The project introduces a new inclusive format for citizens participation in the work of the municipal council of Blagoevgrad.Local residents, chosen via objective criteria by other local citizens and NGOs, will become active members of the councils’ working committees.The project strengthens the role of civil society in the decisions on important projects for the local community funded from the municipal budget. Such projects shall be proposed and selected by citizens in a pilot on-line contest.
Blagoevgrad city, Southwestern Bulgaria
Although Blagoevgrad is a district center which should be a model for smaller municipalities in the region, there is an “institutionalized” distrust between local government and residents which prevents them to cooperate and join forces on the solution of important local issues. Civil society is fragmented and not recognized as an important local actor. Despite the fact that the city is only 100 km away from the capital and has a vibrant student community (of more than 10 000 students), Blagoevgrad is at the bottom of national rankings in income and employment levels. There is no publicly crafted and accepted vision defining its future priorities as a city and community leading to stagnation and development in a piecemeal manner.
The project target groups involve: local NGOs (app. 20); non-formal groups and initiatives united around a specific cause of local importance (e.g. biking groups, groups who clean illegal dumpsites, folklore dance groups, etc.), who do not interact with other social groups and local authorities and their activities remain marginalized and undervalued. Our target group also includes municipal council members (41) and municipal administration (280), local media (5-6), local residents of Blagoevgrad (app. 70000).
Research and analysis of good practices for public participation in local governance, including ethic codes, rules for selection and participation of citizens e.g. “civic” councilors
Mapping of local civil society actors and establishing of election committee for civic councilors through a local Civic Public Forum
Analysis of Forum’s results and participants feedback
Selection of civic councilors through transparent on-line procedure-placing an add on relevant internet sites and social media, collection of nominations from NGOs and civic initiatives
Civic councilors participation (on a monthly basis) in public committees and working groups at the local municipality and city council, review of committee materials, drafting of reports, publishing them on-line in a specially designated section on Bluelink’s web site and our partner independent local media site https://blagoevgrad-news.com/
Research on: good practices for funding civic projects from municipal budgets, rules for selection of such project ideas, cooperation with municipal administration and city councils how to implement them
Gathering and selection of civic project ideas to be funded by the municipal budget via on-line contest
Journalistic storytelling and social media awareness raising based on the work of civic councilors
Closing media event and 2nd edition of Civic Public Forum to evaluate project results
The proposed activities will strengthen civic engagement and participation at the local level in Blagoevgrad and create a unified vision. The project shall foster collective action to address important local issues by direct civic participation in policy-making at the city council and municipal administration. The work of the civic councilors, the NGO fora, and the mechanism for on-line collection of citizens ideas to be funded from the municipal budget will make the local community more involved in the decision-making and implementation process of important communal projects. The project shall also engage the Blagoevgrad community in discussion around locally relevant topics and create opportunities for multi-stakeholder dialogue with the local municipality, politicians, NGOs and media.
The project provides opportunities for the local community to reach a new level of civic cohesion by establishing a Civic Public Forum representing the most active citizens and NGOs.Openly selected community experts will represent the civil society in the municipal council by direct participation in the council and will gain valuable knowledge on how institutions work.Through the civic councilors the work of the local municipal administration and politicians shall be made known to local residents and media and thus local communities shall have a more direct channel to decide on important local issues and have a say over how the municipal budget is formed and spent.Another form of active citizenship will be the mechanism for selection of citizens’ ideas to be funded by the municipal budget.
BlueLink: Natalia Dimitrova - Project coordinator and resident of Blagoevgrad, Pavel Antonov - Executive editor and journalist, Velina Barova - Deputy editor, on-line video formats and social media expert, Zoya Borisova - Administrative officer, Plamen Peev - Legal and local governance expert, AZURE partner, Marieta Dimitrova - Investigative journalist, FMA partner
Bluelink has performed multiple trainings for journalists in the region in the past 10 years. At present it implements a project focusing on civic monitoring over the spending of public funds in Blagoevgrad District https://www.bluelink.net/en/novini/civic-monitoring-over-the-spending-of-public-funds-in-blagoevgrad-district.html and the current proposal is a direct output and a need identified through that project.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Major expenses (EUR):
Research on good practices - 3000
2 Meetings of Civic Public Forum – 3500
On-line add and selection of 7 civic councilors – 750
Civic councilors participation in committees and working groups – 14000
On-line competition for civic projects to be funded by municipal budget – 2450
Journalistic storytelling, video casts – 2800
Web site maintenance and editorial work – 2000
Travel and accommodation – 1000
Project coordination and administration - 5200
Examples of similar ideas pilot tested in towns with similar size, what worked and what did not work and why. Recommendations on how to make the project more sustainable, how to enhance public awareness and cooperation with local authorities while implementing the idea, are also welcome.