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Khmilnyk community (Vinnytsia oblast) trained to use local democracy tools effectively

Publication date: September 24, 2023

To teach community members to influence the decisions of local authorities using local democracy tools and to teach authorities to create conditions under which these tools will work effectively. This initiative’s goal is implemented in Khmilnyk, Vinnytsia oblast, by one of the member organizations of the Legal Development Network, the NGO “Pravo”, and partners.

In August 2023, the NGO “Pravo”, together with colleagues and representatives of the Khmilnyk City Council, developed a draft resolution of the mayor, which provides for several measures to help community members use the tools of local democracy more effectively.

We talked to Vitalii Dorokh, the head of the organization, about what local democracy tools are, how they are helpful for the community, and how civic activists are already helping to master them in practice.

Vitalii Dorokh, the head of the NGO “Pravo”.

– What does the term “local democracy tools” mean?

– Traditionally, local democracy tools include electronic petitions, local initiatives, public hearings, neighborhood meetings, collective appeals, etc. With the help of these tools, community residents can influence local authorities’ decision-making processes.

Each tool can be effective in one situation but utterly ineffective in another. But there are several conditions that local authorities need to fulfill so that residents can use this or that tool in practice.

For example, the law defines the right of community members to submit electronic petitions to local authorities. However, the number of signatures required and the timeframe for collecting these signatures must be specified in the Statute of the territorial community. It is essential that the number of signatures is not too high and the period within which they must be collected is not too short. If it is the other way around, this tool, i.e. electronic petitions, will be complicated to use and sometimes virtually impossible.

People must also know the possibility of submitting or signing a petition and have specific knowledge and skills.

– How and who came up with the idea to cooperate with the city authorities on this issue?

– The idea of the mayor’s order, which we jointly developed, came about during the implementation of the project “Khmilnyk Community – Friendly for Everyone.” Our organization implemented it with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation (IRF), as well as within the framework of the project “Laboratories for Creative Dialogue in Communities” implemented by the Association of Ukrainian Civic Initiatives with the support of U-LEAD with Europe. The Khmilnyk community and 120 other communities in Ukraine participated in this project.

During the implementation of these projects, we identified many problems in the community that needed to be addressed. It discussed all this with government officials and the public.

– What results can the community expect from this initiative?

– In short, we want to achieve the following results:

1. Reduce the number of signatures required to support electronic petitions in our community.

2. Increase the capacity of city council officials to respond to civic initiatives using the tools of local democracy.

3. Increase the capacity of community members, including civil society institutions, to use local democracy tools in their interactions with the authorities.

4. Prepare several media materials to popularize local democracy tools in the community.

To achieve these results, we plan to hold the following events in the Khmilnyk community:

  • Analyze whether structural subdivisions of the city council have specialists responsible for working with local democracy tools.
  • Based on the analysis results, appoint persons responsible for working with local democracy tools in the structural units of the city council.
  • Develop a training program for persons responsible for working with local democracy tools in the structural units of the city council.
  • Conduct training for such city council specialists.
  • Hold roundtable consultations on reducing the votes required to support an electronic petition.
  • Develop a relevant draft resolution of the city council to reduce the votes required to support an electronic petition and submit it to the city council for consideration.
  • Conduct training for representatives of civil society institutions operating in the Khmilnyk community on participating in decision-making processes using local democracy tools.
  • Conduct training for active community members, including IDPs, on participating in decision-making processes using local democracy tools.
  • Develop a series of media materials (online publications and videos) on local democracy tools and disseminate them on the official website of Khmilnyk City Council, on the websites of partner organizations, and social media.

All these events are to be held by the end of 2023. They will take place both in the city council building and, I assume, some of them (for example, training) in our humanitarian hub “Murashnyk” (Anthill)*.

– At what stage are the activities you listed now? Do you know if any of the planned activities already took place?

– A working group has been set up at the city council to oversee the implementation of all these measures. It includes, among others, representatives of our NGO “Pravo” – myself and Olena Chernii, a colleague from another local NGO “Our Challenge”, and city council representatives.

The working group has already analyzed whether the city council’s structural units have specialists responsible for working with local democracy tools and developed a training program for officials and community members.

To date, we have already held a roundtable discussion on reducing the number of signatures supporting an electronic petition. This requires deputies to amend the Statute of the territorial community, so we are preparing a draft decision to make these changes.

Vitalii Dorokh and Olena Chernii during a roundtable discussion on reducing the number of signatures supporting electronic petitions. Photo: NGO “Pravo”.

We also started training for officials and have already held two sessions. During these sessions, the participants analyzed the first level of interaction with the public – informing, analyzed publications with a “do not do” list, practising preparing clear information messages, identifying information channels available to representatives of different target audiences, and choosing convenient communication tools.

During the training, officials were taught how to build communication so that the authorities could be heard, understood, and respond to initiatives, projects, or events. Photo: NGO “Pravo”.

– What else will representatives of the NGO “Pravo” do as part of this initiative?

– We are essentially volunteers in this initiative. But we have committed ourselves to regulatory and legal regulation of all processes. For example, we will moderate the round table I mentioned above.

We will develop a draft decision of the city council to amend the Statute of the territorial community to reduce the number of signatures supporting an electronic petition, and we will advocate for this decision since Olena Chernii is a city council member.

We have also developed training programs for officials and members of the territorial community on this topic (I mean local democracy tools) and will conduct the training ourselves.

*Read also: «Murashnyk» of good deeds: from legal aid to gardening lessons.

The material was created with the support of the international charity platform GlobalGiving and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The publication’s content is solely the responsibility of the Legal Development Network.

P. S. More relevant information on legal and humanitarian issues – is in the special section #StandWithUkraine. It accumulates materials that may be useful to those who suffer, whose rights are violated as a result of the war between russia and Ukraine.

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