Over the past weeks, our team embarked on public consultation processes in all five communities where we are currently undergoing strategic planning. We have worked in this process with a community facilitator which has underwent participatory methods, with CERE and PACT, in different communities across Southern Romania.
The main challenge of our team was to work with communities that have never gone through such a process before. It’s worth mentioning that the elaboration of local development strategies in Romania has been mainly triggered by EU integration and availability of EU funds. Applying for such financial support implies that there was an underlying process of assessing needs and prioritizing investments, which basically required local authorities to draft local development strategies.
There are many stakeholders to be involved in this endeavour – on one hand the town hall, with both its technical personnel and elected representatives and on the other hand, the local CSOs, entrepreneurs and farmers, key local institutions (schools, health units, police etc.) and residents, in general. When such process unfolds, especially for a first time, the town hall needs to reach a proper understanding on the role and utility of a strategy as well as commit to its implementation. Other stakeholders need support to become aware and able to articulate development needs of that respective community, as well as understand the mandate and limitations of a town hall to address those needs. This is necessary so as to project the right expectations and what a city hall can – and should – do, versus development needs that are dependent of other stakeholders, including their own contribution, or represent a consequence of larger forces.
Public consultations, in this context, have several roles: to bring together a list of needs and projects that could address those needs; to generate a first occasion of a community to come together and reflect on their common challenges and potential; to educate discernment on what can be done locally; and to build awareness that action is dependent not just on the city hall but on the collaboration and involvement of different actors.
Preparation is essential. Prior to the consultation sessions, our team has identified resource people and mobilized them to participate, allowing specific attention to bringing people of all ages and professional profiles. There has been a lot of scepticism or anxiety on how this would turn, but eventually the local stakeholders were positively impressed by the outcome. The findings where incorporated in the diagnostic analysis and SWOT and also informed the portfolio of projects to be included in the strategy.
The consultation used the public café method, used by community facilitators in participation processes. The participants where first invited to discuss about challenges and opportunities faced by the community and then, in thematic focus groups, to come up with potential solutions to address those. Hard investments kept the top of priority lists, as expected, since all communities where in need of different infrastructure improvements. Soft investments proved to be underestimated in terms of demand and impact – but this is also a manifestation that there is little know how on how to design, and little capacity and experience to implement such projects.
This project was initiated and funded by OMV Petrom SA, as a corporate social initiative meant to help local communities to better plan and mobilize resources for development. The implementation was done in partnership with GEA Strategy & Consulting.