Natalya Harutyunyan via web
In today’s update we are introducing the second component of the Women in Local Democracy project, namely, “strengthening local capacities for local democracy and gender-sensitive governance in Armenia”.
So, what’s the idea?
Participatory governance can only become a reality with consistent effort. To sustain the Women in Local Democracy project’s achievements we’re working towards the institutionalization of effective and equal participation in local decision making. The International Center for Human Development (ICHD), our partner for this component, is specialised in Town Hall Meeting (THM) methodologies. With over ten years of experience in this area ICHD has become very effective at facilitating scenario-based participatory decision-making in Armenia.
Now we’re jointly taking a step further and within the framework of the “Women in Local Democracy” project we will be embedding the THM methodology in five marzes (regions) of Armenia.
This implies a comprehensive capacity development process, the main tangible result of which is the formation of an enduring Advisory Working Group (AWG) at the marz level. The AWGs will involve representatives of different sectors of society, and continuously facilitate participatory decision-making in different communities of the marz. We are applying a phased approach to the capacity development process, and even at this early stage we witness progress in certain communities.
The foundations of effective local governance: our seven steps to success
1.We start with introductory seminars, which bring together representatives of local authorities, community-based organizations, local universities, local media, as well as female and male community leaders. The events focus on how to address local development issues and formulate policies/programmes in a participatory, inclusive and gender-sensitive way.
In the autumn of 2012 we hosted introductory seminars in Armavir, Shirak and Vayots Dzor marz of Armenia for 56 representatives of different communities.
2.The next installment of the capacity development process involves the same target audience in a three-day training workshop. This phase goes into much greater detail on topics such as communication between public authorities and civil society organizations, negotiation and leadership skills, as well as mechanisms and tools for the identification of local development priorities.
To date, we’ve conducted these workshops in the same Armavir, Shirak and Vayots Dzor marzes of Armenia for 46 participants. Through the workshops, the aforementioned Advisory Working Groups in three marzes were formed from the participants. These AWGs will become the sustainable home for the scenario-based Town Hall Meeting methodology.
3.The third phase brings the various actors together once again through workshops involving members of the Advisory Working Groups, other community representatives, and experts on community development. These workshops are designed to prioritize issues of the community in a participatory manner.
The first joint workshop took place in the village of Lukashin (Armavir marz) on November 27, where scenarios for participatory discussions and community dialogue were developed. This phase is the groundwork for the actual Town Hall Meeting.
4.The fourth phase of our support involves direct assistance to Advisory Working Groups through Skype sessions, visits to marzes, and joint scenario-creation. The purpose is to capacitate the AWG members with the skills, experience and confidence to deliver the THM methodology independently.
5.Town Hall Meetings in communities are the most essential element of the process. The THM creates meaningful opportunities for citizens to participate in public decision-making. This process restores the citizens' voice in public decision making by creating an opportunity for community members to give those in leadership positions direct, substantive feedback on key public issues. It also contributes towards stronger leadership, competence and cooperation among key local actors in mobilizing and facilitating participation of women and men in local decision-making.
First THMs are facilitated by ICHD – in order to demonstrate the methodology to Advisory Working Groups. As the project progresses, the AWGs will take over as facilitators.
On December 8, 2012, in Lukashin village of Armavir region the first Town Hall Meeting under the Project took place. The 82 community representatives, in seven groups, discussed the developed scenarios on community priority issues (renovation of the community road, street lightening, partial renovation of the kindergarten, etc.). At the end of the discussion each participant had a chance to vote for one of the priorities they had discussed. With 52 votes the Lukashin community members preferred the renovation of the road.
6.With the agreement of communities to the basic principles of the THM methodology and the creation of the AWGs achieved, we turn to the formal framework for the Advisory Working Groups. Multi-lateral Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with local authorities and civil society organizations create the necessary official foundation for the Advisory Working Groups’ institutionalization.
7.Finally, to tie the whole process together, a Community of Practice (CoP) among AWGs is facilitated. The purpose is to promote a broader vision for local development, as well as encourage peer knowledge sharing, networking and collaboration between the AWGs.
The members of Armavir, Shirak and Vayots Dzor AWGs recently had a chance to meet and work together during the first CoP retreat held in mid-December 2012 in Aghveran, which combined training sessions, discussions and peer work between the groups.
Challenges on the road
ICHD and UNDP continue to grapple with how to: identify truly committed and motivated community representatives in other marzes of Armenia; maintain the commitment of Advisory Working Groups in their voluntary effort; reconcile community authorities with the opinions of community people…
More on how this process unfolds and our other activities in future posts...