In 2017-2018 CEDOS investigated the decision-making process as well as the interaction of between local government bodies and civil society in several Ukrainian cities. This is a brief summary of the research results in Lviv.
The brief summary of the study results in Ukrainian is available following link.
The study results of interactions between local authorities and civil society in Kyiv are available by the following link.
In the early 2016, a Presidential Decree approved the National Strategy for Promoting the Development of Civil Society in Ukraine for 2016-20. The plan of measures to be taken in order to implement the Strategy aims to support citizen initiatives and to establish effective dialogue between government bodies and the civil society. For 2018, it was planned, among other things, to design study programs for improving professional skills in civic education and for developing citizen competences among public servants and local government officials, and then to organize training according to these programs.
Is there effective dialogue between the local government and the civil society in Lviv today? Definitely yes. The Statute of the Territorial Community of Lviv provides several engagement mechanisms which can be used by city residents and non-government organizations (NGOs); there is a dedicated Department of Civil Partnership in the Lviv City Council (LCC), which is responsible for public communication; there are a number of projects successfully implemented in partnership between the LCC and NGOs. However, we have discovered that not all engagement mechanisms work equally well.
In our study, we decided to look at this process in more detail: what the LCC does better, what NGOs are satisfied and unsatisfied with, which practices of interaction could be improved. Moreover, in our opinion, it is very important to continue to research the effectiveness of engagement mechanisms even when they already work. A city can develop in harmony only if the needs of its residents are taken into account in the development processes.
The main goal of this study is to assess the effectiveness of different engagement instruments based on the experience and judgment of their key users: representatives of NGOs and activists, as well as officials and councilors from the LCC; and to find out which methods work well to engage the public and the residents in decision making, and which need improvement. We also paid special attention to the question of whether strategic decisions made in the city are well-justified.
The core methodological characteristics of this study are the use of qualitative methods of social research (interviews and focus group discussions) and the targeted method of selecting the list of key informants. We did not survey representatives of all Lviv NGOs, and representatives of all departments and offices in the city council, and councilors from all political parties. Instead, we held 2 focus group discussions with representatives of NGOs and activist circles (9 participants) who actively work to resolve city problems in various spheres (education, culture, history, community building, public transportation and traffic safety, public spaces, child-friendliness of the city). We also did 7 in-depth structured interviews with officials who represented the Department of Development, Tourism Office, City Institute and the Department of Public Partnership, as well as with LCC councilors and representatives of the Public Council. The qualitative methodology, in contrast to quantitative methods, allows us to speak about trends, tendencies and reasons for certain phenomena; however, we cannot extend the findings of this qualitative research to the whole civil sector of Lviv and to the work of all departments in the city government.
In addition to their participation in expert interviews and focus groups, all respondents from the civil sector and local government bodies filled in a structured questionnaire in which they assessed the mechanisms of community engagement in decision making according to different criteria, using a 5-point scale, where 1 was the lowest grade and 5 was the highest grade.
The field stage of the study was carried out in June-July 2018.
During the preparation stage, we analyzed the following documents: the Statute of the Territorial Community of Lviv, the Complex Strategy of the Development of Lviv in 2012-25, the Strategic Plan for Bringing Investment to Lviv until 2020, the Strategy for the Development of Culture.
The practical result of the study is a list of recommendations on how to overcome the obstacles in the interaction between representatives of the civil society and officials. In our opinion, they are quite universal and can be used in different cities; they can also be included in study programs for improving the professional skills of public servants and officials in local governments.
According to officials and LCC councilors, city residents and NGOs have many different opportunities to engage in city policy making, determining the strategic directions of city development, and resolving specific problematic issues that trouble them. These mechanisms include: voting at local elections and running for office; addressing council members; participating in public councils, hearings, consultations and working groups; submitting complaints, petitions and public budget projects; and participating in protests and direct action.
