Four participatory processes from 2021 are evaluated by the staff of the Józsefváros Office of Community Participation. What did we learn? What would we do differently?
Who are we?
The aim of the Józsefváros Office of Community Participation is to strengthen the communities of the 8th district of Budapest and to involve local residents in the decisions that affect all of us. We believe that by sharing knowledge and creating meaningful dialogue, we can find new, creative, effective and fair solutions to our common problems. Our work is organized around the following principles: clarity, transparency, accessibility, fairness, solidarity.
In order to provide fair, transparent and efficient information to the residents of Józsefváros, our goal is to create customer-friendly information channels, and to ensure that the municipal processes are understandable and transparent. In this way, we ensure that all citizens have access to the information that is important to them. One of our tasks is to ensure that the leadership of Józsefváros implements meaningful consultation processes before making important decisions that significantly affect the lives of residents. It is also our job to plan and support events that create dialogue between the municipality and local communities, including community meetings and public hearings. In order to develop a partnership between citizens, civil organizations and the municipality, we also develop and oversee processes that make joint decision-making possible on certain issues, including participatory budgeting and community-based development of the district.
Self-reflection and shared learning are key to strengthening a culture of participation. Below, we highlight some of the participatory processes implemented by the Office of Community Participation in 2020 that have provided important lessons for us. We believe that by sharing our learnings, we can also help others to implement similar processes. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the following, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/reszveteliiroda
You can read the summary of our activities in 2020 here: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/english/76271/lessons-of-four-participatory-processes-in-jozsefvaros---2020
What does participation mean?
“Self-governance” originally means that citizens are able to shape their environment and future together and are able to have a say in the decisions that affect them. Today, local governments are the most widespread institutionalized form of local governance in Hungary. Local governments have grown quite apart from their original mission and are increasingly functioning as bureaucratic institutions isolated from local citizens. While the local government is a key institution in representative democracy, the application of the principles and tools of participatory democracy provides an opportunity for citizens to regain ownership and control, as well as for the local government to play its original function more sensitively and meaningfully.
It is the joint responsibility of the citizens and the municipality to ensure that the bodies and the institutions of the municipality receive continuous feedback about their work and are open to the needs, suggestions and creativity of residents. Participatory self-governance is both the goal and means of politics and public life belonging to everyone where no one is excluded from the political community because of their ethnic origin, age, gender, identity, social status, religion, physical or mental condition.
Citizen participation can take many forms, intensities and levels. “Participation” is not a specific method or process, but in fact the transformation of power relations between citizens and public authorities. According to a document adopted by the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe on October 1, 2009, at least four different levels of participation can be distinguished according to the extent to which citizens have a say in decisions: information, consultation, dialogue and partnership. We present two processes of consultation and two processes of partnership below.
Consultation on new housing decree by Józsefváros Municipality
Józsefváros Municipality adopted a new housing decree in July 2021, which followed a lengthy process of preparation and public debate coordinated by the Office of Community Participation. The previous version of the housing decree was over 10 years old and had been amended 34 times since it took effect. As a result, the structure of the decree was not transparent and the rules were also confusing at places. Even more importantly, it reflected housing policy intentions the current leaders of Józsefváros Municipality could not accept. The representative body implemented a few unavoidable modifications and the housing application system was reshaped in 2020. Józsefváros Municipality adopted its Economic Program for 2019-2024 in May 2020. Next, they reviewed the housing decree in effect and decided the district needed a new housing decree.
The process of the public debate
- May 2020: The Economic Program of Józsefváros Municipality for 2019-2024 is adopted.
- second half of 2020: The housing decree in effect is reviewed; a new concept is drafted
- December 2020 to February 2021: Housing experts and trade NGOs asked to provide opinion on the new housing decree concept
- March to June 2021 Draft of new housing decree drawn up
- June 9 to June 30 2021: Social dialogue on draft of new housing decree
- June 24 2021: Citizens’ forum on new housing decree in the pipeline
- June 30 to July 15 2021: Opinions processed, new housing decree drawn up
- July 15 to July 31 2021: New housing decree adopted (July 22), feedback on opinions accepted
A team of council representatives, experts and consultants had been working to prepare the new housing decree. The main idea was to create the concept of the new housing decree so that it should reflect the main principles of the Municipality laid down in its Economic Program (maintain social diversity while reducing the gap between certain parts of the district). During the preparation, the team held discussions with the relevant officers of municipality institutions and the companies affected.
