Parliament Watch Italia
From 2016, according to a regional law, every year Sicilian municipalities must implement participatory democracy projects. Available resources are about 5 millions euro per year. About half is unspent, wasting the opportunity to bring excluded citizens back into decisional space. Our idea is based on a campaign that aims to build collaboration between CSOs and Municipalities for a strategic use of these funds.
In Sicily, Southern Italy, with field activities in 5 to 10 small local contexts.
Outside big urban centers, showing some signs of “civic renaissance”, in many Sicilian rural areas, local politics has been affected for decades by conservative mindset, clientelism, vote-buying and protection of Mafia interests. Besides some isolated examples of civil resistance, this environment has deprived civic engagement of any meaning causing the lack of civic cohesion described by this call.
This context is recently getting better. Nonetheless, municipalities, citizens and CSO, in many cases, still suffer from lack of participatory democracy culture and practice. This is the reason why fostering the condition to effectively apply the participatory democracy law and build participatory practices to spend the allocated funds might be fundamental to turn the tables.
The participatory democracy law and the related funds represent a unique chance to foster knowledge and practices related to two pillars of local democracy: citizens participation and collaboration with the government.
Setting the conditions to spend these funds by building knowledge and competences for both CSO and administrations – and better oversight on the process’ quality – will enable instances of collaboration that could easily demonstrate the feasibility of a community driven by common interests. Gathering around a co-designed playground or a senior center, local communities will feel empowered and renew trust in their representatives who granted them their right to democratic engagement.
The reasons why the participatory democracy fund is not used lies on both sides of the process. Municipalities often underestimate – or are scared by – the opportunity. More than half of them don’t publish the call for citizens’ projects or don’t give enough visibility to it. The project provides them with the guidelines on how to best engage citizens according to the law prescriptions. On the citizens' side the law is not sufficiently known and, beside an issue of competences, there is a widespread lack of trust in collaboration with local institutions. Therefore, the project addresses civil society, taking care of diverse representations, with all the information that allows them to actively engage, encouraging – where needed – forms of organization of non-represented interests.
We make contact with the responsible office in every municipality. We ask those already spending to present their experience. With not compliant municipalities we advocate in collaboration with local civil society properly informed to seize the opportunity presented by these funds. Our campaign also invites the wider public to the project website where citizens can get information on the funds’ use in their region and local context, finding materials (regulations, guidelines, best practices) on how to take part in the process.
We select and visit 5 to 10 “early adopters” where civil society and/or municipalities show great interest in our “call to action” and provide them with step by step assistance.
In 12 months from now, we expect to be able to document on our website:
- an increase in municipalities’ compliance measured by a growth in public notices concerning participatory actions timely and clearly published;
- a growth in participatory spending, to be measured by the number of territories concretely starting to use the funds;
- more citizens’ engagement, in terms of an higher number of projects presented or advocacy actions to stimulate funds’ use;
- better interaction between citizens and local authorities attested by a collection of narratives and best practices (e.g. timely and comprehensive share of information, public debates and meetings or any other form of participatory technique).
Fostering civic engagement and participation in contexts deeply affected by distrust and social neglect, is not only a success for the local contexts in which our idea will develop but it would be good news at higher levels as well. From a macro perspective it may obviously look like a drop in the ocean, nonetheless it will provide proof that a democratic renaissance is possible and that a culture of participation can be successfully taught and implemented. It would also show that European citizens, when informed and motivated, are willing and able to regain agency and activate hotbeds for participatory democracy even in small, half-forgotten communities.
Since 2016, PWI has worked to activate participatory processes at the local level, in Sicily. We believe that alliances between citizens and local governments are central to restore a healthy democratic life in our communities and to allow citizens to regain agency within civic and public spaces. Our efforts move in two main directions: construction of a solid, well-organized multi-stakeholder civic community, advocacy to public administrations to show them the importance of a widespread citizens’ engagement in projects of high societal impact. An important part of our work consists in raising funds to sustain these activities. Therefore, we cannot tolerate that most of those regional funds specifically designed to implement citizens’ involvement are wasted.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Office expenses 2000
Personnel costs 46000
Travel and accommodation 5000
External services 20000
Social media advertising 5000
We would be happy to receive advice and suggestions concerning innovative, informal strategies to involve citizens in participatory democracy practices that may prove effective in the involvement of subjects who, though willing, have never lived collaborative experiences before.