In general, officials emphasize that there are many mechanisms for correcting project decisions at the initial stage (for example, the quickest mechanism is the complaint hotline). They also expressed their readiness to hear out reactions from the community even after a decision has been made, because positive community response to their work is very important to them. The city has had precedents when LCC decisions were canceled under pressure from the community.
According to the officials, up to 60% of suggestions and comments from residents are not taken into account, and the residents receive well-substantiated replies in these cases. NGOs, in turn, think that there are many mechanisms for suggestions, but the mechanism of feedback about whether the suggestions and comments are taken into account is not completely transparent.
Representatives of the executive government in Lviv are clearly determined to serve the community. Most of them understand that residents and NGO representatives are their allies in the issues of city development.
In terms of justifications for decisions of the city government, the officials and councilors did not have a unanimous opinion about which decisions should be considered justified. Among the possible criteria of a justified decision, they mentioned the economic, social or political necessity, objectivity, realistic implementation, integration, viability, sustainability. In addition, a justified decision is a decision made according to all the necessary procedures, with a published draft, public hearings, an analysis of regulatory influence. Preliminary discussion of a decision with all stakeholders can also be a criterion of a justified decision, although it complicates decision making because of the need to balance varying interests.
Strategic decisions about city development are made in Lviv according to the strategic city documents (the Complex Strategy and Departmental Strategies) and the programs of socio-economic development, which, in turn, are also based on the Strategies. In addition, such decisions are made when the city budget spending is distributed; this is done by the executive government and councilors. For example, the Strategy of Competitiveness for Lviv until 2015 defined tourism as one of the priority directions of city development. Based on the data that are collected monthly by the city’s Tourist Information Center, a decision was made to redirect tourist flows from the Rynok Square and the city center to other areas, and corresponding budget funds were allocated to develop the Pidzamche neighborhood.
In addition, in this sphere, there is a plan to develop conference tourism; the reason given for this plan is that after specialized events, tourists with higher purchasing power are going to return to the city. In addition, the city carries out surveys of the expert community and organizes specialized clusters in order to form and clarify the strategic areas of development.
Both officials and NGO representatives use data and research in their work. Representatives of local government bodies mostly cite the findings of surveys and analyses prepared by the City Institute. NGOs also need statistics, analysis and survey results to base their decisions on these data. The most acceptable formats for analytical materials and for presenting study results, according to officials and NGOs, are infographics and brief reports with visualization. Activists and civil sector representatives generally have rather positive opinions about the possibilities for developing the civil sector and the work of NGOs in Lviv. The interest of both sides in working together is mutual and is not just done for the record, it actually aims to achieve results. NGOs are interested in participating in competitions to implement their ideas, while officials are interested in involving experts from the civil sector in their work.
Having analyzed the NGOs’ experiences of collaboration with the LCC, we distinguished 3 groups of problems that emerge in their interaction: systemic, budget-processual and communication problems. The key systemic problems include the dependence of the quality of interaction on the personality of an official, the dependence of the quality of interaction on the subject (culture is an easy subject, while urban planning is a hard one), the lack of continuity in the collaboration between NGOs and the LCC because of high staff turnover in the executive government, lack of trust for NGOs on the part of the LCC (pointless grant-consuming, lack of expertise, lack of serious intentions), unsystematic support for NGOs from local government bodies. Budget-processual problems are associated with the management of funds received from the local government for project implementation, the special rules that apply in this field and need to be improved. These problems include insufficient funding from the local government for implementing actually large-scale and successful projects, the lack of staff accountant in some NGOs and inability to hire one to manage the money through the city treasury, the need to use registered individual entrepreneurs to transfer money, the inflexibility of project budgets in the cases when the implementation lasts several years. Communication misunderstandings appear when the local government uses NGO projects for its own promotion; and when it takes a wrong approach to the communication support of NGO events, when organizations ask to spread information about their events, but local government bodies pass the message on as mandatory and force, for example, teachers to attend the event.
