Pavel Nejdl, Daniel Čermák (eds.): Participation and Partnership in Local Public Administration
The objective of this study is to describe the basic discourse of cooperation, participation, and partnership in terms of how it is defined in the process of democratic administration in the Czech Republic. Each author’s contribution addresses areas of key significance in shaping this discourse.
The first area analysed in this volume is the current legislation in effect in the Czech Republic. Czech law provides a wide framework both for various forms of community partnerships and for the political participation of citizens in their communities. However, it could be widened further, particularly with regard to the legal foundations of other means of political participation by citizens at the community level (there is no legislation, for example, governing various forms of consultation with citizens in decision-making on important public affairs in the community or on the participation of citizens’ groups; in advanced countries, both these forms of participation proceed in connection with the interactive model of public administration – democratic governance).
Czech research in the social sciences and public administration includes a substantial number of studies on the topics of participation and partnership. However, only a minority of them focus explicitly on these processes at the local level. One essential finding is the fact that the processes of participation and partnership are present in the Czech Republic. The European Union strongly emphasises them, they have a certain level of support in legislation, and there are a number of civic associations that make it their aim to support participation and community activities. However, there are obstacles to advancing participation, and these can be found on the side of civic involvement, on the side of local administration representatives, and on the side of NGOs and their readiness for participation. Formal provisions on the part of local public administration to regulate participation procedures also tend to be heavily under-developed – developing opportunities for participation depends primarily on informal, personal ties.
A content analysis of the media revealed that while ‘cooperation’ and ‘partnership’ are terms used relatively often in the media, other terms like ‘participation’, ‘social solidarity’, ‘social cohesion’, and ‘social capital’, which also define the basic discourse of this analysis, are used in the press marginally or almost never. ‘Partnership’ and ‘cooperation’ are terms regularly used in the print media in a wide range of meanings, and it can therefore be assumed that that is also how they are understood and used by the wider public (although it cannot be assumed that the public is generally aware of all the contexts in which the term partnership is used; for example, ‘public private partnership’). Conversely, the term ‘participation’ surfaces in the media very rarely. It is not yet customary for the term ‘participation’ to be used to refer to involvement in decision-making, and it can be assumed that the wider public does even associate the word ‘participation’ with that meaning.
Another analysis in the study looks at the political programmes of the parties currently sitting in the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament, and at government statements issued in the year 2006. These political parties, albeit to a varying extent, count on the participation of and cooperation with individuals and organisations in governance. Civil society is discussed in reference to ‘good governance’ as an important government partner. Such references can generally be regarded as indicators of how open political parties are to the public. The references to partnership (and public private partnership) only appear in the party programmes of the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) and the Christian Democrats-Czech People’s Party (KDU-ČSL). Both parties also see micro-regions as an opportunity for local partnership between the public, private, and non-profit sectors. In their party programme the Social Democrats regard social solidarity as playing a key role in the development of society, and the prerequisite for social solidarity is that people are able to find suitable employment. The Green Party sees education as the source of social solidarity, while both the Social Democrats and the Green Party consider the European Union a guarantor of solidarity. KDU-ČSL regards its own programme points as the source of social solidarity.
The final content analysis focused on a selection of development papers that apply to the Czech Republic as a whole and to its individual regions. The analysis reveals that individual papers differ in terms of the appeals they contain for cooperation, participation, and partnership. Principles of democratic administration are reflected most in the texts of the Vysočina Region’s Development Programme, the National Development Plan for 2004-2006, and the National Development Plan for 2007-2013. Conversely, of the nine development papers analysed, the themes of cooperation, participation, and partnership are addressed least in the Regional Operation Programme for the Southwest.
This volume of Sociological Studies closes with a text summarising the findings from continuous research on the attitudes of citizens and representatives of local public administration towards civic participation in public affairs in the towns of Blatná, Český Krumlov, and Velké Meziříčí. Based on the data, the authors of the study conclude that, although in the towns analysed in this study a significant proportion of the population feels that they are not adequately informed and are not satisfied with the performance of local representative bodies, and the representatives of local administration also assess civic participation as inadequate, people do obtain important information about what’s going on in their town, and do so especially through informal channels, and civic participation does exist to some extent in these towns. But as interviews with representatives of local public administration indicated, it is still just a narrow group of the population that actively participates in public events on various occasions. Larger groups of the population are willing to participate in public affairs only if those affairs affect them directly. As data from the research on the three towns show, there is a certain gap between the public and the private, there is evidence of a sense of distrust of politicians, even those at the local level, and there is also little willingness on the part of citizens to become actively involved in political life by running for posts in representative bodies.
Although the channels of information conducive to cooperation, participation, and partnership at the local level are largely open, making use of these channels is by no means yet an established and straightforward practice. The channels of communication between local actors in the public sphere and the principles of cooperation, participation, and partnership that are built on that system of communication are still taking shape in the Czech Republic. This is an impulse and an appeal for further research, but also for measures aimed at furthering the democratic administration of society.
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