The effective Housing Law stipulates a municipality must ask for the opinion of tenants’ and landlords’ interest representation organizations before creating a decree. The process of discussions consisted of two parts: first, trade associations and experts gave their opinion on the concept of the decree. Next, all residents could submit their opinion either in person or via the internet in June 2021.
To ensure the careful preparation of the new decree and the transparency of the process, the municipality did more than simply comply with legal provisions: they sent the first version of the concept to 15 trade organizations and experts engaged in housing asking for their opinion. Eight written opinions were received. The senders included Péter Győri, Lépjünk, hogy léphessenek! Egyesület [take a step to make them take a step association], Menedék Egyesület [shelter association], Nyugodt Szív A Lakhatásért Alapítvány [calm heart for housing foundation] (Erzsébet Pongrácz), Periféria Közpolitikai és Kutatóközpont [periphery public policy and research center], Utcajogász Egyesület [street lawyers association], Utcáról Lakásba Egyesület [from the street into a flat association], and Városkutatás Kft [city research ltd].
After processing and summing up the opinions and recommendations received, the Municipality organized a professional debate on January 20 2021 inviting the senders of written opinions, the delegates of the group A Város Mindenkié [the city is for all], the chief consultant of the Metropolitan Government on housing and social policy and representatives of the Municipality and its institutions. Participants presented their arguments relating to issued debated, they made additional proposals and called the attention of the team working on the new housing decree to new angles of the issue. Drafting the decree commenced based on the final concept having considered the expert opinions. The draft decree was drawn up and made public (posted) on June 9 2021.
A wide-ranging public debate on the draft housing decree took place between June 9 and June 30 2021. People could participate online by completing a form or in person. As part of the new housing decree, opinions were welcome about new house rules, an attachment to the decree, modified following consultations. In addition to receiving written questions and proposals about how much the housing decree was understandable to the public, the draft decree was presented at a residents’ forum on June 24 2021. Participants could ask questions and get information about the draft decree and the renewed form of housing management.
The opinions received were processed between June 30 and July 15 2021. The relevant officers of the Municipality read the opinions and proposals and then decided on their adoption, partial adoption or rejection. The reasons for the decisions were clearly stated. Adopted or partially adopted proposals were integrated into the decree. Next, the housing decree was finalized and the Józsefváros Municipality adopted it on July 22 2021. The opinions sent by the public and the relevant decisions of the Municipality including the reasoning were published on the website of the Municipality.
Almost a hundred people took part by providing opinions on the concept of the decree, at the residents’ forum held about the draft and by providing opinion on the draft, including residents of the district, tenants of flats owned by the Municipality, as well as NGOs and housing experts who presented proposals indirectly representing thousands of people affected.
Publicity and documentation
It was important during the public debate that information about the process of drafting the decree and about the key changes in the new decree given to the interested parties should be easy to understand and transparent. To this end, the Municipality involved trade organizations and experts in the preparatory work. When the draft decree was published, it did not simply mean the publication of the draft decree written in the sophisticated language of the law, but an easy-to-understand summary was also made about the planned changes, the goals and the process. This summary was available online, and was also displayed in printed form at places where residents could submit their proposals in person.
We believe the residents’ forum also helped getting to know the draft decree. Participants could follow it in person or online. They could ask questions before or during the live broadcast and in person on-site. Volunteers helped inform residents during the days preceding the forum by distributing leaflets informing people about the event. The forum was also advertised online and posters were placed in houses fully owned by the Municipality.
During the process we succeeded to keep the schedule set out at the start. It was adjusted to match the meetings of the representative body discussing the decree leaving enough time for people to get to know the draft decree, to gain information about the issues raised and present their opinion and proposals. Also, the opinions received could be given proper thought so that they could be incorporated in the new decree. In the next phase, senders of opinions and proposals were informed in e-mails about the decisions on their proposals. The proposals and the relevant decisions were also published anonymously on the website of the Municipality.
