Public Engagement: The Inclusive Approach
The dialogue was moderated by Ms. Zain Verjee, Anchor, CNN, Atlanta, United States of America. The panellists were Mr. Peter Oberlander, Professor Emeritus, Inaugural Director, University of British Columbia Centre of Human Settlement and Network Partners, Canada; Mr. Naokazu Takemoto, Senior Vice-Minister for Finance, Government of Japan; Baroness Andrews, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Mr. Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary-General, UCLG, Africa; Mr. Marcello Balbo, Professor, University of Venice, Italy; Ms. Mary Balikungeri, Rwanda Women’s Network, Kigali; and Professor Akinlawon Mabogunje, Professor Emeritus, The Presidency, Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria.
The dialogue brought together participants from government, non-governmental and community-based organizations, women’s organizations, youth and research and training institutions.
It was noted that cities worldwide, whether rich or poor, were faced with the challenge of civic engagement. A key question addressed was how to foster an inclusive governance process at the local level. Recent experiences in both developed and developing countries showed that not all systems for participatory governance actually worked in ensuring urban sustainability. It had become evident that sustainable development was jeopardized when structures of engagement did not provide for mechanisms that eliminated barriers to effective and full involvement of every member of society.
The dialogue examined the underlying principles of inclusiveness and empowerment in civic engagement and in local governance. It addressed the operational aspects of fostering inclusion and cohesion for promoting sustainable cities by examining specific experiences in ensuring the engagement of long-term residents, international migrants, the poor, marginalized groups, national minorities and indigenous peoples. The specific issues affecting women, people with disabilities and youth were highlighted. The dialogue also considered alternative methods for fostering engagement.
Through story-telling, participants showcased ongoing strategies and practices that enriched the dialogue and provided useful lessons in civic engagement and citizenship, with a particular focus on the integration of migrants and the empowerment of women and youth.
In comparison to 1976, when the first Habitat Conference was held in Vancouver and during which the non-governmental organizations organized a parallel workshop in the Jericho Beach area of the city, it was noted that, 30 years on, the Forum was more inclusive. At the national level in many countries, policies had been changed to accommodate more inclusive processes. There was agreement that the underlying basis for promoting sustainable communities and neighbourhoods was through fostering inclusiveness and engagement. The example was given of the United Kingdom, where poverty reduction and livelihood strategies were now focused at community level. Empowerment of the poor had become a key strategy for interventions related to poverty reduction. Integrated planning and area‑based programmes such as neighbourhood renewal, which involved the communities in making decisions, had been implemented. A key feature had been coalition-building amongst various groups, specifically civil society, the private sector and government, and partnerships between various spheres of government.
It was also noted that women were increasingly claiming their space in decision-making. Women’s organizations and networks had been formed at all levels. Nevertheless, local and national governments had still not fully recognized the important role and contribution of women.
Local government was the closest public authority to the people, with at least 70 per cent of the responsibility for implementing the Millennium Development Goals, yet no commensurate resources were available for them to deliver basic services, particularly to the poor.
It was further noted that inequality in cities was growing. That inequality was particularly visible amongst national and international migrants. Promoting diversity by offering equal opportunities for migrants in job opportunities and in political processes was a key strategy for inclusiveness.
Three societal processes were identified which played a positive role in promoting engagement and inclusiveness. If not well handled, however, they could also generate negative consequences. Those processes were democratic representation, application of market principles, and the use of information technology. Representative democracy could become an impediment when it took the place of effective participatory democracy. Similarly, market forces, when left unchecked and unregulated, could lead to negative consequences to social well-being. In that regard, whereas information and communication technology could allow for effective engagement and inclusiveness, it could also generate exclusion and alienation among some social groups and exacerbate both social and digital divides.
Historically, participatory democracy had been widely practised by many communities in different societies. Top-down bureaucracy, however, prevented communities from benefiting fully from democratic processes.
Some participants questioned whether rural-to-urban migration was inevitable. It was noted that linkages between urban and rural areas should be recognized, and that development in both rural and urban areas should be pursued concurrently.
On the issue of engaging the private sector, it was noted that communities needed to be empowered to participate not only in making decisions but also in sharing the benefits of investments equitably. Strong public policies were required to facilitate meaningful engagement between urban poor communities and the private sector.
Professional associations such as associations of architects and planners, played a crucial role in engaging with local and central government.
The contribution of media in fostering accountability of government was also discussed. Participants highlighted the need for the media to devote less attention to celebrities and address issues of local concern. They should serve as a medium for holding leadership accountable to the people. It was also acknowledged that some sections of the media had played a positive role in promoting engagement and inclusiveness.
It was concluded that a key to sustainability was the engagement of all people in decision‑making, with special attention focused on low-income and marginalized groups such as national minorities, immigrants and indigenous peoples.
Messages emerging from the dialogue were that top-down bureaucracy became the gap between the government and the citizen and that power was not easily devolved. People and their organizations must struggle constantly to have a share of power. Mobilization was a key element in the empowerment process. The processes of building capacity, trust and confidence between and among various groups were key elements of empowerment, and long-term dialogue and exchange amongst key stakeholders were crucial.
It was concluded also that transparency and accountability were prerequisites for fostering public engagement and inclusion; they did not, however, happen overnight and required changes in attitudes, values and systems. It was a struggle that involved giving and sharing power, i.e., opening up the space for dialogue for excluded groups.
It was recognized that there was a need to empower marginalized groups, including women, youth, people with disabilities, children and indigenous groups.
It was recognized also that there was a need to listen to women, and that consequently there was a need to evolve new ways of involving women in decision-making. Numerous innovations existed at the local level, but mechanisms to share them with decision-makers at the local and national level were lacking. The example was given of the Rwanda Women’s Network, which had implemented the Local‑to-Local Dialogue, in which decision-makers engaged effectively with grassroots women. There was, however, a need to create spaces for dialogue that were gender-sensitive and incorporated both men and women.
The need to empower the elderly and people with disabilities was also recognized. It was noted that nearly a fifth of people living in cities suffered from various degrees of disability. Planners should therefore take their needs into consideration and put in place appropriate infrastructure and services.
In most developed countries, the elderly were an emerging group requiring attention. Their needs must be fully integrated in the city. An inclusive city was one where everyone, regardless of wealth, gender, age, race or religion, was free to participate productively and positively in governing the city, and where the pursuit of the opportunities which cities had to offer was equitable. The idea of a global network of local authorities supporting people living with disabilities was mooted.
It was recognized that young people and children had an important role. The need to include young people and to engage with them in all decision-making processes was emphasized. It was noted that the technological innovations taking place globally, including information technology, made it easier to integrate young people into the development process. Art, culture and environment were key entry points for engaging young people. Providing resources to engage urban young people was essential. Youth funds should be established to support youth-owned initiatives for the improvement of their living environments and livelihoods. Young people should be viewed as a resource in both decision-making and in the implementation of specific programmes. Priority areas of support for youth included mentorships, apprenticeships and skills development.