Community”, namely the “Know How Much it Costs”, “Tá Claro” and “Participatory Youth Budget of Valongo”, but which all focus on the same principle and objective, starting from online platforms, where information related to the projects, be it financial or processual, is available for consultation and discussion. Transparency sheets on the usage of the municipal budget, stand-point of processes, and education on topics related to democracy, citizenship and the function and organization of the local authority are all available online. As elected representatives of the citizens, it is important that we keep in pace with new communication platforms; by having these online platforms available in an accessible and objective manner, citizens are encouraged to participate in the local decision-making, stay informed throughout all stages of the processes, find their voice and contribute to their community.
These three actions take place throughout three platforms, but which are available to all locals, as well as non-locals, at any given moment. The shared information relates as well to all activities from the four autarchies of the Municipality: Alfena, Campo & Sobrado, Ermesinde and Valongo.
Starting date: 2014
Ending date: ongoing
Beginning on January 2014, these three initiatives, “Know How Much it Costs”, “Tá Claro” and “Participatory Youth Budget of Valongo”, were created with the same purpose in mind, namely to promote citizen involvement and participation, but each one of these has also other more specific objectives, such as:
The implementation of these three initiatives in 2014 and their respective platforms took place normally with a fast adaptation of the services to the new methodology of accounting and expenses.In 2016, 197 transparency cards were made available, and 1200 citizens participated in public clarification sessions related to the Municipal Budget. Since the creation of a platform, in 2015, for the “Participatory Youth Budget of Valongo”, 29’544 votes have been registered, a number that has continuously been growing ever since the inauguration of the platform.
Albeit we are talking about three different platforms, these were a result of a maximization of resources of an investment made in 2014, with the acquisition of a new accounting system and SIG platform package.
All of these three initiatives allow for a more rigorous and detailed description of costs, the administrative process has become more clear and transparent both to the employees of the Municipality, as well as its citizens. This unlimited access to the files, allows Citizens understand and see whether their elected representatives are focusing on the needs of the citizens and how it is being managed in overall.
The implementation of the project “A More Clarified Community, A More Participative Community” and its initiatives, also contributed to the rise of 115 places in the National Ranking of Municipal Transparency (from 123rd place to 8th). We have also joined several other Networks, one of which is the National Network of Participatory Municipalities, of which we are members and have assumed Vice-Presidency, and our example has already been studied by several national universities and been presented both nationally and internationally.
With the introduction of this transparency and communication culture, it has had an impact on the technical action and policy of the local authority. Today, the city hall and all services involved, are more disciplined and rigorous with the organization of the resources, have a better understanding of the annual evolution of the budget/costs, have a more organized base of information that we now use to support decisions, as well as an increased interaction with the communities of our municipality.
Subsequently to the information made available through these platforms, citizens have little by little gained more courage in getting involved and participate in sessions and activities promoted by the City Hall.
And despite the registered numbers of published transparency cards, number of youth involved in the “Participatory Youth Budget of Valongo” and number of citizens of all ages involved in other activities related to “Know How Much it Costs” and “Tá Claro!, we are working towards increasing exponentially the level of population participation and consultation level of these platforms. This challenge goes hand-by-hand with the new technologies that have been emerging as complementary elements and manifestations of e-democracy.
We know that many still shy away from anything technology related or remain skeptical due to recent situations such as the fake news, and leakage of personal information; but we want to show our citizens that these platforms are a safe channel of communication and contain a rigorous and organized presentation of information and data.
We are currently working on a Centre of Digital Citizenship, a place citizens can go and see, together with an assistant, how they can consult their personal finances online, how to adapt personal data they have available online, or have questions answered in regards to online governmental platforms.
By educating them about these new technologies, they will approach these channels of communication and information in an autonomous manner, and feel more encourage to learn more and participate more.
Investments in online channels of communication and information are fundamental as they make it possible to approach more efficiently and in an original manner to get in touch with the people, thus ensuring they are aware of their rights and duties which apply to them effectively, be in terms of staying informed, or in terms of participation.
We believe that it is necessary to “take care” of the democracy, nurture and nourish it accordingly, providing all the necessary conditions in order for it to grow in an inclusive manner with the community and its citizens. We defend the existence of participative democracy not only as a tool but also as a continuous objective we pretend to conquer daily.
This said, it is important to invest in technology in order to seek new means and channels of communication and information that the citizen can reach to in order to get more involved, but whilst maintaining a balance with other more “face-to-face” approaches.
This work towards a more participative and informed community is a never-ending project, especially in our time, with the introduction of new technologies and their constant and rapid evolution. It is important to keep these platforms and other communication channels always open, so as to show citizens that they are heard and that their opinions have their weight in the processes and projects of their local authority.