Benin/Digital and citizen participation: thanks to Communes+, local democracy gets a new lease of life in Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi and Akpro-Missérété
With funding from the European Union in Benin, Le Municipal Foundation initiated and implemented the Communes+ Project, which provides specific answers to the challenges of citizen participation in Benin in general and in three communes in particular. Launched at the Conference Room of the Ministry of Decentralization and Local Governance in Cotonou, on July 26, 2019, by Minister Alassane SEIDOU in person, DigInfos looks back at this innovative digital solution, easily accessible and capable of solving in a revolutionary way, in a single investment the four (4) problems that undermine local governance. Communes+ has just been shortlisted for the 2022 "Good Practice in Citizen Participation" Award of the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy (IOPD).
The access of citizens to information on communal management should improve citizen participation; feedback from citizens and their contribution to decision-making, the management of communal affairs and the formulation of communal public policies; interactive exchanges between the communal administration and citizens, the discussion of communal preinteractive exchanges between the municipal administration and the citizens, the discussion of the commune's concerns with the contribution of the population, the possibility granted to the citizens to follow live the sessions of the communal or municipal council, the possibility for the Mayor to hold online accountability sessions in order to allow the citizens, at any time, to access the documents or images of the accountability; the dissemination of good practices: Here are precisely four (4) problems to which the Communes+ project has attempted to provide innovative solutions. Indeed, this initiative of the Municipal Foundation contributes to meeting the current challenge for Benin to achieve participatory decentralization, which allows for the mobilization of all actors around the mayor and the communal council. According to Franck Kinninvo, Executive Director of the Municipal Foundation, "Communes+ is the establishment and perpetuation of a digital platform for democracy and accountability in the communes of Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi and Akpro-Missérété. According to him, theimplementation of decentralization aims to promote local democracy and good governance in local communities, which is the only guarantee of sustainable development at the grassroots level. This is the spirit of Benin's Territorial Administration Code, which states in Article 24: "The commune is the decentralized territorial authority in the Republic of Benin. It is the institutional framework for the exercise of democracy at the grassroots level and the privileged place for citizen participation in the management of local public affairs," he continued. Franck Kinninvo also refers to the assessment (which, for him, is without appeal) made by the actors of decentralization at the forum Assessment of 12 years of decentralization held on 06 and 07 October 2015 at the Palais des Congrès in Cotonou: "Local democracy is on the move but sterile, because only provided for in the texts and absent from the daily lives of citizens." "In such a context, the need to promote local democracy through the digital becomes an imperative necessity. Without committed citizens, there is no viable decentralization" concludes the Expert in Decentralization and Local Governance.
Innovation, inclusion, communication, articulation with stakeholders and evaluation
In terms of innovation, this project, which lasted two years (March 2019 - March 2021), made it possible to prefigure with the actors and design a platform (website and application) by young Beninese developers who have acquired this expertise. In terms of social inclusion, the project has ensured that women and youth, the elderly and those living with disabilities are mobilized. During the meetings, a number of women are required. But overall, the website and the application allow people of all categories, including the elderly and those with disabilities to participate virtually in the life of the communities. "We have communicated strongly on both tools, at each stage of the project and periodically. Since the end of the project, we have been launching awareness campaigns so that citizens visit the sites and download the application.
A high-impact project...
The implementation method chosen is based on a participatory approach. The tools are developed in an inclusive way. All stakeholders were invited to express their expectations, from the prefiguration stage, under the leadership of the ministry in charge of decentralization, which hosted the exchange and validation session of the options. Thus, the producers and disseminators of communal information (local elected officials, communal administration, project focal point) were trained on the work to be done and the responsibilities to be assumed. Also, Civil Society Organizations and some personalities of the targeted communes were trained in the animation of the tools as citizens. Finally, the general public was associated with the project through an outreach campaign that showed the interest they will have in appropriating these tools and using them in the framework of citizen participation and good governance. In addition, equipment was made available to certain actors to facilitate the production of information and its dissemination on the tools. Communes+ has not overlooked the sustainability of the tools through a Communication and Marketing Plan to mobilize the public and advertisers. The quality of the information, its usefulness to citizens and its diversity have served as strategic approaches for the sustainability of the project through the design of a simple but effective platform accessible to all.
...with resounding results
The project has improved democracy and good governance in the targeted communes by facilitating citizens' access to information for participation and interaction between communal authorities and the population through a website and an application. "Through the project, elected officials, local administration and citizens collaborate and interact. The platform also allows citizens to follow closely the elected officials and the local administration" underlines Franck Kinninvo who insists "the project has enabled local governments to make public the information required by law to be made available to citizens on the website and the application".
The impact of the project is that the information on the management of the three communes is available online, within reach of all citizens who consult it. Three (03) results have been selected in order to achieve all the objectives of the Project.
First, the website and the Communes+ application are configured, implemented and validated by the actors. These data are available and verifiable on the website: www.communesplus.com. The application communes+: on Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.communesplus.commuesplus and on iPhone and iPad: https://apps.apple.com/app/communes-plus/id1559620411
Second, local administrations and CSOs are trained on how to use and update the application and the website. Indeed, once the website and the application were online, the Project team and the Consultants worked with the Mayors, the Focal Points, the Town Hall SGs and the Communication Officers to train them and to configure them an access for the management of the tools: 15 people trained in Akpro-Missérété, 22 people in Cotonou and 12 people in Abomey-Calavi. Third, the platform and the application are launched and promote citizen participation, democracy and good governance in a sustainable way.www.communesplus.com is a website and an application that can be downloaded from Play Store and App Store. In its pilot phase, it provides information on all aspects of the management of the communes of Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi and Akpro-Missérété.
The results of the project have made it possible to see, in a few days of popularization, the enthusiasm of communal actors who have downloaded the application more than a thousand times in a week and visited the website more than 20 thousand times, especially the page of the city of Cotonou. For the first time in the history of decentralization in Benin, the most unavailable documents such as administrative accounts, communal budgets, annual work plans, contracts awarded and the mayor's agenda are available online and accessible to all citizens.
The project to set up and sustain a digital platform for democracy and accountability in the communes of Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi and Akpro-Missérété is an initiative of the Municipal Foundation and the National Association of Benin Communes. It is funded by the Strengthening and Participation of Civil Society (RePaSOC) program under the 11th European Development Fund.