When click does the trick
OSCE Mission in Kosovo introduces online communication platform in municipalities to increase public participation
A long list of requests ranging from fixing the neighborhood playgrounds, parks, roads and pavements to extending the bus lines appears as you scroll down the Digital Platform for Public Participation websites of the Kosovo municipalities of Prishtinë/Priština and Gjakovë/Ðakovica.
The digital platform, funded by the OSCE Mission in Kosovo and designed in consultation with the two municipalities, was launched in November 2016. Since then, the residents have been able to use a tailored online communication tool to flag problems and seek solutions from their municipalities.
“This platform increases transparency and obliges the municipality to deal with concrete requests of citizens and plan the budget accordingly"
Shpend Ahmeti, mayor of Prishtinë/Priština
In a little over three months, citizens in the Prishtinë/Priština municipality have already filed more than 72 requests through the platform. Most of them concern issues affecting daily life in their neighborhoods.
Dren Ukmata, a young man from Prishtinë/Priština, used the platform soon after it went online to ask the municipality to fix a road and a parking lot in his Ulpiana neighborhood. “I don’t have time to send written requests to the municipality; it’s faster if I do it with a few clicks,” he says. Indeed, two weeks after his entry, the municipality answered that his request was deemed justified and the repair of the road had been added to the regular work plan.
Practical tool for increasing public engagement
Muhedin Nushi, the director of administration in the municipality of Prishtinë/Priština, is pleased to see so many citizens using the platform. “Some of requests received are already foreseen as municipal projects, while others are being considered and analyzed by respective departments for 2018 budget planning,” he says. He points to an additional feature of the platform:
“Citizens can view the municipal projects that are planned for their neighborhoods and vote for the ones they consider most important.”
“Not only can they vote for projects foreseen by the municipality, they can also view and vote for the requests of their fellow residents, giving municipal authorities a hint of where their priorities lie,” says Aferdita Pustina, Project Officer at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.
“We wanted to create a long-lasting and practical tool that would facilitate communication between municipal authorities and residents and contribute to the increase of public participation. This is an important element of good governance and democracy,” she explains.
“We chose Prishtinë/Priština and Gjakovë/Ðakovica as the pilot municipalities for this ambitious project because both had a track record of being responsive to the public,” she adds.
Traditional versus new way of communication
Indeed, both municipalities claim to have already had well-functioning channels of communication with their residents. Nushi mentions the regular public hearings held in Prishtinë/Priština. Armend Vokshi of the Gjakovë/Ðakovica directorate of administration and personnel points to his municipality’s policy of openness: “We accept all requests from the public. Until now, residents had to file their requests physically. The digital platform makes it easier for them to access us.”
“This platform assists us to promote transparency standard, increase inclusiveness in the decision making and it strengthens mechanisms for continuation of an essential process for democracy, accountability of our elected representatives no matter who is elected in office."
Mimoza Kusari-Lila, Mayor of Gjakovë/Ðakovica
“But we need to do more to promote it,” he says, adding that leaflets, brochures and radio and television spots advertising the platform are in the pipeline.
“Meanwhile,” he says, “we are carefully reviewing all the requests received.”
Pustina agrees more needs to be done to promote the platform, although, she says, considering this is a new and very specific tool, the start has been quite good with over 7,000 visits to the site since its launch.
Young people do seem to prefer the digital way of communicating. Ukmata says: “More residents can raise issues and problems that bother them online – as compared to public hearing, meetings and petitions - since everyone has access and it’s more practical.”
Keeping the momentum
In addition to funding the digital platforms, the OSCE Mission made sure the launch went smoothly by training officials of both municipalities to handle requests in a two-day course. “We guided officials step-by-step through using the platform and reviewing submissions. We showed them ways to collaborate productively with residents – to join discussions or post official policy,” says Pustina.
Over 50 officials and 17 neighborhood representatives of Prishtinë/Priština and 40 officials of Gjakovë/Ðakovica were trained in using the digital platform.
She says the Mission is happy with the platform’s start, but that the real challenge will be to make it sustainable, used by the public, managed by the municipalities and ideally monitored by civil society organizations. “We’ve had informal requests to extend the platform to other municipalities, but first we need to finish evaluating results in the pilot municipalities.” If used correctly, the digital platform is a great tool for furthering active citizenship and meaningful public participation in decision–making, Pustina adds.