Experts and practitioners from all over Ukraine, as well as the United Kingdom, Poland, Georgia, the United States, and Portugal, took part in the V International Forum of Participation Practitioners. During November 11-13, they discussed opportunities to transform the tools of participation during the pandemic, as well as the tools to mitigate the risks it poses to democratic processes and urban development.

Among the organizers of the Forum are PLEDDG, Association of Local Self-Governments “Association of Communities Participatory Development”, the Project “Integrated Development of Ukrainian Cities II” (GIZ), Foundation for Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation PAUCI.

New challenges arise during the pandemic in many spheres of life, in particular, in ensuring the activities of local self-government and maintaining successful developments. Particular attention needs to be paid to participatory practices, such as Participatory Budgeting, as well as initiatives to ensure gender equality and social inclusion. Communities face a number of challenges in funding such projects, communicating with stakeholders, and implementing them. Three days of the Forum were devoted to discussing the possibilities of adapting participatory governance instruments to the new challenges.

At the opening of the Forum, PLEDDG Project Director Oleksandr Kucherenko said: “Five years ago, Participatory Budgeting was a novel practice for Ukrainian cities, and today, more than 250 Ukrainian cities use this tool to involve citizens in budget allocation. This indicates the need of citizens for tools of direct action and the willingness of local self-government to widely involve residents in decision-making. Therefore, PLEDDG supports the implementation of democratic open governance practices, which primarily concern the broad involvement of citizens in governance and decision-making, accountability and transparency of local self-government, and the provision of high-quality administrative services to the population.”

The format of the Forum combined the opportunities of offline communication and the benefits of online: international experts joined the moderators and speakers in the studio, and everyone could join in to watch the live stream of the event. Each day of the event was dedicated to a specific issue: how to preserve democracy during the quarantine period; how to build trust through participation; participation in action – open discussions. In search of answers to these questions, participants shared Ukrainian and foreign experience of participatory governance, studied the possibilities of digital communication to ensure sustainable development of participation, analyzed approaches to reducing the impact of the pandemic on the practice of broad public involvement at the local level.

Representatives of local self-government bodies, public organizations, and experts from Dnipro, Zhytomyr, Lviv, Severodonetsk, Pervomaisk, and other cities took part in the Forum as speakers. Lively discussions took place around the key points of participatory governance in Ukraine: open communication between the government and the public, competitive selection of projects for funding, the possibility of implementing projects during the pandemic.

Leonid Donos, Executive Director of the Association of Communities Participatory Development, commented: “Once again, the Forum proved itself to be a powerful platform for the exchange of experience and best practices between a wide range of experts and those who are just beginning their careers. An important positive consequence of this Forum is the networking of participatory practitioners, including the association with international experts – new collaborations are being formed, which I am sure will bring new positive results.”

The results of the Forum and the feedback of the participants made it possible to see the urgent demand of the society to preserve the progress of participatory governance in the face of the worldwide pandemic. Citizens are ready to take responsibility, unite, and improve their districts, cities, communities, while local governments, in turn, demonstrate the ability to master new tools of governance and openness to dialogue. PLEDDG supports this bilateral process and promotes opportunities for cooperation and effective participatory solutions in Ukrainian communities.