Citizen engagement: the wall….


As this sculpture, citizens are part of the “wall” that represents governmental institutions, however they face real burdens at time to give feedback and demand for accountability in critical political moments. Is it here that a real brick wall appears before them mainly because of cultural reasons. Indeed, societies -especially those ones with high levels of corruption- has a predisposition to establish a strong distance from the citizenship by limited or restricted information. A code of behaviour is created under the idea of the State as a “superpower” that is above the citizens and is it there to rule their lives without involving citizens as part of that structure and as owners of the process.

Is for those reasons that mechanisms of citizen engagement are mainly about changing  political cultural behaviour (from citizens and authorities) and entering in an era where citizens feel “empowerment” and “go ahead” with confidence and determination in their demands towards the government. That is the real challenge and should be the new focus: be inserted on that wall, not bring it down. The struggle is centred in being part of the structure and not play against it. Strategically, in political terms being the opposition part of official institutions is profitable and a way to gain votes in an easy and irresponsible manner, although the real changes comes from a joint action and a constant attitude of negotiation.
We need to change cultural citizen behaviour prior to develop feedback mechanisms.
Is it true that feedback is one the main tools for a correct exercise of involvement of the citizenship however, I disagree with the implementation of this valued resource. Citizenship does not belong to the governmental structure is an essential part of it, and should be part in the decision making process as the main actor generator of the whole system.

The own government structure -institutions and civil servants- has built a culture of rigidity that shape and transmit the image of inaccessibility. This stage of big walls of distance and intolerance with the real owners of the process (citizens) despite legitimate demands from them, has as a consequence the limitation of citizens participation, hence in transparency and accountability.

It is just for cultural reasons that the citizens get that wrong feeling that are being “invited” to participate. Giving feedback is necessary but from a different angle that has been done so far: the angle of ownership and the conviction that could erase any decision that goes against their interests. Unfortunately this does not happen.
In most of the cases we see how politicians break campaign promises or adopt legislation that go against essential rights of the citizenship (work, housing, education, etc) with no accountability process at all. Leaving process on transparency and accountability to especial media cases.

The raise of popular movements that took citizens to the streets after the financial crisis (like 15M in Madrid, Spain) shows that there is no room for a fruitful negotiation or/and feedback but also a feeling of vulnerability. All elements unacceptable in a rule of law basis.

For a real engagement of citizens it´s very important to overcome the culture side in which citizens do not feel their membership. Even in a country with acceptable levels of good governance, to show political could also be a challenge. A country with low levels of corruption and stability creates an enabling environment, but is it not true that just with good governance we overcome the negative feeling of not being part of the system. That´s the main reason why feedback comes as a second stage in which citizens feel and perceive governmental structure as part of it. Here relies the challenge:empowerment of citizens, a goal not just for the own government but -and fundamental- of the civil society.
Organisations from civil society plays a very important role in boost initiatives that tend to involve citizens in their decisions therefore for starting an open and flexible communication channel. It is of particularly mention the role of political parties as real agents of change and their responsibility for the implementation of a system enough transparent and accountable that allows citizen to be totally coupled to the brick wall of public institutions.

We need to move one step forward, by generating 1st) a real and objective feeling that citizens are owners of the process and an essential part of the government and 2d) develop tools for taking feedback as a main tool of citizen engagement. Only from that basis is that citizen engagement would become a real game changer for development.





*Brad Spencer, Brick sculpture

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