At the end of last year, we completed a diagnostics of participatory planning for the Shama district in African Ghana. What did we specifically find? Are the results of our diagnosis similar to those in European cities? And how does the African region differ?
The Shama district is located on the southern coast of Ghana and is known for its diverse economy, which includes agriculture, fishing, and small-scale production. The area is dominated by oil palm and coconut plantations, as well as a fishing industry centered around the coastal town of the same name. Naturally, this is an area that is significantly different from the Czech regions and cities where we have had the opportunity to conduct participation diagnostics in the past.
Our participatory planning diagnostics project aimed to establish the basic building blocks for systematically involving both experts and the broader public in the Shama area. The diagnostics was part of an action plan to fulfill the goals set under the OGP Local program and was conducted in collaboration with a local team (we have written about our collaboration with them before). After thorough training, the local team was responsible for practically conducting interviews with individual internal stakeholders. Collaboration with the local team was one of the points that enabled greater sustainability of the entire project. Some of the know-how about participation generally remains on-site, not only in the form of a final report but also in the form of experiences gained by our Ghanaian colleagues.
The diagnostics includes mapping the organizational structure of the institution, evaluating internal capacity and know-how, reviewing and evaluating digital tools used for project management, evaluating the quality of communication and the use of e-participation tools. Even just defining the internal stakeholders and mapping them in Ghana was more complicated than is typical for projects in the northern hemisphere. In addition to standard employees in local government, Ghana also has traditional local authorities. A large part of the analysis also focused on evaluating past, current, and planned projects, with their participatory component being the main focus of the investigation.
Although only a few individuals with whom we closely collaborated underwent our introductory participation training, it was evident that a significant number of the employees of a local hall had possessed some familiarity with participation or at least some participatory activities. The acquired know-how of individual employees in the field of participation was at a very high level. The employees whom we see as internal stakeholders were aware of the possibilities for involving residents, where participatory planning can be utilized, and even how to engage residents using digital tools for e-participation.
As our diagnostics in European cities often reveal, there is a lack of systematic approach in participatory activities in Shama too. Different actors tend to operate independently rather than being interconnected, and the data generated by each of them is not effectively utilized. However, use of modern technology and digital tools for participatory processes is intriguing. As it happens often, the desire to be a modern and progressive community in Shama was mistaken for the need to have a universal civic tech tool that will solve many of the obstacles in public participation.
It is essential to understand, however, that a civic tech tool is primarily a TOOL. It can simplify existing processes. Each local government must always consider for whom the tool is intended, in which projects it should be utilized, and which target group it should cover. Frequently, we come to the conclusion that the originally intended all-encompassing tool is not suitable at the present. Additionally, multifunctional tools are often very expensive, even if they are open-source. While the licenses for such tools are free, it is important to consider the implementation and customization costs for specific projects. In areas like Shama, it is crucial to also consider the target audience of tools, whether key actors will have access to the applications, how to ensure their access, and whether the tool is user-friendly enough for all the groups.
The result of the diagnostics for participatory planning is clear. Capacities, practices, and principles need to be introduced that will be valid across the entire local government to ensure a systematic participatory agenda with a broader reach across individual activities. And digital tools? Our goal is to begin using simpler feedback gathering and reporting tools in the Shama area that will be cheaper to operate and will supplement personal participatory methods. Such an approach will allow residents of Shama to gradually become accustomed to the possibility of utilizing digital tools and the simplicity of involvement in decision-making processes.
Are you interested in public participation? Want to learn more about diagnostics? Get in touch via email@example.com !