Local authorities, from Iceland to Turkey, are finding innovative ways to improve communication between residents and councillors.
We continue to live and work in very special circumstances, which can make it difficult for us to fulfil our responsibilities in delivering more vibrant and supportive services to our local communities.
Nevertheless, over the past months we have been taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by new technologies for both service delivery and engaging our communities.
Have you wondered how these challenges are being met by our counterparts across Europe? Could we learn from their initiatives, or maybe we have something to offer to them?
The European Local Democracy Week is a pan-European initiative co-ordinated by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe since 2007.
It was modelled on an earlier initiative of the LGA, giving us another reason to embrace it. Throughout the year, across Europe – from Iceland to Turkey, the Azores to the Urals – local councils and their national associations organise initiatives aimed at promoting citizen participation in decision-making, fostering dialogue between the community and their councillors, and strengthening trust in elected representatives and institutions.
Participating councils can schedule their own local democracy week and organise events at their convenience during the year. However, a flagship event takes place at the Council of Europe each October, where the most outstanding and original initiatives are showcased.
“Trust between local people and their council is key to the good functioning of democracy”
During 2020, which was my first year as Lead Congress Member for Local Democracy Week, 196 councils from 19 countries took part in more than 500 activities.
The pandemic required the organisation of online events, to enable the involvement of residents, and there will probably be a similar approach this year, as most participating councils have created online tools that provide innovative methods of communication between local people and their councillors.
I’ll highlight a few initiatives to give a flavour of some of the activities of recent years: the Romanian municipality of Râmnicu Vâlcea developed an online platform that offers a new way to interact with the mayor; Lviv (Ukraine) informed its young citizens about the many opportunities available to them for public involvement; Lüleburgaz (Turkey) signed Transparency International’s Local Transparency Pledge; and Valongo (Portugal) has introduced numerous activities for young people, notably through the creation of a participatory youth budget, and last October held an online conference on local democracy, with global participation.
And, not least, at home in the UK, our colleagues in Kirklees held a public debate enabling local people to say what they expect of a councillor.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to develop innovative ways to maintain residents’ participation and their confidence in our capacity to deliver effective responses to the health crisis while continuing to provide essential local services.
I am convinced that trust between local people and their council is key to the good functioning of democracy, and the ultimate glue that holds our communities together.
Local councils can help significantly to reconnect with communities and restore confidence in democratic processes and institutions – and, today, much of this can be done online as well.