Evaluation of the process
To sum up, we believe the process was successful. There has never been a process of drafting a housing decree so well planned with the involvement of the public at that level in this country. At the same time, some lessons have been drawn we can use in processes of social involvement later on.
During the preparation of the decree and planning the process of public involvement, the restrictions in effect due to the corona virus pandemic (mandatory remote work for the staff of the Municipality, a ban on offline meetings of the representative body and other committees, the extended power of the Mayor) hindered our work. Sudden and unpredictable changes made long-term planning difficult, so re-planning was often necessary. The process was complex and demanded the participation of many actors. It also lasted for many months, which was a challenge in terms of everybody knowing where they were in it and what changes had occurred. Because of the pandemic, discussions were held online or in writing. Sometimes, it hindered understanding each other or working smoothly.
During the preparation of the decree, an MP submitted a motion in Parliament related to the amendment of the housing law, which rendered the legal environment of the housing decree even more insecure. Also a government decree banned Municipalities to raise fees, so some important changes could not be included in the new housing decree.
As we were organizing the public forum, we had to abide by the pandemic-related rules relating to public events, which also kept changing all the time (complete ban, rules of mask wearing, necessity of covid certificate, etc.). We selected a site easily accessible for the participants. We also had to consider extreme weather conditions (heatwave, rains), which affected the comfort and safety of participants and was a challenge in terms of the live broadcast of the event. Because of the above factors, we decided to use the Kesztyűgyár Community Center to ensure proper technical facilities for the live broadcast. Most people followed the forum via the live broadcast. This may have had several reasons: many people were scared because of the pandemic. Also, a residents’ forum in the quarter with the highest number of municipality-owned flats and houses had been held the previous week, so the two events were too close to each other. The number of participants in person was lower than usual partly because it was organized at the time of a heat wave, and participants had to present their covid certificate.
Trade organizations and experts had already given their opinion and the team drafting the decree consulted them on several occasions. Fewer people took part in the process of public involvement. Still, we believe participation was high enough to ensure a transparent and clear process not only for the experts but for all. We make efforts to make the adopted decree known to as many people as we can. For this purpose, every question asked at the forum was publicly answered at the forum or afterwards. Also we made a compilation of the issues most frequently arisen during the process. It is really important, as the new decree will induce changes in the life of many families, and they might feel distrust or fear if they do not know the exact details of those changes. In addition, we want tenants to be aware of their rights and obligations regulated in the decree.
- Side by side with online notification, the provision of personal information is important so that questions may be asked or misunderstandings cleared.
- The rigid procedure of drafting a decree is difficult to harmonize with public involvement involving many people. We must be flexible and be prepared for frequent re-planning.
- Since it is a lengthy process, participants must be kept informed about what has been done and what the next steps are so that everybody could raise their questions.
- The processes must be planned and timed so that they should not be too close to each other or to other similar events.
- Because the terminology of legal texts is difficult to understand, we must create and spread different easy-to-understand information materials (such as, videos, infographics, summary documents, FAQ, leaflets or posters).
- Residents may be wary whether the authorities really want to know their opinion and proposals. Therefore, we must show respect to everybody providing an opinion or raising an issue even if their views are based on incorrect or insufficient information or if they suspect malicious intent.
- Participation in a process of public involvement is a new thing both the population and the staff. It is full of doubts, which can be best helped using straightforward, clear communication.
