As part of the “Social Sustainability and Citizen Engagement” component of the World Bank-Austria Urban Partnership Program (UPP), the Regional Conference “Socially Inclusive Cities” was held on March 27 and 28, 2017 in Zagreb, Croatia. The Conference brought together around 80 participants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia including Mayors, city leaders, local and central government representatives, Civil Society Organizations, Local Government Associations, business sector and other key stakeholders.
City governments and mayors in the region are today facing challenges arising from climate change, economic transformation, and demographic shifts in their cities. Economic and social inequalities have further exacerbated resulting in lack of accountability, transparency and citizen engagement at the municipal level. As a result, municipal officials are experiencing increasing pressure to find sustainable solutions to transforming urban centers into resilient and sustainable communities – doing so by reducing energy costs, improving quality of services, reducing waste, providing socially inclusive urban environments, and creating economic opportunities for their citizens.
Since 2011, the Government of Austria has been collaborating with the World Bank to strengthen the capacity of local governments in the seven SEE countries through the Urban Partnership Program. The objective of the Program is to support cities and local governments from South-East Europe in the process of reform and modernization, in order to promote local development for inclusive and sustainable growth, and enhance urban governance.
Dario Runtic, welcomed all participants on behalf of the Croatian Association of Cities. In her opening remarks, Vera Dugandzic, acting Country Manager of the World Bank Croatia Office, stated that the Urban Partnership Program had been successfully implemented for several years in seven South East European countries focusing mainly on strengthening the capacity of local government officials, city administrators and technical staff with practical tools for decision-making to manage urban development for inclusive and sustainable growth. She emphasized that “the Conference will provide a good platform for networking and exchanging of different practices, approaches and challenges local governments are facing in the area of citizen engagement and social inclusion”.
“Austria is committed to support the region’s path to EU membership, and hereby sees its role as the promotor of reconciliation and stabilization in the region,” said Martina Klenner-Auvillain, Deputy Head of Mission at the Austrian Embassy in her opening address. She further emphasized that urban development is key to this success, as it is one of key areas of strategic partnerships. There is no modernization without urban development, and the UPP provides space for constructive dialogue in these times of global challenges.
During the two-day conference, participants had an opportunity to learn more about good practices and challenges for socially inclusive citizen engagement and innovative, participatory tools of governance, including ICT tools used for integrating citizen’s voice. This event provided a platform for disseminating the findings of the UPP Social Sustainability and Citizen Engagement initiative and sharing approaches to improving collaborative government in a socially-inclusive and participatory manner and strengthening integrity of public services.
Keynote speaker, Mr. Fredrik Galtung, CEO of Integrity Action, spoke about the key ingredients to creating a culture of integrity in public services. It requires to put the power of feedback in the hands of the communities and beneficiaries, to build trust between key stakeholders, to create positive feedback loops and to make services more sustainable and resilient. Without integrity, measures to safeguard human rights, protect the environment, strengthen democracy, promote social equity and reduce poverty are compromised. In the absence of integrity, the corrupt flourish.
Nine cities across the region who had participated in the Social Sustainability and Citizen Engagement Initiative of the second phase of the UPP showcased their developed City Action Plans, e.g. the Deputy Mayor of Gjilan, Rexhep Kadriu, introduced the city’s plan to transform the municipal website into an “interactive forum” for citizens, which aims to activate citizen’s participation. Among others, the Deputy Mayor of Elbasan, Klevis Xhoxhi, presented their devised “Roadmap on Local Government Participatory Practices,” a toolkit that is designed to contribute to the ability of municipal officials to initiate or strengthen existing participatory practices in their own communities and to develop partnerships between municipal governments and marginalized groups for ensuring social inclusiveness. Afterwards the conference participants were asked to gather in groups to discuss the cities’ visions and to come up with inputs on how a city action plan can best be implemented, monitored and with whom a city can possibly partner in this process.
Speakers from across the region and beyond provided food for thought in discussing together the importance of citizen engagement on the road to transparency and accountability. Participants had the opportunity to learn about good examples for strengthening social sustainability and empowering citizens. For example, from the City of Rijeka, which is the only City in Croatia that provides on its website an interactive game “Budgeting(me)” where citizens can create a budget with real figures of the existing budget; or from the Citizen Service Centers in Pancevo, that provide easy and equal access to public services for all parts of the population. Further, the Mayor of Pregrada, Marko Vesligaj, shared the city’s experiences with a crowdfunding project that successfully used ICT-based tools for raising money to finance a kindergarten. Conference participants listened with interest to the presentation on the Albanian Model for Citizen Centric Service and the Macedonian-wide project on the improvement of municipal services.
In a highly interactive round table on ICT mechanisms, Mayor of Tuzla, Jasmin Imamovic, Mayor of Gramsh, Luljeta Dollani, the Deputy Mayor of Krizevci, Tomislav Katanovic and the PR Advisor from City of Pancevo, Jasmina Radovanovic discussed the challenges and opportunities on implementing ICT tools in their respective cities and municipalities.
Representatives of Local Government Associations in the SEE region shared their views in a panel discussion on building partnerships and measuring results. All panelists highlighted the importance of partnerships e.g. between city administration, civil society, the business sector and academia to better tackle municipal challenges.
Agenda SSCE Conference Zagreb
Citizen Engagement - City of Rijeka
Citizen Engagement - City of Tuzla
Citizen-Centric Service Delivery - Albanian Model
City Action Plan - Elbasan
CIty Action Plan - Gjilan
City Action Plan - Kumanovo
City Action Plan - Sabac
Crowdfunding in the City of Pregrada
Effective Citizen Serivce Centers
Keynote Integrity Building
Pancevo Citizen Service Center
Public consultations in local government in Croatia
STRENGTHENING ACCOUNTABILITY AND IMPROVING TRANSPARENCY - THE EXPERIENCE OF MSIP
Digital Transofrmation and e-services - City of Krizevci
Gramsh - The ICT challege and opportunity