Citizens' assemblies (CAs) were incorporated in the new Law on Municipalities in 2005. As an opportunity to strengthen participatory processes, and to improve participatory decision-making methods at local level, Participation Task Forces (PTFs) were established. The innovative nature of the PTFs is that for the first time elected municipal councillors, appointed municipal officials, and representatives of CAs worked together on developing participatory policy proposals for their municipality.
Municipalities in Türkiye have been experimenting with citizens' assemblies (CAs) since 1997, and CAs were incorporated in the new Municipal Law in 2005 to ensure countrywide dissemination. According to the Regulation on Citizens' Assemblies, which is based on this Law, CAs shall be established in every municipality within three months following the local elections. The Regulation defines CAs as democratic governance mechanisms based on shared wisdom and consensus through which the representatives of the central government, local governments, public professional organisations, and civil society come together with an understanding of partnership, identify and discuss the development priorities, problems, visions of the city, and develop solutions on the basis of sustainable development.
Building on the existing experiences of Turkish municipalities with the establishment and operation of CAs, a bilateral cooperation project was designed and implemented by VNG International (International Cooperation Agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities) in partnership with the Union of Municipalities of Türkiye (UMT). The project was funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to Türkiye.
The existence of CAs at municipal level has been the key opportunity that the project took advantage of. The innovative nature of the project was its focus on process and methods rather than particular policy issues. As a first step, a team of trainers (composed of 8 members from different departments) was formed within UMT. An intensive 72-hour training of trainers programme on participatory decision-making processes, methods and tools was delivered to this team over the course of four training rounds. Secondly, 3 pilot municipalities were selected from among the metropolitan district municipalities of Ankara. The criteria for selecting the pilot municipalities included representation of a different political party majority in each one of the pilots, having an operational CA, and commitment to implementing project activities. After the identification of pilot municipalities, Participatory Task Forces (PTFs) (composed of around 8-12 representatives) were established in each pilot. These PTFs for the first time brought together elected municipal councillors, appointed municipal officials, and members of CAs, resulting in a unique and innovative exercise to discuss participatory processes, methods, and tools.
From September 2021 to October 2022, the UMT Team of Trainers and the PTFs held four meetings following the completion of each round of the training of trainers programme. These meetings provided an opportunity to the UMT Team and the PTF members to deliberate on the various concepts of participatory decision-making. In addition to these joint meetings, both the UMT Team and the PTFs also had their own internal preparatory meetings in due course. All of this multidimensional interaction among the representatives who usually operate rather separate than one another allowed them to review the implementation of the existing participatory mechanisms, identify priority issues in citizen engagement, and discuss the decision-making process from different angles. As a result, information flows among different stakeholders were enhanced, and differences in perspectives became more visible, which all together created an environment for meaningful deliberation.
The key task of the PTFs was to develop participatory policy recommendations to be submitted to their respective municipal councils. The UMT Team of Trainers provided guidance and support to the members of the PTFs with information, methods, and tools about procedural participation. Each pilot PTF also interacted closely with the PTFs of other pilots to learn from each other's past experiences and to improve their participatory policy recommendations. The members of the UMT Team of Trainers, and the members of the pilot PTFs directly benefited from this innovative approach, particularly in respect to comprehending what participation is and is not; how to plan, manage, monitor, and assess the participatory process; how to pick the suitable participatory method, and how to focus on the process rather than the result.
For the sustainability of the impact, a Procedural Participation Module (PPM) is prepared for UMT that brought together all methods, tools, and sample cases covered in the training of trainers programme into a booklet for UMT trainers. The booklet is designed to be gradually updated and enriched with cases and good practice examples from Türkiye and other countries. It is expected to be integrated as a training module in the curriculum of the UMT Municipal Academy and used by the UMT Team in disseminating the experience obtained from pilot implementation of procedural participation practices with UMT's wider network of members across the country. The PPM is also adaptable for use in other training and capacity building activities of UMT.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Participation Task Forces are innovative because:
- Elected municipal councillors, appointed municipal officials, and members of citizens' assemblies (CAs) do not come or work together on a systematic basis. Establishment of the PTF allowed these different representatives from the same municipality to hear each other's approaches to participatory decision-making, learn each other's priorities, and discuss ideas on improving participation.
- Representatives of different metropolitan district municipalities in the same province, especially those with different political party majorities in their councils, do not usually come or work together on participatory decision-making. Bringing three pilot PTFs from different municipalities created a highly productive platform for exchanging experiences.
- The close co-operation of the PTFs with the UMT Team allowed for the creation of mutual capacity building channels that create possibilities for further interaction and collaboration.
What is the current status of your innovation?
