Marta Contreras Teixidó. Project Manager at ATC-SIG.
Municipal administration has undergone great changes recently and the most important one was possibly the passing of the Law on Transparency and Good Governance, which brought about a paradigm shift in administration for citizens, and will foster citizen involvement as a decision-making tool.
It is a big mistake to see involvement as something that has been imposed, though. Each municipality has its own features and its own level of maturity in terms of implementing involvement. It is therefore important to establish processes that are of interest to citizens and that encourage them at the same time to take part again in future joint projects.
With evolution comes change and learning new concepts. The ability to accept it and adapt to new challenges is proven with specific examples of application of completely necessary strategies like recycling, saving energy and other improvement policies in which our direct involvement is implicit.
But issues that may seem like change to us are the beginning of a new path for the younger generations, and the foundations of a new way of doing things in the future. So in order to deal with questions that may arise when exploring the idea of citizen involvement more in depth, the best strategy is to work with the youngest citizens.
The experience of ATC-SIG in projects for the creation and development of children’s councils is very positive because we see these councils as powerful tools of direct involvement in municipal administration. We see children’s councils as a space for debate where the children learn how to listen to and respect the opinions of their peers, to talk and concede when necessary so they can reach agreement. They learn and start to understand the difficulty of decision-making, and also the financial constraints when looking to meet a certain need. These basic concepts will be essential in the future, both in their social and their personal environments.
We would like to highlight the project carried out in Sant Hilari de Sacalm throughout the 2016-2017 school year. The children’s council worked on a safe school path and became active members of a participatory process organised by the town council. As well as the sessions that were held during the participatory process, the children’s council held monthly meetings where they worked on various aspects of the path: the route, the design, how to tell everyone about it, etc. The results of the work carried out by several classes (years 5 and 6) were discussed together and the representatives of each year presented these results and reached agreement on various issues. Then they informed their work teams of the results of the participatory process.
The result of the process is a school path that solves various problems that were identified by the main users, but there is also an increased sense of belonging in those who directly took part in the project. This sense of belonging has two sides: on one hand the children see the utility and importance of the path and therefore will use it and make sure it is maintained and well-used. And on the other hand, it increases the sense of belonging to the municipality, thanks to the direct involvement in the decision-making process and the fact that it will affect their daily lives and the lives of everyone in the municipality.