Giovanni Marco Scavelli

The recent Citizen Participation University in Hungary, has been an ideal place where community, civic and professionals from 15 countries, took an active role in solidarity with the Hungarian civil society. It has been a 5 days of intensive learning and community building where resistance has been embraced as a common effort in order to fight the closing of civic space. In Hungary the current leading government has passed a legislation forcing non-governmental organizations to declare themselves “foreign-funded” – and therefore suspect, in a increasingly xenophobic atmosphere. The Civil College Foundation, host of the CPU17, has been founded to help organizations active in self-organizing communities and citizens and as a centre of training in community work. Promoting local democracy as a main goal and acting as a driver for development education and raising awareness, like the mission of the Ladder project, are major challenges. All participants at CPU17 played an active role in strengthen the capacity of associations of local authorities (LAs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) to act in a sustainable way as drivers for development, fostering their role of multipliers within their countries, communities and networks.

CPU17 has been an innovative platform to inform, raise awareness and engage citizens in global issues, global interdependency and development education. We have been appointed in develop and reinforce the cooperation between local authorities and civil society organizations,  lead to winning synergies. The great commitment of CPU17 has been focusing on information, training and networking with the result of creating an ecology of knowledge among participants. A deep awareness has been a leading momentum in creating the ideal condition for local democracy, where the cooperation between local authorities, civil society and active citizenship are the keys to success. The active citizenry is an important goal where citizens became more aware and knowledgeable about their rights and informed of government decisions. They feel more inclusive, in case of women and other marginalized groups, are guaranteed a voice in decision-making process . Citizens are getting organized in order to negotiate collectively with local government and  are participating together with civil society groups and local private sectors. An important dimension of local democracy is the political decentralization; it could be more democratic where open elections are held for office at all levels of government. Transparent where government actions, decisions and decision-making processes are open to appropriate level of scrutiny by other parts of the government and citizens. Accountable when mechanisms exist for citizens to intervene in the policy making process and have means to redress instances of corruption. Autonomous where the local government has the power, capacity and flexibility to respond to social changes and demands, takes into account the expectations of civil society in identifying general public interest and is willing to re-examine the role of government.

A key dimension for local democracy is the Administrative decentralization. It has to be effective, when government strives to produce quality public outputs, including cost-effective services delivery to citizens and ensures that outputs meet the original intentions of policy-makers.

Decentralized when a representative government exists at a close and accessible level to the people and is responsible for service delivery; a transparent legal framework supports decentralization; and all laws, codes and regulations are equally enforced by the government. Trained: local government officials and civil society organizations supporting local government receive systematic trainings.

This leads to Fiscal Decentralization that has to be supported where local government is able to mobilize local resources and receives a share (20+%) of public resources and independent when local government exercises freedom to allocate funds for locally-identified priorities. The last dimension is the multi-sectoral planning that search for capacity where local government has the mandate, skills, and timely resources to engage stakeholders in long-term planning for basic services and is deliberative as citizens participate in meaningful discussion about local priorities and their decisions are reflected in the governing process.

The clear goal of CPU17 has been to engage all participants in deep critical reflection, providing a natural space for learning, sharing and networking. Simply an innovative laboratory where group discussion, workshops, keynote sessions and learning labs are stimulating participatory education and cooperation. The philosophy of CPU applies a forward-thinking pedagogical model, informed by the real world experience of the planners, where a more participatory approach is critically essential to inspire local action. A key element of this sort of transformative education is the co-design practice when the role as a network is to create a full consultative process in which partner organizations speak their needs and challenges.

The process of co-design combine a planning scheme that involves a wide variety of partners, a formation that is all year-round in developing the agenda, a progress that is informed by constructive criticism, where all feedbacks are carefully considered; a democracy in action that is a more participatory and responsive democracy in our communities and the European society.

The praxis at CPU is that the point of gathering is to practice critical thinking and learn the skills, strategies and tactics that will be helpful in your work at home.

All CPUs have served as an incubator for new ideas and practices which go on to achieve standing in their own right. The same results can be achieved with the focus on developing the practice of democracy in Europe. Democracy is much more than just “participating”; it is a frame of mind, a set of political and cultural institutions, and a practice for community and organizational life. If we can foster this next round of innovation and practical application on the principles of democracy in our shared society, we feel this would constitute a success for the next chapter in the change-making work of the CPU.

Giovanni Marco Scavelli

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.