A participatory process was initiated by the Municipality of Buonconvento in Tuscany, Italy to engage citizens in proposing updates to the town's Structural Plan. The local administration committed to taking into account the proposals or explaining why they departed from them.
Problems and Purpose
Between February and March 2009, the Municipality of Buonconvento (Tuscany, Italy) carried out the participatory process [email protected] aimed at updating its Structural Plan; it decided to do so by involving its population in order to solve some critical situations, dealing with 'urban accessibility'.
Background History and Context
The need to change the Structural Plan (approved in 1998) was due to unsolved structural matters of the town, within the context of the negative socioeconomic situation of 2008. In fact, the center of Buonconvento is divided in two zones by an important national road and the Cassino-Siena railway. Moreover, there had been several floodings in the countryside. The participatory process was aimed at identifying problems as perceived by citizens and solving them with citizens' cooperation: their proposals would later be taken into consideration by the local administrators in drafting the modified Structural Plan.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The process was funded by the Administration of Buonconvento with 7,000 euro and by the Regional Authority for the Promotion of Participation (APP) with 26,000 euro on the basis of law no. 69/07 promoting citizen engagement in local decision making processes.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The first phase involved teachers and students of the primary and secondary schools, joined with handicapped children of the daytime center 'Poderuccio', who were helped by educational assistants. During this phase, questionnaires were distributed to the population, in different points of the town (public market, supermarket, the main square) over several days. The second phase saw the participation of randomly selected citizens, who previously received a letter, signed by the city Mayor, explaining the reasons for the process and inviting them to take part in its workshops. Moreover, single workshops were also open to self-selected citizens, who become acquainted with the project thanks to information on the local press and to announcements posted in several points in town, such as shops, squares, and public offices. These measures guaranteed that public meetings would be attended by a consistent number of people (the first information meeting was only attended by a few people).
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The process was articulated in two phases. The first—in February 2009 ([email protected])—was dedicated to broadly identifying the contents of the Plan; special attention was given to the involvement of weaker members of society (such as handicapped individuals). The opinions of the population were captured through interviews, including video-interviews with citizens and immigrants living in Buonconvento. Children were accompanied in a preliminary walk throughout the center of town, in order to identify their perception regarding the places where they spend time playing with friends. The target here was, on one hand, to assess places they feel to be unsafe, and on the other hand, to understand what they like in the central part of town. In addition, parents were also given the opportunity to get involved through interviews. Moreover, students of the secondary school carried out a realistic simulation of a town Council, during which they recreated a debate between the local politicians and stakeholders
During the second phase ([email protected]) in March, citizens were invited to participate in four workshops, open to anyone interested. During a preliminary meeting, the process and its aims were presented and some technical information about the Plan was provided. Three other meetings were structured as workshops, focusing on specific urban issues, namely:
- Urban accessibility and street crossing
- Agricultural territory, environment and landscape
- Commercial and entrepreneurial activities and services
They took place in a large room of the municipal building; a very large table allowed people to work together, using town maps to raise issues. Politicians decided not to participate in such workshops, in order to let people express themselves freely, indicating critical situations and formulating suggestions, thus providing valuable information for drafting the Structural Plan.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
A last meeting took place in April, during which the Mayor presented the two documents originated in the two above mentioned phases of the process: the "School Community Manifesto" and the "Chart of Strategies and Opportunities". The Mayor, following Regional Law no. 69/07, officially took the responsibility of putting into practice the proposals that emerged from the participatory process (or, should this not be the case, the Administration would explain the reasons why people's suggestions had not been followed). In fact, in January 2010 the Administration wrote a document assessing the extent to which the Plan actually took into account peoples' proposals.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Notwithstanding the widespread satisfaction expressed by citizens with regard to the participatory process in the questionnaires, some problems emerged during the workshops. The first problem was the tension created by the approaching administrative elections in June 2009. The candidate of the opposition showed up during a workshop criticizing the process. This greatly affected the workshop specifically dedicated to commercial and entrepreneurial activities and services. Fortunately, facilitators manged the process and solved matters as they arose. Also, some teachers raised objections to involving their students because the activity was not foreseen in the educational program for that year. The most important factor contributing to the success of the project was the firm belief of the Administration in involving citizens in the decision making process—in fact, the Mayor himself took part in a training meeting promoted by the Regional Participation Authority in order to understand how such processes should be carried out.
Muncipality's Final Report on [email protected] [BROKEN LINK]