From May to September last year, we provided active support in the setting up and implementation of participatory planning in Čáslav, Czech Republic. We helped the local municipal authority introduce the participation agenda and set up the role of the Participation Coordinator to whom we passed on the knowledge and skills needed. At the same time, we were helping the city hall design participatory processes, their implementation, and in deciding on using civic tech tools.
The joint efforts of the municipal authority and Participation Factory to institutionalize the participation agenda began in 2021 when we conducted a diagnostic for participatory planning in Čáslav. The aim of the analysis was (a) to assess existing or planned projects with participatory potential, (b) to get an overview of the respondents’ level of knowledge in the field of participation, (c) to assess the level of cooperation across the organization, and most importantly (d) based on the above, to draw up a list of practical steps (recommendations) that helped to set up a systemic, meaningful approach to the field of participatory planning.
Based on the number and scope of identified projects for participation that emerged from the diagnostic and subsequent workshop with the city management and the defined city hall’s goals for participatory planning, there was a requirement to introduce a new position of Participation Coordinator.
During the collaboration with the city office, we delivered a series of training modules that offered a theoretical and practical insight into the participation agenda. At the same time, we provided ad hoc consultations on individual projects that the Participation Coordinator was in charge of during the period, where she was training her newly acquired skills. An example is the participatory process for the revitalisation of the pedestrian zone in the city center. The pedestrian zone is currently a slightly neglected, yet an important public space in which new potential and form will be defined through an urban planning and architectural competition. The city has involved the general public and especially those citizens who actively use the space in the preparation of the relevant documents. During the public meeting with the architects in the area, the citizens had an opportunity to give their opinions on how they would like the new pavement or how to solve the problem of green space in the area. All the suggestions and discussions were recorded in a protocol, which was then handed over to the city architects.
Not only the engagement in the project on the pedestrian zone, but also our overall cooperation with the municipality over several months allowed us to see a great potential for participatory planning, as well as the willingness of citizens to be a part of decision making. Initiating such an agenda is not easy, but the authority has in the past demonstrated a high level of commitment and ambition to make governance as open as possible. Consequently, we concluded our cooperation with an overview of the know-how the Participation Coordinator gained and recommended further steps to strengthen the participation agenda at the municipality. We strongly believe that the city will continue to pursue these efforts.