Participation as a pathway to drinking water: engaging the public in the developing countries

by Participation Factory

Participation is a new field that is gradually becoming a trend of our time. Thanks to systematic participation, the leadership of any local authority can transform its politics into a more transparent one. At the same time, the general public benefits by being thoroughly informed and by being able to engage in concrete actions. Development of a local community requires to consider the needs and preferences of the local population. For politicians, participation brings active citizens with whom they can actively discuss their plans. Last but not least, it helps to avoid potential conflicts through the timely and consistent involvement of all the key stakeholders. 

Participation is like many other trends often driven forward by Western cities and local governments. Examples include the pan-European Conference on the Future of Europe or the continuous participatory planning and decision-making in the Portuguese seaside city of Cascais. However, participation can also have an enormous positive impact in developing countries. Participatory planning helps to create better control mechanisms for combating corruption and, above all, to increase the efficiency of the budgeting around various agendas that directly affect the population of a given area. 

This is the route taken by the Shama district of Ghana by the Gulf of Guinea. The area is a home to numerous fishermen and farmers. Shama has joined the OGP Local (Open Government Partnership) initiative in 2020. OGP Local provides support and funding to enable Shama achieve its goals and meet the commitments it set for itself. The commitments focus on environmental sustainability, access to potable water, and increasing citizen participation (whether the general public or specific demographic groups) in governance.

The commitments of Shama:

  • Ensure citizens participation in provision of portable water to communities and creating clean environment
  • Increase Citizens’ Access to Information
  • Increase participation of citizens in governance (including planning, budgeting and implementation)
  • Enhancing participation of women and persons with disability in governance
  • Enhance community benefits in the extractive industry (i.e. quarry operations)

Participation is the crossroad of various agendas addressed by any local government. It is possible to notice that engagement of the public is a part of most commitments, even though their themes are different. This observation is important for the systematic setting of participation in local government. As participation is an integral part of most agendas, participatory processes need to be set up in the same way across the whole local community, and in a way that is as habitual and accessible as possible for the local staff who will use them. 

First, it is necessary to find out the current setup of planning processes. How are individual employees used to working? Do they involve the general or specialized public in their decisions? Which key stakeholders are usually invited into decision-making processes and how? What type of data is collected and how is it subsequently used? Does the local government have sufficient human capacity and what is the current know-how?

These are the questions from which Shama started making its first step toward systematic and sustainable participatory planning in the local community. Participation Factory is leading this process, starting with a diagnostics of the institutional needs and existing conditions. Thanks to the diagnostics, it will be possible to define needs for capacity building and identify rules for the most effective use of participatory processes. It will enable the region to easily and systematically collect valuable relevant data from the public, as well as from local institutions, organizations, and other key stakeholders. This data will make the needs of the local population much more understandable and will show the government of Shama how to meet them. 

It is important to remember participation is not just a trendy political move, but an effective inclusive means of engaging and listening to the unmet needs of different communities, whether they are Ukrainian refugees fleeing war, senior citizens in a wealthy Western European city, or fishermen in Ghana. The biggest difference is the importance of building local teams that work on the ground in developing countries because you cannot reach Ghanaian fishermen on the phone.