The social debate on the new housing decree of the district was launched in June 2021. https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/76538/indul-az-uj-keruleti-lakasrendelet-tarsadalmi-egyeztetese
An easy-to-understand summary of the decree was published in June: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/dokumentumok/hirdetmenyek/6323_hirdetmeny_a_lakasrendelet_tervezet_kozertheto_osszefoglaloja.pdf
The codified version of the draft decree was also published: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/dokumentumok/hirdetmenyek/6319_hirdetmeny_rendelettervezet.pdf
The public forum on the housing decree in the pipeline was held at the end of June: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/76539/lakasrendelet-tajekoztato-forum Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/527694708662871/ Live broadcast of the forum: https://www.facebook.com/jozsefvaros.hu/videos/1138216489997476
The representative body discussed the housing decree on June 22: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/onkormanyzat/testuleti-ules/237-20210722
The new housing decree adopted by the representative body: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/rendeletek/5971_2021_25_az_onkormanyzat_tulajdonaban_allo.pdf
The news summarizing the opinions on the housing decree was published at the end of July and senders of the opinions were also informed in e-mails at the same time: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/hir/76858/lezarult-jozsefvaros-uj-lakasrendeletenek-tarsadalmi-velemenyezese
Summary of the most frequent questions raised in connection wit the housing decree: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/hir/76882/Lak%C3%A1srendelet
Video - This is how the housing decree of Józsefváros came into being: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/77209/uj-jozsefvarosi-lakasrendelet---hogyan-keszult-es-mit-kell-tudni-rola-video
(The representative body will modify the decree again in the first half of 2022 to remedy some problems found with the 2021 decree. Hopefully, this will make the management of municipality-owned flats and housing applications even simpler and more transparent.)
No flowers, thank you! - an international Women’s Day grant
The Józsefváros Municipality is committed to promote gender equality, and considers the women’s communities of the district as a valuable asset, therefore the Józsefváros Közösségeiért Nonprofit Zrt. (JKN Zrt.) launched an alternative Women’s Day grant entitled ‘No flowers, thank you’ to implement community programs on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
The purpose of the grant was to strengthen and support the women’s communities, NGOs and individuals of the district who are committed to promote gender equality. In the grant, we looked for community-building, cultural and educational program ideas that target the women living or working in Józsefváros and that will be implemented in the district.
In the beginning the budget frame was HUF 1 million with a maximum gross value of HUF 200,000 per idea. Due to the pandemic, all programs that were planned for the international Women’s Day had to be cancelled. Eventually, JKN Zrt. decided to redeploy the budget and was able to support eight applicants with a total budget of almost HUF 1 Million 400,000 gross.
32 valid applications were received until the closing date of April 15, 2021. Applicants included NGOs, informal communities and private individuals as well.
Several criteria were taken into account when selecting the applications, such as that the program would be implemented in Józsefváros, that the grantees would be local women and that the improvement of their communities would be supported. According to these criteria, topics of the winning applications were the followings: women’s experiences of the crisis of care, gender equality and gender roles, how foreign women get acquainted with local, Hungarian communities, birth experiences, experiences of women of Józsefváros, women’s oppression and finally, women who inspire Józsefváros residents. You can read more details about the winners here: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/hir/76448/a-%E2%80%9Cnem-kerunk-viragot---alternativ-nonapi-palyazat-eredmenye
After the selection of winners, an online get-to-know-each other meeting took place where the organizations had a chance to get acquainted with each other and the Office workers. We also went through the process of implementing their applications and gave the organizations the opportunity to ask questions from the Municipality.
One of our objectives was to ensure that the programs implemented would reach as many people from vulnerable or disadvantaged groups as possible, so we held a special mini-training session for organizations on how to reach out to these groups.
Afterwards, all contracts were signed by the organizations and JKN Zrt. for the implementations of the tasks undertaken in the grant. The Municipality provided the organizations with a platform for preliminary communication: they had the opportunity to introduce themselves and to present their programs in a video.
The programs took place between June and October at different locations in Józsefváros. You can read the organizations’ reports on the events and programs here: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/hir/77270/%E2%80%9Cnem-kerunk-viragot---alternativ-nonapi-palyazat-beszamolo
At the end of the grant period, a final meeting and picnic was organized at Teleki tér where all our experiences, difficulties and successes were discussed.
The mini-grant as an instrument of developing the community was a new initiative in Józsefváros. In fact, the cooperation between JKN Zrt. and Józsefváros Office of Community Participation encountered some difficulties. Many questions and technical issues emerged during the contracting and other administration period. In addition, the organizations were not always able to live up to the communication expectations. Ex-post funding also proved to be a challenge to the organizations because many of them did not have appropriate funds available to pre-finance the implementation of their programs. Finally, the pandemic caused many difficulties and continuous uncertainty in many respects. In one case, a participating organization was subjected to an external attack by extremists during the implementation of their program.
