“Communication – Participation– Shared Governance”. Local Development Forum seminar report
Cities and towns – leaders in governance and local residents’ participation – were the protagonists of a Local Development Forum seminar organised in Tarnów on 24 February. We discussed dialogue, social inclusion, and intercultural integration.

This was a yet another seminar held by the Association of Polish Cities as part of the Local Development Forum and the related cycle “Activating endogenic potentials as a condition for developing small and medium-sized cities and towns in Poland”.

The seminar was part of a two-day conference with a focus on public participation, organised to summarise the “Local Government Leader of Governance” Competition. The Association of Polish Cities has been holding the Competition for years, with intent to reward best governance practices of Polish local governments. “Communication – Participation– Shared Governance” was chosen as the leitmotif for the 2022 edition.

The Local Development Forum seminar explored dialogue and shared governance as well, the Association of Polish Cities having invited local government officials and partners engaged in participation-related processes to join the event.

Tarnów had not been chosen as the hosting venue by chance. Multiculturality and co-existence of Jews and Roma people have been ingrained in the city’s history; the town is now also home to Ukrainians. It is an agora for people who – owing to their diversity – can exchange beliefs, knowledge and experience. Teeming with urban life, it is a natural magnet for individuals with a need for participating in culture, and discussions concerning the surrounding world. Tarnów offers excellent conditions for dialogue focusing on a good life, on efforts to develop pride in what Tarnów has been and is, on kindling accountability for the city’s future.

The purpose identified for this Competition edition was to identify, appreciate and recognise cities and towns who – owing to effectiveness in communicating with local residents, and efficiency in engaging them in local public life – have developed a capacity to influence local development in fields of public services and quality of urban life. The Competition was designed around the concept of open governance: the conscious and possibly broad provision of public data, with intent to secure the transparency and openness of decision-making processes. It further assumes that local residents will be made part of local development planning, delivery and monitoring processes, in terms of design and execution alike. “Such were the projects we paid particular attention to, and this was what we expected of cities and towns,” said Aleksandra Kowalska in Tarnów; she was a member of the team responsible for drafting the Competition concept and assessing the submitted applications.

Director of the Department of Culture, Equality and Diversity of the City of Bergen Vincent Mrimba attended the seminar. He spoke of how local residents are made part of shared governance in the second largest city in Norway. “Citizen involvement is important for political reasons, and has become our priority, a factor politicians ask about and look out for,” he said. “Locals in touch with the local government are also more involved than they used to be, not to mention the fact that they are more frequently and effectively listened to – this applies to i.a. the meeting planning and delivery process. Involvement is a priority for the city.”

Representatives of Competition-winning cities and towns attended a discussion panel titled “Shared Governance in the Practice of Polish Cities and Towns”. Representatives of Gdańsk, Tychy and Wrocław spoked of their experience of the origins and delivery of victorious projects. The second panel pivoted around the question of how to boost local residents’ engagement in urban development. Hosts of the convention – Mayor of Tarnów Roma Ciepiela and local activists – shared their experience. Topics discussed included community building, sharing common values, and social capital as the focal component to developing cities – and localities in general. The subject panned out into a debate concerning Ukrainian refugee presence in Tarnów and other Polish cities. Professor Jarosław Flis, eminent commentator of political processes and democratic mechanisms explained i.a. the origin of Poland’s extraordinary readiness to provide assistance and support to her neighbours.