In November 2020, our partner organization K-Monitor published a new study which showcases community solutions for municipalities, civil society and local communities during COVID-19 crisis. The full study can be found on their website (in Hungarian), here is the English summary.
K-Monitor, a Budapest-based anti-corruption NGO has been fighting for the transparency of public funds and against corruption since 2007. We believe that the best antidote against corruption is a society where citizens have a feeling of ownership over institutions and actively shape their communities. One year ago, following the local elections, we published a manual for local government decision makers about the importance of transparency and participatory democracy in establishing a new political culture at the local level. This publication not only promotes a new concept of local governance, but it also offers a compilation of inspirational best practices from around the globe. It covers topics such as local data management, digital administration, transparency, public consultations, citizen participation, stakeholder involvement, and consensus-building.
The coronavirus pandemic has severely hit Hungarian municipalities. The care of the elderly as well as of those in quarantine has become the responsibility of local governments, for which they have received neither professional nor financial assistance from the central government. Furthermore access to crucial data has been hindered by central agencies. Various government measures have further deteriorated the conditions for local governments to react to the challenges caused by the pandemic. They were deprived of motor vehicle taxes, tax on tourism and a part of their corporate income taxes. At the same time a decree prescribes to provide free parking and more frequent public transport services in rush hours. The coronavirus pandemic and the mentioned governmental decisions have put planned local democratic innovations on halt, but in many places they also led to instinctive bottom up responses, thus for new types of community solutions on the local level.
In 2019 K-Monitor promoted citizen participation as a tool for re-establishing trust toward local institutions and building relations with local communities that did not feel politically represented in the last decades. The lack of trust did not only affect political institutions but also social relations, the everyday interactions between members of communities. In this regard the crisis in the wake of the pandemic offered an unexpected opportunity to reach out to the power of communities. The climate of mistrust has been replaced by a constructive, solidarity-oriented attitude, especially at the local level. The values of local communities were rediscovered in the recent months, just as local networks and relationships, and other forms of cooperation that could be immediately activated when local governments had to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions. In this publication, we make an attempt to showcase what municipalities, civil society and local communities can do together to respond to the challenges caused by the pandemic and the economic crisis.
Contents of the volume:
How to organize volunteers to help municipalities?
As described, the coronavirus pandemic has turned the lives of municipalities upside down. Many municipalities have solved the care of the elderly and those in need through the involvement of volunteers and institutional reorganizations. We present how successful initiatives of municipalities, managed to organize and activate volunteers in a short time.
How to organize a public forum online?
Online meetings have also become essential for most government organizations due to the pandemic. However, organizing and facilitating online meetings differ from offline town hall events. Municipalities needed to learn how to use online consultations efficiently and find a healthy balance between online and in-person consultations. To discuss how to establish a fruitful and efficient relationship with local citizens in the online space we documented useful experiences.
Increasing number of online consultation channels: how can they become credible and effective?
As a result of the pandemic and the “Open City Hall” concept of the new local government of Budapest, e-participation channels became frequently used in the recent months. However participation should not end at introducing new digital tools, but result in a triangle of citizens, administration and politicians. This study explores how to involve a wide variety of stakeholders, the institutionalization of participation within the municipality, and the combination of online and offline mechanisms.
Deepening civil-local governmental cooperation: public policy-making spaces, service platforms
There are countless forms of cooperation between local governments and civil society actors where consultation is aimed at better public policy development and inclusive decision-making. There are also cooperative institutions, participatory processes, and legal institutions that encourage participation. This study provides examples of these by presenting civil houses in Hungary and abroad.
Participatory budgeting in Hungary: first steps
The growing number of participatory budgeting (PB) processes launched by local governments in Hungary give residents power in allocating the financial resources of their communities. Due to the pandemic and the withdrawals affecting local governments, 2020 has not been an eventful year in Hungary for PBs, despite the promise of a participative renewal made by many candidates at the 2019 local elections. In our research we present a brief overview of the state of the field.
Crowdfunding: platforms for to financially support the community
The pandemic has shown that local governments are not the only actors to provide local public goods and services and to assist those in need. In response to the effects of the COVID situation, nationwide self-organizing actions were launched by offline and online groups with the involvement of local activists, entrepreneurs, professionals, researchers, and active residents. We describe the role that crowdfunding could play in the operation of Hungarian municipalities. Furthermore we collected hints based on international best practices how local governments can utilize crowdfunding for their benefit.
NGO crisis funds: fast and flexible micro-donations within civil society
NGOs from Debrecen and Pécs, and the Roots and Wings Foundation in Budapest quickly established a crisis fund in spring 2020. NGO crisis funds, distributed small amounts of grants through a flexible approach to civic initiatives. These grants aimed to ease financial gaps that arouse from increased tasks, diminishing resources and significant changes in the activities of local civil society organizations. This expertise is a valuable asset for the future, and also serves as an important lesson for local governments in supporting civil society.
Online petition interface turns into Solidarity Network
Domestic charity organizations experienced that people living in deep poverty were among the first to lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The aHang petition portal, the Civil Collegium Foundation, and the Chance Labor Association launched a successful campaign (Még egy falat - “One more bite”) to help those living in segregates. The organizations have together created a solidarity network that mobilized a great share of 200 000 aHang supporters, as well as the community organizers of the civic organizations.
Local economic development after the COVID pandemic: foreign examples
In spring 2020 it became clear that the curfews introduced worldwide to ease the health emergency will be followed by an economic crisis. The vulnerability of our economy forces us to rethink how we organize the production and consumption of our essential goods. In this study we share international best practices for resource-deprived municipalities about sustainable economic development policies for the local level.
Opportunities for local economy in Hungary
The economic decline is particularly devastating for small and medium-sized enterprises, as they have less reserves than large international companies. We present ideas that can help the support of the local economy by local government policies and interventions.. This can range from strengthening local food systems or developing a green procurement policy to the introduction of local currencies.
The study was made in cooperation with Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Prague.