Citizen Participation to Improve Local Governance
The project’s objective was to promote democratic governance by supporting and encouraging the creation of Citizen Participation Cells (CPC), as a facilitation mechanism among grassroots communities and local authorities, in order to address the low level of accountability of local authorities towards citizens. The project was implemented in 35 municipalities located in four departments of Benin. The grantee’s strategy focused on empowering citizens by fundamentally strengthening the grassroots communities. This was highly relevant in view of the profile of the beneficiary groups, vulnerable rural communities for the most part, which rarely had a voice in public affairs and had limited access to channels of influence. Supporting the practical skills of CPC members as well as municipal officials working at the local level allowed participation in local governance to take place more effectively and in a collaborative way.
Lessons from Project
Despite a sense of ownership, most of the Citizen Participation Cells did not plan to become autonomous from the grantee that remained in charge of the future direction of the Cells. Sustainability therefore was still fragile and CPC members recognized that more time was needed to consolidate the work which had been started.
By the end of the project, the capacity of the Citizen Participation Cells (CPC) was still basic. The CPCs’ technical capacity could be strengthened through working groups on different themes such as skills and municipal responsibilities and by paying specific attention to the gender dimension in municipal policy management.
There was no consolidated data on the results of the project. The grantee primarily tracked activities, and reported several anecdotal changes, which was insufficient to determine the overall project impact on municipal policy changes.
There was a risk that the newly introduced Citizen Participation Cells (CPC) would be manipulated by local authorities in Benin. They were often called on by municipal governments to assess the compliance of municipal investments or to raise awareness among citizens. In order to be seen as an independent mechanism, the CPCs should be more proactive rather than reactive when dealing with municipal administrations.
Many volunteers for the Citizen Participation Cells (CPC) have become more proactive citizens who can contribute to conflict resolution and problem solving. Project participants have made a commitment to ensure the continuity of the CPC initiatives and to promote the development of new opportunities for citizen participation in local decision-making processes beyond UNDEF funding.
The vast majority of the grassroots organizations involved valued how the project promoted public participation as a counterweight to public authorities. Most of the targeted municipalities in Benin have organized public hearings on budget resources. In addition, the participation mechanism has enabled elected officials to use consultative methods to determine local priorities with the participation of the grassroots population.
Through participation in training sessions on advocacy and public information campaigns, members of the Citizen Participation Cells in Benin improved their ability to participate in the municipal decision-making process, to monitor the compliance of municipal investments – e.g. water and sanitation, education – and to put pressure on local politicians to carry out public hearings on budget policies.
Thanks to the project’s initial in-depth consultations with the main stakeholders in each municipality the project gained strong local approval and support for its activities in all target municipalities in Benin.
An important indicator of the project’s relevance was its consistency with Benin’s legal framework on decentralization for citizen participation which outlined the need for citizen participation, the municipalities’ role as the main decentralized institutions, and the right to access public information.
The project introduced Citizen Participation Cells (CPC), whose members were involved in all phases of the project, including setting-up the CPCs, validating of the CPCs’ workload, identifying problems within their own municipalities and issues to raise with local administration and elected officials.