Democracy on “Quarantine”? How local democracy tools worked out
On Thursday, July 15, 2021, the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting (IER) in the framework of the EU-funded project “People for Democracy” and the project “COVID-19 impact on the effective collaboration between CSO with regional authority in Ukraine”, financed by the International Renaissance Foundation, hold an online discussion “Democracy on “Quarantine”? How local democracy tools worked out”. During the discussion, IER presented research results “Instruments for local democracy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
“For the European Union research on local democracy issues is very significant in the framework of cooperation with Ukraine”, pointed out Sinziana Poiana, head of Civil Society Support Program, EU Delegation to Ukraine. Since the EU maintains and advances democracy on all levels and promotes constructive dialog with the local authority and civil society, feedback analysis presented is substantial and useful monitoring compliance on civil society development – resumed Sinziana Poiana.
Research pointed out that in most cases pandemic does not block citizens’ access to the instruments of local democracy and authority, although some interaction forms were restricted. Authority managed to provide online communication channels with people.
The introduction of e-democracy elements before COVID-19 helped Ukraine, as well as other countries, to adapt to working in the quarantine restrictions. Pandemic even speeded up the digitalisation process.
During 2020, the local community interacted with authority moreover through online and by telephone – hotlines continued working and new-created. Appeal from citizens ended by March 2020 and was restored by time but in some of the communities, it is not still working.
Voting for budget projects was as usual (online and offline), but as of decreasing budget revenues, public councils shrunk or just did not increase local projects financing.
Financial capabilities and traditions of public councils affected on appeals of citizens. Receiving citizens personally, as it used to be before, decreased, but at the same time, the amount of such appeals grew up in the regions that introduced hotlines from the very beginning of the pandemic. Generally, the significant increase of online appeals is mostly in all regions observed.
In 2020, the number of public councils’ meetings significantly reduced. Effective were those who implemented electronic means of communication and worked remotely.
Stanislav Yukhemenko, IER Junior Research Fellow and the author of the research, stated that online meetings and online broadcasts enabled transparency of communities’ and local authority’s work and attract more people to interact with.
The most significant pandemic impact was in those areas where high-speed wired internet connections were absent. In addition, those people who do not have technical skills and abilities for using online communication stayed outside local democracy tools.
Denys Kasianenko, head of the Citizens’ appeals department at Zaporizhzhia regional administration, provided figures that Ukrainians aged above 60 uses smartphones 15% only, thus communication by telephone is in priority. “As our experience shows, for that category of people, telephone communication remains the most accessible during the quarantine restrictions”, – underscored Denys Kasianenko.
Digitalisation will amplify and, accordingly, high-quality cheap internet access and technical skills development of people and representatives of authorities will become extremely valuable for democracy functioning on regional and local levels. Therefore, there is a need to educate people on the new communication means with authority, – emphasized by the research authors.
According to Natalia Khmel, deputy head of the ICT department, head of the Information technologies department at Lutsk city council, due to the international technical aid, our city managed to get all instruments for e-democracy free before the pandemic, thus citizens did not have inconveniences with using them during quarantine.
Iryna Louk, head of the NGO “Space of potential” – partner of the research, noted that authority often explains the absence of answer on appeals and requests by quarantine. For NGOs, the most common obstacles in communication with authority appeared after the cancellation of personal appeals. It is not in common practice to use online communication tools in order to reach officials; to some extent, it is impossible, – commented Iryna Louk.
Mykhaylo Izyumsky, expert of DOBRE program on participatory budgets and democracy tools, added that due to online format problem of bad road connection in long-distance areas partially solved. For democracy tools, the development of internet connection is not as important as a trust of people in such democratic tools and its effectiveness in particular.
Instruments for local democracy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (ua).