Please put your responses to Unit 6 here.
The image is that the level of trust between citizens and authority is low, but when you dig deeper than the superficial view I think most participants of meetings are rather confident in the authorities. A lot of people only want to see their own demands rewarded, and if that is not the case it is the authority they blame (insight in their own unrealistic demands often lacks).
Involving citizens in planning processes has a rather long history in the Netherlands. I think it started with information meetings, where the plans were presented and citizens could not have any influence on the process anymore. Next to these meetings new meetings were organised around plans that still had to be designed partially.
It will probably never be possible to reward all demands of the citizens who attend to this kind of meetings and people who are not satisfied with the results often have a louder voice than the people who did see their wishes rewarded. So the image of the satisfaction around this kind of meetings is probably more negative than necessary.
I think the authorities that organise this kind of meetings really have the intention of respecting as many wishes as possible, but often the demands are contradictory to one another so people will be disappointed. I have attended to different structures in these kind of meetings (from small groups discussing around specific themes around a flip over to a presentation in front of an audience with the possibility to ask questions). It is often hard to say what the effect of this kind of meetings is. Sometimes several meetings around the same plan are organised on several locations. How can you make clear which decisions have been influenced by whom?
I guess authorities are looking for a way to satisfy the participants of the meetings more and I think that participants realise better that the plans discussed are complex, and their influence is small.
A thing that could be improved is the management of expectations: be clear how long the proces will last after the meeting and especially make clear what you have done with the results of the meeting (and give attention also to wishes that have not been rewarded and explain why they are not rewarded).
It's interesting to see the difference in cultures between the Netherlands and Serbia. You say that, overall, people do trust their elected officials and believe their input is taken seriously.
The one thing I wonder about is the relationship between the city and its citizens in participation processes. If citizens are only there to, as you say, "present their own demands" and city staff want to "respect as many wishes as possible", I wonder how effective the process can be. In sustainable urban moblity planning, it's important to establish a shared vision and goals for a planning process so that everyone has the feeling of working toward a common goal rather than one grup making demands that the other tries to meet. I think if a vision is agreed upon early, then stakeholders from all areas can start to work together on realistic ways to solve the problems that inevitably come up rather than (only) fighting for their own interests. Rather than seeing them as people with demands, maybe it helps to look at them (as I said in my post to Jelena) as experts on their local area. They can bring a lot of knowledge and experience to the process.
It's a challenge dealing with so many different sides, but in the end it's likely to bring about a result that more people are satisfied with.
The process of designing and adoption of urban plans for local government, according to the law on planning and construction, is following:
- Decision on the development plan (adopted by City Assembly)
- development of a Concept of the Plan-collecting data on the current situation (SWOT analysis), which includes a site visit by planners who will work on the plan, and production of planning solution
- Expert Control by Planning Commission
- Preparation of the Draft Plan
- Expert Control by Planning Commission
- public review - lasting 30 days (information about public review is published in local and national newspapers, local TV, and the city website). During the public review citizens can provide comments on the planned solution.
- Expert Control by Planning Commission (reviewing on complaints received during the public review)
- Acceptance of the plan by the Department of Urban Planning (City Administration) and City Council
- Adoption of plan by the City Assembly
As it can be seen, citizens participating at the end of the process. It is common that planners (experts) are working on defining planning solutions. Although public review lasts for 30 days, sometimes it's not a huge response of citizens. That is happening because many peple do not know what the plans are used for or think that their comments will not be accepted. The problem usually occurs later, when they want to build something, and their desires do not match with the planning documents.
In order to overcome this problem and to make citizens more involved in the planning process, it is necessary to work on spreading awareness about the importance of plans.
I agree with your analysis of the problem. Citizens are involved too late in the process to make a real difference. In the process you describe, there's no stage in which citizen input can be incorporated. It sounds like the planning commission only looks for major complaints but doesn't look for constructive suggestions for improvements that citizens may have (although, as you point out, they may not be well enough informed to be able to offer effective comments).
Your comment that "people think their comments will not be accepted" is probably the best indication of your current culture of participation. It will be a big challenge (and an ongoing process) to change that.
In addition to your final sentence, I think it would be helpful if the city recognised its citizens as experts on their own neighbourhoods. Since they live there, they understand the transportation (and other) problems and would be in an excellent position to provide valuable input.