Miskolc, the fourth largest city in Hungary, held the city's first citizens' assembly on how to improve the city's air quality in autumn 2021.
Problems and Purpose
Just as Eastern Europe is still separated from Western Europe by a smog curtain, the situation regarding the quality of air is worse in North Eastern Hungary and Miskolc than it is in other parts of Hungary. Solving this problem is not only a challenge for the Municipality and local residents, it also holds opportunities. If they can find a way to improve local air quality this will have a beneficial effect on the life quality of those living in Miskolc and will decrease the emission levels of the city.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The first citizens assembly in Miskolc was organized by DemNet and the Miskolc based NGO, Dialóg Egyesület, in cooperation with the Municipality of Miskolc . The project was co-funded by the Municipality of Miskolc and the donors of DemNet. DemNet was responsible for the process design,the overall coordination, and the sortition. DemNet is an independent NGO that was established in 1996 and its mission is to promote cross-sectoral dialogue and active citizenship, fight inequality, and strengthen global solidarity and partnership,. The objective of Dialóg Association is to develop the settlements and small regions of Northern Hungary and the areas across the border with a large Hungarian population in order to strengthen social innovation through community development methods. They are working to strengthen the local population's capacity to assert its interests, the local public, local society, and improve the quality of life by building on the resources of the local population.
Methods and Tools Used
Members of the citizens’ assembly were selected through a two-stage random selection process. Firstly, the Ministry of Interior provided the Municipality of Miskolc with the data of 10000 randomly selected Miskolc residents, who were sent an invitation to register. From those who registered for the event DemNet randomly selected 50 people in a way that guaranteed that the makeup of the Assembly would eventually mirror the adult population of Miskolc based on gender, age groups, level of education and districts of Miskolc. An open-source software, developed by the Polish partner organization of DemNet, the Center of Climate Assemblies, was used for the sortition, which was live streamed online.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
How could local air be improved? - That is the question 50 randomly selected citizens were trying to find an answer to collectively over the course of two weekends (2021 September 18-19 and October 1-2.) during Miskolc’s first - and Hungary’s second - citizens’ assembly organized jointly by DemNet, Dialóg Egyesület and the Municipality of Miskolc. The participants consulted several experts and stakeholders on the topic of air pollution. and discussed the topic s in smaller groups with the help of experienced facilitators. During the second weekend, following a joint deliberation, the Assembly made more than thirty recommendations related to improving local air quality. Seven were chosen from these by secret ballot.The ones that received the most votes were discussed in detail by the members of the Assembly, they were drawn out in detail and eventually became a part of the set of recommendations handed over to the Municipality. After careful consideration the Citizens’ Assembly recommended that the Municipality reconsider its public transportation system, that it launches a direct communication campaign and a program to increase green urban areas, that it establishes a North-South direction electronic public transportation system, that it improves the infrastructure for pedestrians and people who get around on their bikes, that it sets up a network of one-stop energy consultancy offices and finally, that it launches a pilot project enabling the replacement of inefficient furnaces.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
According to a representative survey conducted after the Assembly, 47 percent of the residents of the city said they had heard that there was a citizens’ assembly in Miskolc in the autumn of 2021. A majority (62 percent) of Miskolc residents supported the idea that the Municipality had decided to involve residents in the preparation of decisions linked to local air quality through a citizens’ assembly. Only 12 percent of the respondents disapproved of this. 64 percent said they believe that the Municipality will make better choices in the future regarding decisions affecting local air quality because it will take into consideration the proposals made by the Citizens’ Assembly. Echoing the sentiment expressed by the participants of the Citizens’ Assembly, the majority (81 percent) of people who took part in the survey also agreed that in a democracy it is very important to ensure that citizens have a chance to weigh in on decisions regarding the most important issues.
One of the steps the Municipality took right after the Assembly was to appoint so called climate ambassadors from the members of the Assembly. Over a dozen people were chosen and given the task of spreading the collective knowledge gained through the Assembly and helping the implementation of the recommendations. Each climate ambassador had volunteered for the job. Throughout the year they visited schools, held talks and helped build networks.
Three months after the Assembly, the Municipality of Miskolc accepted a participation strategy which specifically states that they wish to hold citizen’s assemblies regularly in the future in order to facilitate citizen participation.
A year after the Assembly, the Municipality published a detailed report containing all seven of the recommendations and the level (or lack) of success they had had in implementing each one of them.