Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Public Participation

I am increasingly becoming skeptical about the topic of participation
and most recently the idea of strategic planning. These are effective
tools for politicians to engage the citizenry, either to encourage
more votes or to pacify angry constituencies. Often types the same
people participate in open forums and neighborhood town hall meetings.
Additionally, the “new” topic of strategic planning has also become
politicized. Often I see elected officials set up policy goals with
the SP as a way to carry their agenda into the next administration or
further since the plans are 25-50 years in to the future.

For example if you look more closely at Rosario and Rafaela, two of my
dissertation cases studies in Argentina, in their efforts at
participatory budgeting. Honestly a fantastic idea on paper, but in
practice often difficult to accomplish. In Rosario, for example, the
whole PB process, although the staff has 4-10 people working, manages
less than 5 percent of the budget or so, to implement citizen
initiatives. There is interesting work in this regard as to why so
little is spent. Follow-up on what has been spent and the reporting on
this is very time consuming for a busy municipality.

Additionally, the funding mechanisms and how the municipality has
operationalize the assignments is also somewhat interesting. These
municipalities use transversal reporting mechanisms to manage funds
from for example the public works budgets already established by the
finance director for that year. Essentially, they encourage another
department to set up a water station, improve a park or pave a street
and report on it by using propaganda type materials to say the
municipality is meeting the citizens needs. Essentially, I question
why the municipality doesn’t have more direct reporting in the first
place with their community? Why not published annual reports with all
contracting and road improvements, financial reports sent out or
published for citizens to see the municipality in action?

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