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Problems and Purpose
The European Local Democracy Week (ELDW) is an annual process of events held in Europe to foster local and national participation and to increase public political knowledge and capacity. During the 2010 ELDW over 4000 towns, cities and villages in European countries participated by offering a number of events and activities open to citizens.
Background History and Context
Founded in 2007, this relatively new event occurs every year around October 15th to commemorate the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which was signed on that date in 1985.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
ELDW is a joint initiative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the European Committee on Local and Regional Democracy.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
All events and activities held by local and national officials and bodies are open to members of the public.
Methods and Tools Used
The Local Democracy Week process is united by the goals of inclusion, dialogue and deliberation, and knowledge sharing and translation. While the specific types of events vary from year to year and location to location, approaches generally include information capaigns, public debates and forums, open-house events at government or public service buidlings, and youth-focussed programming. Typically the types of methods to use for these events are designed and planned over the preceding year.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
ELDW 2010 had a theme of “the impact of sustainable communities in fighting climate change”. Throughout the continent local authorities offered a number of information/communication events allowing citizens to exchange information and learn more about the subject specifically focusing on the issues of transport and mobility, waste management, using renewable energy sources, saving water and biodiversity. In Paris for example, the Directorate of Parks and the Environment organized a “nature bus” in various parks and gardens. Residents of Paris could visit the nature bus to learn more about the City authorities’ proposed participatory strategy for drawing up a Biodiversity Plan. In the city of Portsmouth, UK the free “Fight Climate Change Poster Competition” was held. The competition, aimed at children, called for designs that encouraged other children to do something that would fight climate change. 452 submissions were entered featuring a variety of climate related topics such as saving water energy or using more eco-friendly transportation. Greece joined the climate change fight as well in the municipality of Lerapetra by offering a number of events aimed at informing the public. The hosted a seminar where a ELDW coordinator presented the ELDW institution, the role of the Council of Europe, and activities of the 2010 ELDW in regard to sustainable development. Also hosted was an open conference with exhibitions for informing the public of the renewable energy systems and creating a more sustainable community.
During the 2010 ELDW the Havering London Burrough showed exemplary organization of events promoting citizen-elected representative contact. Political speed dating along with an interactive blog was used to promote citizen and council exchanges. The speed dating event offered citizens a few minutes to ask councilors about any topic they wished and discuss their own views and concerns with officials. Havering also set up a day where Members of the Cabinet were at the local Market place to talk and listen to residents about issues, concerns and the community. Another successful tool used was a blog written by Council Leader Michael White where local residents could respond with their own comments on the borough and receive feedback from White. The blog received a considerable amount of traffic.
The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NIGLA) heavily encouraged youth participation in their celebration ELDW 2010. The NIGLA Local Democracy Week is aimed specifically at youth in an effort to dispel political apathy and make them more informed. At the Council Chamber at the Palace Demesne 28 students took the role of Local Councilor and participated in a Council Meeting. Officers from the local Council put forth information and then asked students how they thought services and strategies could be improved, sparking a healthy discussion. Topics included were an Annual Events Program, Partnership Working, Rural Strategy, Waste and Recycling and Communications. In the Dugannon and South Dugannon Borough Council students and Councilors participated in political speed dating where, like the Havering residents, students had the opportunity to share their views and expectations of Council and what they saw as prominent issues. Also, after delivering speeches to the council, one student was selected as “Mayor of the Day” and had the chance to accompany the current mayor to a public event.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Through the events held, citizens became more deliberative, especially in the case of forums, debates and other activities which allowed citizens to interact with each other and elected officials (such as the Harvering, London events). The information learned through information/communication activities also ensures future deliberation is more effective.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The ELDW introduces various beneficial aspects to local communities. It provides invaluable opportunities and education which serve to promote more local political participation and instill in youth the idea of local democracy at a young age. Communities are brought together under the ELDW and it allows more citizens to be heard. At the local level examples of ELDW vary, but many local authorities could make improvements by holding more events and putting more effort into the week. The regions that take the time to do a lot of planning such as NIGLA, as mentioned above, have a very successful week that youth, adults and even government can walk away from having benefited greatly. At the level of the Council of Europe improvements can be made by more promotion of the week. The organizers of the week have done an exceptional job thus far as they have over 47 countries that participate, but that means they have to market the week extra hard to countries that still haven’t made the effort. They might consider taking their promotion to a local level as some countries have committed to celebrating the week but specific local governments of that country choose not to hold events.
European Congress, "ELDW 2010: Launch of activities in over 100 European towns and cities," 10/11/2010 https://rm.coe.int/168071f892
Simone Pekelsma, "European Democracy Week," 06/11/2010