With the holiday season quickly approaching, I am reflecting on my wishes for the new year and first on my list is greater sustainability of our local communities – including the ones I worked with in Uzbekistan, Ukraine and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
These communities – including large cities, rayons (counties), and the Vardar inter-municipal planning region – assessed their own current situation in terms of economic development, social inclusion, governance and environmental issues.
Using a questionnaire with a simple ranking system to receive input from hundreds of people, these communities are creating new strategic plans aimed at creating jobs, improving access to public services, and fairly distributing the benefits of public resources, including natural resources.
Regional universities helped facilitate the data collection, and in the case of the Academy of Public Administration in Uzbekistan, it was an action-learning summer internship for 54 graduate students.
By observing and comparing the visual representation of results across municipalities, members of the Vardar planning network in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – local authorities, civil society organizations and business representatives – were able to come to consensus on priority areas for territorial cohesion. The self assessment showed the biggest disparities across municipalities in access to basic services and local government capacity for financial management, procurement, infrastructure investment, and land development.
Through the use of the self assessment, we would like to see more local authorities become open to cooperation with local groups and with other municipalities (for example through inter-municipal cooperation), uniting their efforts and resources to achieve a common goal.
The communities using the assessment tool said that previous planning had focused only on infrastructure investment, ignoring other resources and approaches that can be applied to achieve goals through collective action.
According to the Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, collective action is used to prevent short-term, self-centered actions, which eat up collective benefits. By definition, it should be a voluntary, coordinated activity, not government imposed.
In the Vardar network work programme, collective actions were prioritized that would enhance economic development while also creating opportunities for greater social inclusion and have a positive impact on environmental quality:
- The network will build a portal featuring opportunities for youth, support activities to connect small and medium enterprises to domestic and foreign markets, and encourage development of a regional centre for cooling, packaging and marketing fruits and vegetables.
- The local authorities will be trained in gender-sensitive policies and businesses will be trained in environmental standard ISO 14000.
- The local authorities will seek partners for developing recreation sites with natural rarities and will engage civil society organizations to provide services to the elderly and pre-school children.
In Uzbekistan they also want to increase youth participation in local council activities and public awareness campaigns for waste reduction and energy saving.
As the cities are growing demographically and economically, there is a need to expand the sewage system, gas and water supply, enhance logistics services, and support inter-firm collaboration.
The local authorities will start contracting local NGOs to provide social services, more online government services and more publicly available information on city budgets and expenditures.
Having in hand a rigorous baseline from the self-assessment, the local communities now want to develop indicators to measure progress across a set of assets important for local development, and hold local leaders accountable to specific targets.
This will give a richer picture of well-being than income, which only measures a snapshot of today’s situation without providing information on conditions that will influence the situation in the future, for better or worse.
Income also does not measure many factors that influence quality of life such as clean air and water, friends and neighbours, and health.
Our partners in Ukraine selected indicators focused on community dynamics, quality of citizen participation and public sector management, access to public services and the condition of related infrastructure, equal opportunities for employment, and land and water quality.
We suggested creating a way to measure assets from natural resources and assets we produce such as infrastructure, human capital, social capital, and technological know-how.
The goal of UNDP is to help local officials, and community members (including civil society, local media and business owners) – to create a long-term vision so they do not deplete natural resources in their pursuit of developing other assets of their community.
It’s a lot to wish for in one year’s time. But when we start measuring change in our local assets, we will have more meaningful information to gauge if we are making progress – and that is a good place to start.
- Has your community taken stock of local assets and found ways to measure change in these assets?
- Have your local authorities publicly committed to targets for improving specific local assets – clean water, safe streets, school infrastructure, knowledge-oriented businesses, youth employment?
Of the different domains examined by local stakeholders, we found a lack of knowledge about environmental issues.
- Have you worked with local communities so they can better judge the current situation in their communities when it comes to sustainable energy and agriculture, climate adaptation and the management of natural resources?