UN WEB TV 05/23/18
By United Nations Staff

Panel II

A second panel discussion, also chaired by Ms. Chatardová, was titled “Innovative policy approaches and technologies to foster participation of all” and was moderated by Michael Shank, Communications Director, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. The panellists included Hedia Belhadj, Groupe Tawhida Ben Cheikh, Women’s Health Research and Action, Tunisia; Francesco Tena, Project Manager, Participatory Budgeting Project, United States; Aroon P. Manoharan, Professor and Programme Director, Global Comparative Public Administration MPA Programme, University of Massachusetts Boston, United States; and Petr Marek, ERC-TECH, Czechia.

Mr. SHANK made several proposals to encourage participation in development, including accessible crowd-sourcing, consensus-building by involving the broader community, communications and preventing conflict by including several perspectives.

Ms. BELHADJ said that in her country, civil society had played a major role in identifying barriers and bringing community participation to the fore. Her organization aimed to change attitudes in terms of reproductive health, bringing in partner civil society organizations to address other requests women were making. She detailed local initiatives those partners had then undertaken, such as mapping and coalition-building, that had risen to the national level, constituting a strong advocacy platform. Community capacity strengthening had led to enhanced resilience, leading to community members advocating for their own rights and speaking out on issues, leading to changes in the law. Community mobilization could thus lead to “snowball partnerships” between civil society organizations, engaging Government institutions in building consensus in terms of human rights.

Mr. TENA detailed the experience of participatory budgeting in the United States, noting that the process must ensure equity and inclusion. In that context, he stressed the importance of grassroots leadership, inclusive design and targeted outreach to communities that tended not to participate. He drew from experiences in Boston, United States, to illustrate the process. Participatory budgeting was the ideal vehicle to translate global goals to the local level and was the way to scale down the Sustainable Development Goals to make them relevant to the average person. Originating in Brazil, it was now working in more than 30 cities across the United States, he said, adding that participatory budgeting would now happen in every high school in New York City. It was important to train people in different contexts so that they could institutionalize the process for themselves. Government agencies also benefited from the process, giving them a collaborative way to interface with residents.

Mr. MANOHARAN spoke about “e-Government,” an area whose goal was public participation and inclusivity. His research focused on evaluating cities’ performance on their implementation of e-government, in terms of privacy, usability, content, service and citizen participation. Through that research, he found that more city governments were gradually adopting e-government but continued to place less emphasis on privacy and citizen participation online. Moreover, many cities were unable to sustain their performance. He went on to highlight the global digital divide, which encompassed economic, geographical, social and cultural dimensions. In terms of inclusive technology platforms, he provided the examples of the Cape Access Project in South Africa and the Estonia Citizen Initiative Portal. In order to enable technology to foster participation and promote sustainable development, he called for greater connectivity infrastructure, building capacity in terms of public administrator skills and cooperation to develop a global and comparative perspective. He provided best practices examples of city websites from Prague, Tokyo, New York City, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore.

Mr. MAREK said his company was bringing about a revolution in terms of solutions for the waste and construction industry. Through a patented process, ERC-TECH was recycling inert concrete and demolition and making concrete production 15 per cent to 35 per cent cheaper, thus resolving the environmental burden. Such technical know-how was resulting in global financial benefits of $115 billion per year. Turning to the 2030 Goals, he noted that the process contributed to Goal 9 through stimulating the construction industry, Goal 8 by generating new job opportunities and Goal 13 by significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions, among others.

Mr. SHANK noted that such technological solutions also constituted opportunities for community engagement.

The representative of the African Union asked for poverty to have a strong position in the development agenda, adding that the specific situation in Africa should be taken into account. She recommended that women’s leadership be given greater support, calling for greater discussion and assistance in that regard.

The representative of the Republic of Korea said that her Government had adopted processes such as participatory budgeting, but some concerns about populism and extremism were emerging. She asked for ideas and experiences on how to discern between sound public opinions and those voices.

The representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union said that, in terms of budgeting, there was often a gap between what was asked of citizens and what was then implemented. He asked about the danger of public mistrust when such demands were not implemented considering the tensions inherent in the negotiation process.

Ms. BELHADJ said that investing in women would lead to investing in all the 2030 Goals. Her organization’s plan was to engage more young people, especially because youth constituted a sizeable proportion of Tunisia’s population.

Mr. TENA said that in the United States, participatory budgeting worked when it was part of local planning guidelines, enabling the setting of local direction backed by concrete funding.

Mr. MANOHARAN stressed the need to ensure rural areas were connected, with intergovernmental collaboration to enable that. He was working on bridging theory and practice by examining what graduate programmes could offer in that regard.

Mr. MAREK called for delivering environmental and financial benefits by funding pilot projects utilizing new technologies.