Regarding to future projects, it is important to achieve better communication and to improve the efficiency of cooperation between the organizations of the Municipality. In addition to this, having one contact person in charge with the participating organizations might work out better. To avoid administrative difficulties in the future, creating a booklet that includes all the tasks requiring permissions and permits will be beneficial. Despite the training on reaching vulnerable groups, the participating organizations still found it difficult to reach out to these people, therefore next time more emphasis should be put on eliminating this difficulty.
No flowers, thank you! - an alternative Women’s Day grant: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/hir/76062/nem-kerunk-viragot---alternativ-nonapi-palyazat
No flowers, thank you! - results of the alternative Women’s Day grant: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/hir/76448/a-%E2%80%9Cnem-kerunk-viragot---alternativ-nonapi-palyazat-eredmenye
No flowers, thank you! - reports of the alternative Women’s Day grant:https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/77270/%E2%80%9Cnem-kerunk-viragot---alternativ-nonapi-palyazat-beszamolo
Public survey about the opening of Bacsó Béla utca
The test opening of a part of Bacsó Béla utca between Vásár utca and Bérkocsis utca was carried out by Rév8 Józsefváros Urban Rehabilitation and Development Company on behalf of the municipality between June 18 and October 3, 2021.
After the trial period, the Józsefváros Office of Community Participation organized a survey for the residents most affected by the opening of this part of the street to collect their experiences and suggestions. The survey was conducted online as well. The assessment aimed to get an accurate picture of how the people living in the area react to transforming Bacsó Béla utca into a pedestrian street and their acceptance of future projects to open streets to pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the district based on public feedback.
The feedback was collected using a questionnaire in three ways: door knocking, street survey, and online on the municipality’s website.
In addition to demographic data, respondents were asked about their place of residence and involvement in the opening of Bacsó Béla utca (they live or go there, etc., how often they visited the opened part, whether they participated in an event). Part of the survey was the collection of positive and negative impacts, collecting development proposals and the acceptance of a possible reopening, even in other public areas of Józsefváros.
The door knocking was organized with volunteers, who participated in a two-hour preparation, independently visited the affected houses, and conducted standing surveys at Rákóczi tér. During the preparation, applicants learned about the reasons and process of the Rév8-coordinated opening, implemented programs, traffic changes affecting the area, and received training on the methodology of door knocking and the contents of the questionnaire about the opening of the street.
The volunteers, in pairs, visited the affected area for a month, visiting several houses that, due to their location, directly experienced the consequences of opening the street. During the preparations, 24 houses were identified as potentially affected. The volunteers eventually visited 15 houses, revisiting some of them several times based on their importance. A closed Facebook group was created to organize the door knocking, and a shared spreadsheet was used to finalize the schedule and monitor the effectiveness.
15 volunteers participated in the survey. They went door knocking for 20 hours (3 days a week, in 2-hour time zones, between 5 pm and 7 pm, in a flexible schedule) and conducted street surveys at the Rákóczi tér market hall for another 10 hours total.
444 people filled in the questionnaire in total between 4 and 31 October 2021, 188 in person and 256 online. Of the 256 online respondents, 10 completed the English-language questionnaire; presumably, their native language is not Hungarian.
90% of the respondents agreed with opening the affected part of Bacsó Béla utca to residents and catering establishments temporarily, 7.7% were against it, and 2.3% could not give an opinion. When asked whether residents would support opening Bacsó Béla utca to pedestrians permanently or only for the summer, 67% of residents supported a permanent opening, while 26.8% supported a temporary opening during the summer (i.e., a total of 93.8% supported opening for some time). Only 6% of the respondents did not support opening the aforementioned part of Bacsó Béla utca.