In turn, in the case of the LCC’s experiences of collaboration with NGOs, the key problems are the lack of trust and stereotypes among NGOs about city officials, on the one hand; and the officials’ suspicion that certain NGOs are fake or politically partisan, on the other hand. Other problems include the fact that NGOs are not familiar with the distribution of responsibilities within the LCC; that decision making process becomes sluggish when the public is engaged in it; that different NGOs do not coordinate their activities; and that NGOs are not ready for long-term cooperation in order to achieve joint outcomes, but instead expect quick results.
To overcome the existing barriers, NGOs and the LCC can learn from each other and strengthen their competencies that way. They can also exchange human capital: people from the civil sector can go on to work or do internship in the LCC, and vice versa, officials can become activists and move on to work in NGOs. The mechanism of social commissioning, when the LCC arranges competitions to delegate social service provision to NGOs, can also be developed and expanded.
For both players, the LCC and NGOs with activists, it is extremely important to work on building trust. Officials should get rid of their stereotypes about activists, not to think that all NGOs are the same; and NGOs, in turn, should see officials as partners, rather than “indifferent authorities.” Trust building can be achieved, among other things, by constant interaction, communication, mutual internships and exchange of roles.
What can representatives of the LCC do to establish better collaboration with NGOs?
- Provide NGOs with full and correct information about the procedural details of engagement mechanisms and initiate training for new NGOs which want to submit their projects to the city council for the first time (about the proper application process and reporting). The form of training can be informal: street exhibitions, workshops, quests.
- Initiate changes to the rules of budget funding for NGO projects and initiatives, so that the money can be received in advance, at least in part; this way, NGOs would not have to cover their current expenses with their own money. In the projects which are implemented by NGOs with budget funding, compensation for the labor of NGO employees should be allowed. The procedure of interaction between NGOs and the treasury can be simplified, or the LCC can improve its support for NGOs in this process.
- Optimize the system of project funding. Allocate more funding per project, so that NGOs could implement high-quality complex projects, and remove the restrictions on purchases of material goods in the case of long-term projects.
- Improve service processes, so that services and communication are as client-oriented as possible. NGOs give the example of service in Centers for Administrative Services Provision, which is polite, attentive, systemic. Learn communication skills in different formats, including conflict forms.
- Improve advance information about the dates, times and content (agenda) of both general LCC meetings and specialized commission meetings.
- Organize the work in a way that would allow departments to work with more integration, establish a system for quick information exchange between them.
- Spend enough time on the processes of community engagement in decision making, not only when there is spare time left.
- Take into account constructive criticism from residents and NGOs.
- Understand that NGOs are not enemies but friends and colleagues of the LCC.
What can representatives of the civil sector in Lviv do to establish better collaboration with officials?
- Given the limited funding, bring in a lawyer and an accountant at least for the period of project implementation or reporting. Explain the issues with funding for NGOs, meet officials halfway.
- Be realistic about the time of implementation of projects with budget funding, learn to wait.
- Try to be informed about the distribution of responsibilities between different departments in the LCC in order to know for sure whom to address with which question.
- Show initiative and initiate contact with the LCC, especially if the idea of a project or collaboration corresponds to the city strategy. Be generally active if invited to work in working groups on targeted programs or strategies.
- Initiate internship in the LCC for NGO representatives or even come to work in the executive government, including for promoting the interests of the civil society.
To improve the situation with interaction, both sides should improve their professional skills and learn new things. Officials would like to be more stress-resistant, learn conflict management, and obtain basic knowledge in urban development and urban studies. NGO representatives lack knowledge about project management with budget funding, communication skills and external messaging about their work. Just as officials, NGO representatives feel a lack of moderation, mediation and group process facilitation skills.
