Civic Activism - Oversight and Public Policy Tools
The Civic Activism awards have been made and the eight groups will be using a variety of civic activism tools. We'll be looking at these in a series of blogs, last up it is Oversight and Pubic Policy Tools.
Public oversight of government programmes, spending and general activities is perhaps one of the most important functions in a healthy democracy.
The Trust and Involve have put together a list of three handy resources for ensuring government does not operate in the dark.
Alternative Budget Initiatives
This tool involves a range of civil society organisations coming together to analyse an existing budget, explore both the negative and positive impacts on specific groups, challenge government on specific items and often develop a parallel budget.
As with the other budgeting toolkits, publicity is key to the alternative budget initiative, and the organisations involved often arrange public discussions or educational outreach on their work. See budget tools link above for more information.
This is a tool in which a topical issue – for example, an issue being put to a referendum – is visually mapped out on a website, allowing users to see the pros, cons, and trade-offs inherent in the deliberation. The website will list a range of ballot measures, and users can click on a measure to read a brief description, analysis and fact-checks. Similar to the deliberative mapping tool, they can add their own list of pros and cons, and can return to the site at a later date to alter their position, which enables the tracking of public opinion over time.
This is a free and open-source platform that creates a temporal and geospatial archive of events. The core platform allows for the gathering of information from the general public in near-real time. This is particularly useful for places that are not well covered in the mainstream media, and it was first used to map incidents of violence and peace efforts during the 2007 Kenya elections.
It was also used by Al-Jazeera to follow Ugandans response to the #Kony2012 campaign, and has been used by the Occupy movement for a number of years. The tool can be used by online and offline, but it tends to involve predominantly online communities for monitoring and gathering evidence in crisis situations.
There is some crossover between the public policy tool category and other categories, with specific tools such as citizen science, Ushahidi crowdmapping and deliberately mapping being applicable to more than one category. But also included the public policy tool kit are resources such as the citizen juries tool.
This is a participatory process by which issues of local or national concern are deliberated upon by citizens after hearing from ‘expert witnesses’ – much like a regular jury would in a court of law.
And, like a regular jury, a citizen jury is made up of a small but demographically representative and randomly selected group of citizens who spend several days on hearing information on the particular issue.
They then agree a solution or recommendation, which is passed on to the relevant decision makers. This tool was used in 2001 in India, where it gave farmer and rural dwellers a voice in the government’s plan to reshape farm policy. Closer to home, the PeopleTalk project was launched in Ireland in 2013, with the aim of better organizing government to serve its citizens and to give citizens a greater say in public service provision.
Community Visioning was first developed to tackle a major air pollution problem in Tennessee in the late 1960’s. Used to great effect, the city of Chattanooga has since developed a large number of visioning programmes and their models are now used elsewhere in the world. The basic principle behind visioning is to develop a collaborative process between citizens, government, industry and/or civil society organisations that then develops an action plan, or vision, for how to improve a particular problem. The basic process might involve the formation of a co-ordination group, workshops to develop the vision, goal and strategy development and ultimately the implementation of an action plan that is then monitored and evaluated.
Planning cells are a tool best used with small groups to develop solutions to problems that present multiple possible solutions exist and there is not a high degree of contention surrounding the issue.
Bringing together groups of around 25 randomly selected members of the public, the planning cells process essentially asks them to act as public consultants and develop solutions to the problems at hand. Usually used to deliberate on matters of government funding, civic programmes and political institutions, the process involves three distinct phases – from set up and information gathering, to discussions and development of recommendations and finally a vote on those recommendations.
Conversely, the Public Conversations Project Dialogue (PCP Dialogue) are best used for exploring divisive topics that are resistant to compromise and often deeply rooted in identity, values and worldviews. These types of issue often stand in the way of a cooperative and constructive interaction within a community.
Scenario Workshops are another tool that aims to encourage participation in the public policy process. Best used when exploring multi-faceted community-based issues rather than single issue, for example a project that’s looking into developing sustainable communities by a local council. Typically the workshops involve between 16 and 30 participants made up from various stakeholder groups – informed citizens, government officials, experts and business people.
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