But before we talk about it, what is Regional Hub?
As we all know, democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkan region is at the crossroads. Our countries face internal threats from ineffective policy-making to the rise of populist movements. There are also such external threats as aggression and other security threats such as cybercrime and disinformation. The ongoing war in Ukraine created an urgent need for cooperation and coordination across the region as actors try to provide support to millions of Ukrainian refugees and Ukrainian governmental and non-governmental organizations, and civil society.
Of course, there are already some actors working on improving governance methods and proofing our institutions from current threats. Yet, their work is often fragmented and there is little of know-how exchange.
Otherwise, conversations about good governance and democracy innovation are often dominated by the countries of the Global North. So, a lot of local context gets lost rendering some methodologies ineffective. This is why a global hub for democracy, People Powered, and its members decided to launch two Regional Hubs to connect and empower local actors and provide them with an opportunity to develop context-specific solutions and find points of cooperation and exchange of best practices.
One of the regions selected was Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and Participation Factory is currently coordinating its work. Our goal is to walk the walk of participation, so in order to create a relevant strategy we engaged all 12 current member organizations from 10 countries and asked them questions about their current political climate, challenges, and needs. These conversations, a survey, and a workshop conducted helped us see what the region wants to focus on. We have presented the outcomes of this process to our members on September 29th, 2022 where 20 people from members and potential member organizations joined to listen about where we are at.
Let’s not forget that our region spans over 20 countries with various levels of democracy consolidation and public participation. In some countries citizen engagement and public participation are a completely new topic while other countries have significant experience with it. Nevertheless, our process revealed that in our social and political context, the core issues are fragile democracy and lack of political will to engage with participatory processes. Yet even in cases when the governments were willing to explore the path of participation, mistrust in governmental institutions and low level of government’s know-how in the field of participation create obstacles to establishing an effective participatory process.
So, obviously members wanted to address the issue of democracy fragility and focus on how we can assess the local governments’ levels of preparedness for participation and support them in growing further. In addition to this, they have also noted that there is an increasing need to engage in climate change and sustainability discussions through the use of participatory tools. Our members also talked about working on an issue of participation in times of war and for integration of refugees as those are extremely important issues in light of the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine. Lastly, following the current trend of digitalisation, many of our members recognised the importance of engaging in the topic of Civic Tech and digital participation.
Of course, many great ideas have been generated, among which are creating a playbook on how to approach assessment of the governments’ preparedness for participation, a map of local organizations and their projects, and a local version of the Digital Platforms Ratings published by People Powered. As expected, capacity building ranked high in the list of suggestions as there is always something to learn from our peers especially since Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans region does not provide a lot of opportunities for exchange and learning. However, members of the Hub have stressed time and time again that the most important thing for them is for the Hub to focus on doing practical projects. As said by one of the members, “[The value of Regional Hub] should be that it is more direct and closer to home!”
At the moment, some of those proposals have been submitted for the overall People Powered planning process while other ideas are being distilled into a concrete action plan for 2022-2023 that we will invite our members to provide feedback on.
So, isn’t it exciting to see what concrete step forward we’ll make in the next year?
You can still be a part of the planning process if you choose to join our Regional Hub now! To learn more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org