Officials believe that it is possible to engage residents and NGOs in almost all urban development issues, except for very narrowly specialized ones. However, the risk here is that the decision making can take too long. According to local government representatives, engagement is important in order to know about the needs of residents and to base the list of possible solutions on them, and then choose the optimal one. However, NGOs and activists claim that such issues as development, infrastructural projects, controversial questions of history, monuments and so on are mostly decided without actual community engagement or taking into account the wishes of the public. Instead, the “simpler” subjects for engagement are culture, education, art, tourism, public budget, festival events, development of public spaces, cycling infrastructure and social topics related to the needs of vulnerable population groups.
Among the engagement mechanisms offered for evaluation, the respondents gave the highest points to the public budget, the city hotline, electronic petitions, public hearings about urban planning documents, and addresses to councilors. According to representatives of Lviv’s civil sector, the most effective engagement mechanism for implementing one’s own project is directly addressing the stakeholders of the project or initiative — the relevant department or office (making an appointment, writing an address or a letter, council commissions), or directly addressing councilors. If an idea is already ready to transform into a project, activists recommend to apply for the public budget or for the competition of socio-cultural projects. In addition, community sector representatives recommend to create NGOs, if possible, and apply as NGOs, as well as to consult the organizations which already have the experience of applying with their projects, or to ask local government officials with activist past for advice.
Based on the evaluations and on the experience of applying specific community engagement mechanisms to decision making in Lviv, the respondents formulated their recommendations on how to improve them.
- Public budget. The LCC can help the applicants to properly prepare their projects and calculate their budget, taking into account all the aspects, including the technical ones, because such work requires very specific expertise. As an option, they could first organize a competition of ideas without budgets, and then appoint people from the LCC to support the initiatives or NGOs in drafting realistic budgets. In addition, the expert council which pre-moderates the projects can work more thoroughly so that it does not overlook the projects which are impossible to implement within a single budget year and LCC term of service.
- Social commissioning. Strengthen and expand the practice of delegating public services to the civil sector. City NGOs are strong enough to take over some government functions. The selection can be done through the tender procedure.
- Public hearings and consultations. Improve the procedure for applying the results of public hearings in terms of consideration and incorporation or non-incorporation of community suggestions. Сlarify the criteria for the participants of hearings and consultations: who exactly makes the decisions about incorporating or ignoring a certain suggestion, who provides feedback. Start using large group facilitation to make decisions at public hearings or consultations. When reconstruction projects are discussed at public hearings, inform people about the projects in as much detail as possible, so that they know what they are discussing and there is no guesswork.
Our qualitative social study has demonstrated that despite the existing successful examples of collaboration between the local government and NGOs, the major problem is the lack of trust. Officials and representatives of the civil sector do not use all the available engagement mechanisms fully because of the mutual distrust that originates from ignorance about what the other side is working on. This circle of distrust is self-perpetuating.
The information about the opportunities for affecting decision making in the city is shared with the public and with Lviv residents rather effectively. The Department of Public Partnership has a mailing list, the information is published at the official website of the LCC and on Facebook on time. However, these actions are not sufficiently coordinated, and sometimes representatives of different departments do not know what their colleagues are doing. So we recommend that LCC considers a possibility to develop a communication strategy which can be shared by all the departments, to make communication more universal, regular and coordinated, and to bring different departments together in a single information field.
The government of Ukraine needs to improve the mechanisms of community engagement in decision making at the local level, to make these conditions transparent and inclusive for the widest circle of NGOs and active citizens, and to optimize and simplify/transform the procedure of public funding for community initiatives to make it more flexible. The LCC, in turn, can be more open and can consider the possibilities of making the work of its public councils more effective by clearly articulating their powers: collecting information, developing decision options, searching for the best decision, providing recommendations about the draft decision.
Ideally, collaboration between the LCC and NGOs must be more conscious, not just incidental. The LCC and NGOs need to reinforce each other, rather than compete with each other. With constructive and active NGOs, LCC representatives will also become more active. It is also important that the collaboration is systemic rather than just situational. To accelerate the achievement of these ideal conditions, it would be useful to organize joint training for officials and activists, aimed both at searching for the common ground and at acquiring the skills which both sides lack.