As of the date of submission, majority of the project activities have been successfully completed. The PTFs successfully took part in all meetings, and finalised their participatory policy recommendations on paper. The next step is for each PTF to determine the proper process of submitting the participatory policy recommendation to their municipal council. On 18 October 2022, a Public Outreach Conference was organised at the Union of Municipalities of Türkiye (UMT) to disseminate the project results to a wider audience. This conference allowed publicly introducing the Procedural Participation Module for future use by UMT. Lastly, a brief survey is being conducted in October 2022 with the UMT Team and the PTFs to have a broad assessment of the overall project impact. In line with the results of the survey, a sustainability strategy will be delivered to UMT to ensure further commitment in broadening the project's impact after its termination.
Collaborations & Partnerships
VNG International designed and implemented the project in partnership with UMT. The project was funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands to Türkiye. Municipality of Etimesgut, Municipality of Keçiören, and Municipality of Yenimahalle took part in the project as pilots, and ensured participation of elected councillors and appointed officials in PTFs. Citizens' Assembly (CA) of Etimesgut, CA of Keçiören, and CA of Yenimahalle ensured CSO participation as the other PTF members.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Establishment of PTFs benefited:
- Pilot municipalities in brining participatory decision-making higher on the agenda of the councillors and municipal officials.
- Pilot CAs in exchanging their past experiences, learning from each other, and broadening their perception of participatory decision-making.
- UMT in improving technical capacity on procedural participation, and closely collaborating with their members on participatory decision-making processes, methods, and tools.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
- UMT Team of Trainers specialising on procedural participation established from 8 officials from different departments, cultivating intra-institutional exchanges.
- 3 pilot municipalities selected from among the metropolitan district municipalities of Ankara. Each one of the 3 pilot municipalities has a council majority from a different political party, leading to horizontal exchange of experiences on and approaches to public participation in local decision-making.
- PTFs established in 3 pilot municipalities to experiment for the first time a three-dimensional participatory process with elected municipal councillors, appointed municipal officials, and CA members.
- Baseline survey conducted.
- Three-day governance workshops organised on good governance and public participation.
- 72-hour training of trainers programme delivered for UMT.
- PTFs developed participatory policy recommendations.
- Procedural Participation Module developed for UMT Academy.
- Survey on overall impact being conducted.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge in making PTFs operational was time availability of the stakeholders. All representatives involved in implementation carried out the project related tasks on top of their already existing full-time responsibilities. To overcome this challenge, the previously envisaged one-day meetings were redesigned as intensive half-day meetings.
Another important challenge was working through the balances of power among the different stakeholders. From the start, being in the same room with UMT representatives, local politicians, municipal officials, and civil society representatives triggered self-defensive impulses among the participants. However, the open and interactive atmosphere created throughout the meetings as the project progressed, encouraged effective dialogue that led to the formation of an efficient forum of exchange based on mutual trust.
Conditions for Success
- Existence of the enabling legislation (Regulation of Citizens' Assemblies) provided the necessary legal basis.
- A committed owner of the process is necessary (such as the UMT in the case of this project).
- Political commitment on the side of the municipality, both at the highest decision-making level, and also at the level of the individual council members brings the necessary motivation and momentum.
- Dedicated members of the municipal offices, and the civil society representatives involved in the CAs with their direct and constant contact with citizens ensures focus to remain on the community.
- Human resources, particularly interest and time availability for systematically working together in a task force is key.
- The more systematically the various stakeholders meet to interact with one another, the higher probability that a mutual trust atmosphere is created.
The PTF approach can be replicated to strengthen participatory processes at the local, regional, and national levels. The formula is bringing together elected decision-makers, appointed practitioners, and civil society representatives in a small task force (8-12 members) to work on a participatory proposal that they will themselves decide. The overall positive impact of the process is independent from the actual outcome.
UMT could continue using the method with other municipalities, and accumulate good practice examples from different iterations. Similarly, there is no reason for pilot municipalities to abolish their already existing PTFs at the end of the project as they can continue working on new participatory proposals in the same way.
The biggest lesson learned for all the stakeholders involved in the project was that public participation is a much more complicated and technically demanding process than it generally seems. In addition, the exchanges that took place throughout the project between different stakeholders allowed each of them to see that there are many different angles to participatory decision-making that they alone would not be able to perceive or consider. Lastly, it is observed by all stakeholders that although there is one Regulation on Citizens' Assemblies, there are many different ways in which the CAs in different municipalities operate and interact with their municipal management and communities. Constant communication and collaboration across different levels once again proved to be a very effective approach to consolidating one's own experiences, and improving already existing good practices.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
3 January 2023