The Citizen Handbook
Citizen Tools for Participation
The best way to gain the support of a community or to engage them on important issues is to hold open forums where local citizens can learn more information and provide feedback. Such community forums can deepen community ownership because they feel genuinely consulted on their views. Used correctly, these forums will build trust. This method of identifying community needs takes time and dedication, but community forums are vitally important to finding consensus among different factions of community members. They also serve as an invaluable recruiting tool for future advocacy efforts.
One type of community forum is a citizens’ parliament,orBunge La Mwananchi, which is a platform for communities to discuss, share and exchange information on matters that affect them. These citizens’ parliaments can be specific to youth, men and women. In making your stories and issues known throughout your community, it may be helpful for you to use a Bunge La Mwananchito assist you. They can help you better understand what the government plans to do about an issue or problem. The citizen parliaments are also an opportunity for you to share information with the community on your research, planned activities, ideas, and success stories. Through these forums, others will know about your efforts to solve community problems and they will attract the attention of elected officials.
Steps for a Successful Community Forum
Below are specific steps you can take to help you have a successful community forum:
Step 1: Identify the objective and topic of the forum
Step 2: Find a location that is easily accessible
Step 3: Invite a neutral moderator to facilitate discussion
Step 4: Develop printed flyers to publicise the event
Step 5: Contact as many people as possible in the community to attend
Step 6: Advertise the forum on radio, and in public spaces, newspapers and places of worship
Step 7: Arrange for refreshments, seating and public address system
Step 8: Make sure all participants register so you can have their contact information for follow-up later on
Step 9: Have a list of questions and discussion topics ready
Step 10: Listen closely to citizen responses (but keep them on topic)
Step 11: Analyse and summarize the data collected from the discussion
Step 12: Utilize the data when developing policies or solutions to issues
A Word of Caution: Keep the Politics Out
Politicians and other officials may view your community forum as an opportunity to advance their own political agenda. This may prevent your community forum from reaching its intended goal, which is discussing community needs on a specific topic or issue in a non-political setting. Moreover, having politicians as the focus of your event may give the impression that you and/or your organization have your own political agenda or are promoting a particular candidate or elected official.
Therefore, avoid including political speeches by elected officials in your community forum. Politely explain to those who insist they must speak that this is not the time for politics, but for the community to learn about issues and express their concerns. It is important that you exercise control over your forum by informing all stakeholder ahead of time about your intentions and the importance of keeping the community forum a non-partisan venue for community residents to express genuine concerns and needs.