During the personal visits to the houses, it soon became apparent that only a small percentage of the flats are inhabited in the close area of the open part of Bacsó Béla utca. Most of them are businesses, renovations, or commercial accommodation. Occasionally, the hallways in the houses were closed with a door or gate, making it difficult for volunteers to get to the apartments. In such cases, we tried to spread the word about the assessment to the residents by visiting the joint representative. Even in a failed attempt, we always left a leaflet in the door asking the resident to fill in the questionnaire online.
Based on the high number of completed questionnaires, we can conclude that it was successful and useful to provide the opportunity to complete them in person. Based on the feedback, residents were happy with the request and were willing to complete it in most cases.
The review results in detail were posted on the website and Facebook page of the Józsefváros Municipality, and were also sent directly to the respondents who consented to this by providing their data.
With the help of carefully documented and processed results, the public acceptance of the project can be better communicated and based on the methodology tested here, the preparation and measurement of the impact of new interventions like this will become significantly easier.
Rév8 project description: http://rev8.hu/Portfoli%C3%B3/bacso-bela-utca/
Volunteer recruitment for review: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/77038/megnyitott-bacso-bela-utca---vegyen-reszt-onkenteskent-a-tesztidoszak-ertekeleseben
Public result of the survey: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/77218/lezarult-a-bacso-bela-utca-megnyitasanak-velemenyezese
Needs assessment in the large dog park at Teleki tér
From 28 to 30 July 2021, the JGK and the Józsefváros Office of Community Participation asked for the opinion of the regular users of the large dog park at Teleki tér regarding a dog sandpit and other long-term developments planned for the area.
During a four-time meeting, dog owners had the opportunity to vote on the need of a dog sandpit and to give their opinion of other developments planned for the area. At the opening event, the users of the dog park could meet the co-workers of the JGK who answered the questions regarding maintenance and up-keeping and, with the assistance of ZöldEb Egyesület, provided the interested ones with information about the function of the dog sandpit. During the further events of the meeting, the Egyesület presented its program ‘Trainer in the dog park’.
Over thirty people completed a questionnaire of assessment of needs who refused to place a sandpit by a two-thirds majority and made several proposals and comments on the development plans.
Based on dog owners feedback, to solve the problem of the pit, a box of soil has been placed in the dog park. Also, spades and rakes have been provided in the nearby guard hut users of the park can borrow to level the ground after their pets’ ‘landscape architecture’. A sluice gate system has been installed at the first section of the track-side entrance which has made access safer. The fence has been repaired to prevent pets escaping. A part of the flat area opposite the entrance will be protected with shading to reduce sunshine, so the dog park can be used comfortably also in daytime. Some respondents to the questionnaire noted the drinking fountain wastes water and is not suitable for dogs. Instead of replacing the tap, a restrictor will be placed inside the drain to make it suitable for pets while it’ll also prevent the proliferation of algae. The tap of the small dog park may be installed in 2022. Users of the dog park can borrow mobile agility toys available at the guard hut at Teleki tér. The same holds for the dog park at Golgota tér.
The assessment of needs was carried out by the staff of the Józsefváros Office of Community Participation and four volunteers. The 4 events were divided into two afternoon (from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm) and two morning sessions (from 7:30 am to 9 am). In hindsight, it would have been better to define variable times of the day, as the composition of visitors varied only slightly during the same periods.
Due to the result of the vote, it was decided that the users do not want a dog sandpit in the large dog park at Teleki tér. Part of the reason for this was that there was already an active community in the runway who, based on their experiences, rejected this idea and asked other users to do the same. Accordingly, JGK’s intention to develop in this direction got stuck but it was gratifying to see the existing of the community and to experience the activity and awareness thereof. That is why the initiative of the local government is not enough to implement comprehensive improvements similar to this one. It is worth taking the time to reach and engage the community of regular users of the dog park, so that targeted improvements can be made that are truly responsive to needs.
Assessment of needs starts: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/76808/igenyfelmeres-indul-a-teleki-teri-kutyafuttato-fejleszteserol-
Assessment of needs is closed: https://old.jozsefvaros.hu/szoljon-bele/77070/lezarult-az-igenyfelmeres-elindul-a-teleki-teri-nagy-kutyafuttato-fejlesztese-