Engaged citizens who want to serve their communities as local representatives often know little about how local government works. They want to use their vision and goodwill in local office but they are scared of diving into the dog-eat-dog world of politics. We give them the confidence, knowledge and skills they need and support them through civic education, networking, mentoring from an experienced local politician and a small grant to help them and their community on their way.
Across entire Czechia - at least 35 towns/cities/villages.
In a well-functioning democracy, going from community leadership to local office should be a natural progression. There should be a path for people who want to take their community service in this direction and guides to help them make the transition smoothly. But until Via Foundation opened this program and started this initiative, there was no education or support for active citizens before they run for local office, only courses for people who had already been elected. In the past some political parties had run programs for local candidates, but currently to our knowledge only the Czech Pirate Party does. But since the vast majority of local representatives (approx. 70%) are non-partisans, these political party-run programs are not options for them.
The program targets active citizens or community leaders who have decided to or are seriously thinking about running for local office. Often, they have already led a significant project or activity and would now like to contribute even more to their communities by serving as local representatives. In other cases, they strongly disagree with how their towns are governed and want to be an active part of changing the local political environment. Across the board we focus on engaged citizens who have the motivation, skills and networks to be impactful local representatives. Most of the recent program participants have been female (80%), often parents, and most often aged 30 to 45. We have participants from large cities, mid-sized towns as well as villages of a few dozen or hundred residents.
Altogether there will have been three cohorts of participants by the next local elections in 2022. Each class has about 13-15 participants. They receive very complex support, which consists of education in civic participation, municipal duties, responsibilities and budgets, and leadership; skill-building in e.g. communication and negotiation; guidance from a mentor, who is an experienced local politician; coaching; and the option to apply for a mini-grant for their own project. Peer exchange, where participants share experiences and gain inspiration and feedback through online meetings, is also a valuable program component. In sum, the program is a combination of civic education, networking, contact with local politicians and work (mostly) for their communities.
Potential participants submit applications describing their community, awareness of local politics and expectations. After the first round, we held interviews for the second. One round of the program lasts 9 months. Graduates may then join our alumni group, a semi-autonomous group which we support with further meeting and learning opportunities based on the group’s priorities. We put great emphasis on the needs of the group, an individualized approach and networking.
Given that this will be the program’s fourth year, we plan on evaluating the entire duration of the program before the local elections in autum 2022.
There will be 40 people from at least 35 towns/cities from the majority of regions in the Czech Republic better prepared to serve as local representatives. When they assume local office, they will use their new knowledge about civil participation methods, how municipalities work, what the challenges are and what it actually means to serve in local government, thus contributing to improved governance in Czech municipalities. One participant described the results: “I grasped how municipal councils work. My mentor answered all of my questions. She taught me how to find my own place in the system and how I can contribute to the development of our community. I would recommend the program to anyone who cares about where our country is headed. Because if we don’t do something about it, who will?"
The very core of the project is to prepare active citizens to take on the role of local representatives. We have a complex approach to preparation based on civic education, mentoring from experienced local politicians and support for participants’ own projects. In civic education we explore topics including leadership and values, open town hall, legal basics for local representatives and civic participation in practice. We also work on developing participants’ skill sets, e.g. in communication and negotiation.
In parallel we support participants in holding community discussion forums about topical local issues, which give other community members a chance to learn about social or political problems and express their opinions.
The key reason why Via Foundation started this program is that we watched how community leaders whom we had supported in other programs went on to become local politicians, taking their values and emphasis on civic engagement with them to local government. We realized how important it is that they are prepared for this new role. We surveyed 180+ of our grantees and other engaged citizens to learn about their motivations, expectations, challenges and needs in relation to running for local office.
The team is composed of Tereza Mádlová, who previously worked on a leadership program at Via Foundation, and Štěpán Drahokoupil, a political scientist who studied how several local initiatives founded non-party candidate lists and ran for local elections in his Ph.D. thesis.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Grant support for participants - approx. 12 events - educational/informational events implemented by participants in a community in their village/city: 5 600 EUR
Project management, support and coordination: 11 500 EUR
Mentoring support: 2 500 EUR
Alumni group coordination and support: 800 EUR
Educational events for participants - 3 "hands-on" events: 2 000 EUR
Project evaluation: 1 900 EUR
PR, communication: 2 300 EUR
Administrative and project operational cost + overhead: 4 300 EUR
We would be very interested in learning about other users’ experience with similar programs. Specifically e.g.: What was their/your approach and what support did they/you give to participants? What do you think the right candidate should know before s/he runs for local office?