Interregional Networking for Citizen Participation (INCIP)
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Project Duration: April – December 2013
How does your project strengthen the role of citizens and civil society in stimulating positive social change?
The main aim of our INCIP project was to use the experience of post-communist CEE countries in fostering citizen participation and to transfer best practices and skills to the communities in Cyprus and Tunisia. This is the first time an inter-regional partnership of this kind has been set up between Central Europe, Cyprus and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. The project was developed as a result of the intensive work among NGOs and experts from Jordan, Tunisia, Hungary, Egypt, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Slovakia during the power of One Conference in Cyprus.
What was the main need you identified when designing the project?
In Cyprus, participatory approaches have been attempted several times. But, there still is a lack of recognition of the value of civil participation both by the citizens and the authorities. Cypriot NGO representatives need more experience and motivation to be pro-active in the policy- and decision-making processes at the local and the national levels. At local level, they need to be better recognized by both the citizens and the authorities as the propeller of the dialogue and communication within the community. This will help develop strategies and policies for sustainable local development provided the contribution of all the stakeholders, social groups, and experts.
As for Tunisia, following the democratic transformations in the country, many changes have been done towards modern development. However, the governance is still centralized at the national level and the local authorities have little responsibilities. There are the so-called “provisional councils” which were formed after the revolution while waiting for the new administrative system to take place via the expected changes in the Constitution. These councils still lack skills and know-how to communicate with the local civil society representatives. Citizens are far from the national government. They cannot take part in solving the problems of their own community, village, or town. This situation leads to distrust in the government and lack of activity, which hinders democratic development and the possibility for formulation of new policies for reforms.
We felt that the transfer of experience from Bulgaria and Slovakia would be extremely valuable for the young local democracy in the two MENA countries and for the Cypriot communities, NGO representatives, and experts. We wanted to design a project that would help to build skills and establish a partnership dialogue between all stakeholders at the community level.
All of the countries involved in the project have either been part of a post-conflict transition or are still going through it. How do you see the role of active citizen engagement in the democratic process?
Active civil society is a crucial factor for the success of the transition and for the democratisation in the MENA countries but also in Cyprus. It takes dialogue, partnership, and skills within the community to make citizens stronger in their addressing the authorities. Local authorities, in addition, need to have their citizens and organizations on board, in order to have a stronger voice before the central government, hence – a faster decentralization process.
We know you have conducted situation analyses, workshops, trainings and many meetings in order to help create a model that can be applied inter-regionally. Can you share with us some of the reflections that have come out of your project?
The following suggestions were made in order to enhance citizen participation: