The Citizen Handbook


Citizen Participation


Activating Citizen Power

Assemble a Citizen Group

Once you identify the needs of citizens within a community, it is then time to organize with others who share these concerns. As discussed earlier, citizen power is your power to affect change and governance within your community. This power grows when citizens join to pursue their objectives together.

Structure and Organization

It is very important that your group structure itself to reflect its mission and vision. The structure you choose will directly affect how your group conducts its activities, so you need to put some serious thought into it. For instance, some groups may choose to have a less formal leadership structure that is consultative and decentralized. This will help to ensure flexible decision-making and will use fewer resources to maintain. Other groups, however, may want a more formal and centralized structure with tiered leadership to ensure effective governance of a strong and diverse membership. Such a structure will also help your group deliver on ambitious goals and objectives.

Key Function Areas

As you develop your group structure, you should consider several functions, including:
     •  Executive leadership – Executive leadership in a group usually includes a chairperson and/or president and other key leadership positions like a treasurer to manage finances and a secretary to record the actions and plans of the group.You may create other positions as part of your group’s executive leadership, but these are the basic ones.
     •  Decision-making – A group structure should facilitate decision-making that is efficient and representative of its members. This could be as formal as an executive committee could or as informal as the creation of a rule to make group decisions based on the votes of those who attend meetings. Either way, it is important to have clear rules on decision-making from the outset to ensure the fullest participation of members.
     •  Resource mobilization – Every group operates with some level of limited resources. These resources can be financial or physical (i.e. donated office space, computers, vehicles etc.). A member or committee should have the responsibility of mobilizing the resources for the group. They should handle how the group budgets and monitors its spending. A treasurer should be responsible to account for the usage of the group’s resources.
     •  Membership recruitment and retention– A member or committee should lead the group’s membership recruitment efforts. This will include explaining the benefits of joining to non-members, including the impact they will make on their community if they join. This person or committee should also be in charge of the membership process. Good membership relations are critical as they create greater internal communications and ensure that all members remain engaged in the work of the citizen group.
     •  Fundraising and development – A member or committee should be responsible for fundraising and developing strategies to mobilize resources among the group’s members and supporters. The people in charge of fundraising should not be afraid of being told "no." Rejection will occur when asking others to donate to your cause, so you need people who are persistent and understand the overall goal of fundraising.
     •  Issues development and planning –A member or committee should be in charge of developing the issues and policies the group would like to address through their work. This function area also includes developing the group's strategic plan and complimentary activities. A group planning process usually works best by forming a committee and then assigning each member a specific task or responsibility in the planning process.

What to Achieve During Your First Meeting

Use the following tips to help you have a successful first group meeting:

  •  Balance formality with informality so the group has an opportunity to interact and begin building internal networks and relationships;
  •  Ensure that everyone knows the date, time and place of the meeting;
  •  Request members to make a list of their aims for the group before the meeting (i.e. an agenda)
  •  Make sure that one person chairs the meeting and another one takes notes. 

Internal Democracy

It is important that your group leaders follow democratic practices so that all members share in decision-making and planning. This will ensure that group members have ownership over group actions and are thus motivated to be more active. Some of these key internal democratic practices include:

   · Choosing leaders – The process of choosing leaders for your group can be done indirectly through representatives or directly through elections open to all members. The formality of the process depends on the group. What is most important though, is that group members have a say in how leaders are chosen.

   · Making decisions – The process for decision-making should be clear and transparent. It should also differ depending on importance. For instance, it is not practical for member to vote on everything. Doing so will slow down the group’s work and weaken its leadership. Instead, your group can delegate decision-making on every day matters to the leadership, while a larger group of members can either vote or provide input on decisions that are more important.

   · Balancing the power of leaders - Leaders may no longer relate to group members or might make decisions that do not reflect the original agreed mission and vision of the group. As such, there should be a process to check the power of group leaders. This includes ways in which members may seek information and review the performance and decisions that group leaders make.

   · Dispute resolution – A group of people will not agree on everything. In fact, it is possible that group members will have often have different views or positions on specific issues. Without a clear process for resolving internal disputes, the group may not accomplish its goals and objectives. Therefore, it is a good practice to have a committee to resolve disputes or a process for members to bring an issue or dispute before the general membership for a vote.

Constitution

As your group grows, the members may decide that they want it to be more formal. In such a case, your group may want to have a constitution to outline the way it will operate and govern itself. A constitution should be simple and effective, and should give a framework for managing the group's ordinary and extraordinary operations. It should also manage activities such as decision-making, coordination and supervision of organizational duties. Ultimately, a constitution should serve the interests of the group's leadership and general membership.

Elements of a Constitution

There are key elements that define a constitution. To avoid confusion, it is important that each element is clear and concise. This will help prevent disagreement among members and the leadership over its meaning. These key elements are as follows:

     1.Name of the organization – This section should contain the full name of your group. Make sure the name is simple and represents the group’s membership well.

     2.Aims and objectives – This section should clearly state the group’s aims and objectives. Be reasonable when defining them.

     3.Powers and functions – This section should address specific functions of your group. You should assign responsibilities to specific leadership positions and internal structures to ensure the smooth operation of the organization.

     4.Membership and recruitment – This section should outline who can join as a member and how. It is important that the requirements of membership are not too difficult and do not discriminate.

     5.Meetings – This section of the constitution should address several different kinds of meetings, including general meetings, executive committee meetings, annual general meetings, and extraordinary meetings.

     6.Executive committee–This section deals with the executive leadership and management of your group. It should cover the number of members on the committee, their selection process, duties and responsibilities and the term of service.

     7.Finances– If you decide to seek funding from donors, it will be important that this section of the constitution is clear about how toraise, use and manage the group’s money.

     8.Amendments–It is important that your group’s constitution is written to be a living document; meaning that it can be changed and updated as the group progresses. It is equally important to have the appropriate procedures in place to protect the constitution from careless and unnecessary amendments.

     9.Adoption–The final stage of the constitution-making process is its adoption as the legal framework governing the group. Your group’s leadership should call a meeting of everyone who has been involved to date and give everyone a chance to raise any questions.

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