Making resident engagement in decision-making count

Rebuilding trust in local government is the cornerstone of reviving public participation.

Building stronger democracies starts from the ground up. We need to cultivate a vibrant local level where government works efficiently and serves the community’s best interests. This requires transparency, keeping residents informed, and actively involving them in decisions that impact their lives.

The concept of ‘resident’ extends beyond citizenship. Everyone residing in a country, regardless of their official status, becomes part of the social fabric. Therefore, the term ‘resident’ encompasses and includes everyone.

Residents should be aware of their rights and responsibilities, including the right to participate in decision-making and the duty to do so. To facilitate this, residents should be well-informed to actively contribute to the formulation of recommended policies. Engaging residents, especially at the local level, ensures accountability for their elected representatives and extends to public services and central government operations.

At the local council level, the term ‘resident’ signifies the connection between the local council and its residents. Residents possess both rights and responsibilities, including the right to participate in decision-making and the duty to do so. This combination underpins local democracy, a fundamental pillar of our communities’ well-being and development.

The local council plays a pivotal role in this social mechanism. When effectively managed, it directly enhances residents’ quality of life. This synergy indirectly benefits local socio-economic development, creating a two-fold impact across the nation.

When resident participation is lacking, it results in a democratic deficit within society and the community. It not only impacts social aspects but also hampers collective development, potentially leading to challenges in delivering effective public services for local and central governments.

Individuals are the driving force behind this mechanism. While the local council is responsible for establishing systems and platforms that provide residents with access and opportunities for participation, residents must also utilise these opportunities wisely, offering suggestions that lead to the acceptance and smooth implementation of decisions.

In this light, civil society acts as a powerful advocate, raising issues that directly impact the communities they represent. It is crucial for them to advocate for residents’ views, particularly on matters such as transportation, social housing, subsidies, public spaces, and the environment.

Enhancing democracy

Implementing such a mechanism is advantageous for democracy as it fosters transparent, inclusive, legitimate, and accountable political landscapes. Since the public plays a central role in decision-making, such mechanism cultivates increased trust in local and central government and the associated institutions.

This heightened resident participation is beneficial when implementing new strategies, policies, or initiatives as residents feel a sense of ownership over the decision-making process.  The inclusivity of ideas from various sections of society leads to more equitable policies and decisions, ensuring no one is excluded and every voice is considered.

When these practices are in place, the implementation of decisions becomes more accessible and allows for constructive feedback and opposition from various individuals or groups in society. This simplifies the transitional phases of implementation.

Structured consultation process

When initiating the consultation process, specific practices should be followed to ensure its effectiveness:

– Clearly define the problem and reasons for change, indicating whether legislation is necessary to enhance the quality of life.

– Establish a clear vision of the expected results while highlighting the tangible impacts of the decision.

– Identify key groups that will be involved in the process.

– Choose an accessible method for consultation, especially in today’s digital age.

– Ensure that digital methods are equally accessible to all.

– Maintain ongoing communication, updating stakeholders on the progress and outcomes.

– Continuously monitor the consultation process, ensuring transparency.

– Explain the rationale behind the decision-making process, promoting discussion and feedback, which, in turn, facilitates implementation.

– All of these elements are vital, and as councillors and local councils, embracing the concept of active democracy is crucial to empower residents and involve them in the decision-making process. It is essential to provide the best platforms for residents to participate effectively.

Restoring trust

Rebuilding trust in local government is the cornerstone of reviving public participation. When residents believe their voices matter and decisions are made in their best interests, they’re more likely to engage in the long term. However, failing to gauge public awareness and address concerns risks further disenfranchisement. Regaining lost trust is far harder than nurturing existing connections.

Mario Fava is President of the Local Councils Association – Malta.

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