Kateryna Tsybenko, manager of the Transparent Cities Program in Transparency International Ukraine
We, the Transparent Cities program team, which is a part of Ukrainian chapter of the global anti-corruption organization Transparency International, were able to make 33 out of 100 city councils listen to our recommendations considering transparency and put them into practice. Not a bad result. I want to share it with everybody, because I believe that these practices can be used in a diverse range of fields, not only in fighting corruption and promoting transparency.
So, recipe № 1, which all the other advice is built on is the following – active communication. If you are pitching some solution, instrument, recommendation, draft of the document to the city council, you should make it as public as possible. At your own events, at the events of the others (especially if it’s a high-level event with awesome speakers). All the members of your organization have to be telling about your project to whomever they meet. Everyone around is supposed to know about your project and your decisions. It is also important to communicate the process itself – if the project you are going to advocate to the city councils is not yet ready, tell about the preparations, the international practices.
Our experience: we conduct a large number of public events. We created a pilot version of the ranking methodology and presented it (it is useful to listen to the suggestions on improvement), made it final and presented it yet again, compiled the ranking and presented it several times in different cities. At some point you will get invitations coming in and will have the choice which events to attend and which are better to miss (it is better to attend all of them, though).
Recipe № 2 – personal contacts with the “progressive” members of city counсils. Helping them, responding to their inquiries in a timely manner and asking for help. Everything starts with cold contacts. Once I wrote an email to Mykhailo Ivchenko, the Head of the Tender Board of the Mariupol City Council asking if I could present the transparency ranking in the city, and he called me back 2 minutes later, assuring me that they were ready not only to facilitate the presentation, but also to work on the recommendations given by us. Soon afterwards, Mariupol went from the 50th place to the top of the ranking. Mykhailo Ivchenko became Deputy Mayor and one of his duties is to promote transparency and accountability. The same is the case of Drohobych. Once I friended Stanislav Haider, the Head of the City Council IT department. He started to take interest in our rankings, the situation in Drohobych. We went there and now the city is at the top of the ranking, too.
If you are pitching some solution, instrument, recommendation, draft of the document to the city council, you should make it as public as possible.
Recipe № 3 – give praise, but don’t overpraise. Spell out the shortfalls. You can’t establish effective relations in the city council if the only thing you do is criticize. But if the only thing you do is sing praises, that won’t help either. Dnipro started to get good scores in our ranking since summer. Yet, at the same time, the activists were reporting that the real implementation of transparency instruments was lagging behind. The pinnacle of all things was the instance when the public that submitted the petition was not allowed into the Council where the petition was considered. Also, the City Council pushed for lifting the amount of votes needed in order to consider the petition. That time, we took the matter into our own hands and made a statement: “the city that has reasonably good results in transparency is supposed to care about the ways the transparency is implemented.” The City Council changed its opinion about lifting the amount of votes needed. That time we couldn’t remain silent. The perfect balance is to publish 70% of “wins” and 30% of “fails.”
Recipe № 4 – work with local opinion leaders. If you are in Kyiv, it might be hard for you to affect the City Council of Pokrov in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. In this city, we were able to work through our subgrantee – CO “Community Control”, the head of which, Artem Romanyukov, is the local opinion leader of the region. It is important to find and establish contacts with all the opinion leaders in the regions where you work. For example, it can be done at the events you are invited to. It is hard work that slowly brings in the results.
Recipe №5 – Give complete solutions, examples, emphasize that following your advice won’t cost the city council anything (if that’s true). Not all of the city council members are passionate about their work and are ready to listen to your suggestions. Make everything as clear as possible, preferably – give some examples of implementation elsewhere. In our transparency methodology of the investment segment we showed the best place of implementation under each indicator. City council can copy something that already exists instead of reinventing the wheel.
Not all of the city council members are passionate about their work and are ready to listen to your suggestions. Make everything as clear as possible, preferably give some examples of implementation elsewhere.
And some bonus advice – the international brand helps a lot. It is a bonus for the reason that not everyone can use this tip. But if your organization is part of a network with a foreign office or has a partner abroad, it gives your opinion more weight and a larger chance to be heard.
I hope this advice will help the people who are starting to establish effective contacts with city councils. If you have any questions, I’ll gladly respond at email@example.com