How citizen engagement drives effective communal service planning (the practice of the Mă Implic project)

I. Introduction

The quality of public services is also a concern of the community, not just of the City Hall. We asked residents in several partner communities what made them so active, and the answer was the same: “Because I want to GET INVOLVED”. So, I get involved is the key verb spoken by everyone you meet in the 30 beneficiary municipalities. I spoke to several community members to understand why in some places things are gradually changing for the better and citizens are becoming more active, while in others the same problems have persisted for decades. 

Previously, a study was carried out which analyzed the results of the MĂ IMPLIC project from the perspective of community involvement in community service delivery projects in the Republic of Moldova. The current study, however, concerns the second phase of the project. This involves supporting partner LPAs in developing a medium-term plan to improve a particular service. Solutions have been identified and analyzed by the Community Initiative Team, together with the technical expert, and have been publicly consulted with citizens. In the end, each solution was included in the Services Improvement Plan. Each plan developed covers one or more services, such as water supply, sewerage, waste management and street lighting. The aim is to ensure that people in the villages have access to quality services.

II. What is a Services Improvement Plan?

The Service Improvement Plan is a document that plans for the improvement of the public service and schedules investment in it. It is drawn up by each of the 30 project partners and involves one or more municipalities. The plan includes the steps needed to set up the service, the people responsible, and their tasks. The document is drawn up by the Community Initiative Team (CIT), whose work is guided by a facilitator and approved at the local council meeting. The plan provides local authorities, the service provider, and the population with practical solutions to improve community services. The proposed solutions take into account local development conditions (state of the infrastructure, organization of the process, consumers’ attitude towards the service) as well as environmental concerns so that they can be implemented as efficiently as possible. The plan aims to improve a common public service, but in addition to building or renovating the infrastructure, it also provides for actions to develop the operator’s capacities. In particular, the plan aims to optimize the way the operator works, establish local regulations (including approval of the tariff for the provision of the service), and communicate continuously and effectively with customers to ensure that the communal service is provided in a transparent way.

The plan to improve the community housekeeping service is divided into the following sections:

  1. Self-assessment of the communal service.
  2. Service development trends and proposed solutions.
  3. Vision and service improvement objectives.
  4. Action plan to improve and develop service delivery practices.
  5. Indicators for monitoring of the Plan.

Collecting and processing the data for the community profile took the longest time, but all institutions were willing to provide data. Sections 1-3 were developed by the local public authority and the community initiative team according to the methodology proposed by the MA IMPLIC project. The action plan and the list of indicators were developed based on the expertise of the MA IMPLIC project, which also helped to make decisions on service development, service improvement and self-assessment.

The members of the community teams assessed the content of the document as “very good, as it is detailed, complex, well structured, understandable and includes everything necessary for the proper functioning of a public service”.

Planning for the development of the service took about a year. This was one of the biggest challenges, as the population involved in the process wanted immediate results. However, although the process of improving a service takes time, the steps taken are important to achieve the desired outcome. Therefore, for citizens to understand the logic of the work, the planning had to be clear.  On the other hand, it was important that the process was not too long, to keep people motivated throughout. Otherwise, there could have been delays in carrying out the actions, fatigue, and distrust in the process. To avoid such situations, it was necessary that the people involved were available and their actions well planned. 


The project was carried out in several stages:

  1. The creation of the Community Initiative Team, a key tool in the development of the Plan. The team was made up of representatives from local authorities, the service operator, and citizens. The elected members are relevant to the community and actively participate in the analysis of the current They also identify problems, find solutions, and inform the community.
  2. Participatory analysis to shape a vision for service development. The service was chosen by citizens, following a survey, both online and in person. Also in the completed questionnaire, citizens mentioned how they would like the service to be improved.
  3. Selecting a possible and consensual solution to improve the service. The citizens, with the help of the facilitator and the technical expert, discussed the identified solutions and chose the most suitable one for their locality.
  4. Self-assessment of service operator Representatives of the municipal enterprise completed a questionnaire, comparing the current service situation with the desired one. Thus, according to the existing shortcomings, activities, and objectives were planned, leading to the improvement of the municipal service.
  5. Development of the Plan for the improvement of the communal service. The information gathered by the local team and experts established the vision and objectives for service Actions to improve service delivery were identified and indicators to monitor the Plan were established. The Plan, therefore, defined the shortcomings of the service and how it should be organized so that it is efficient and of high quality.
  6. Public consultation on the Plan. The Plan has been publicly consulted and public events have been held where citizens have been introduced to the Plan. In most cases, consultations were held both physically and online.
  7. Approval of the Plan at the City/County Council meeting.
  8. Implementation of the Plan. Once approved, the document is to be implemented by both the local public authority and the service operator. The following activities are required:
  • The signing of the Grant Agreement between the MĂ IMPLIC project and the LPA for the creation and/or improvement of the service.
  • mobilizing resources, including organizing a fundraising campaign to ensure at least a 20% contribution, but also for other actions in the plan.
  • launch the procurement procedure and/or carry out the works.
  • monitoring the delivery of the improved service
IV. Community Initiative Team

The Community Initiative Team is a partnership between the LPA, the service operator, and the citizens. It manages the activities and involves all members in the process.

The creation of the Community Initiative Team was among the first steps in planning for service improvement and played an important role throughout the process. The team analyzed the current situation, identified problems and solutions, and informed the public.

In the process, the team learned how to write projects, organize information and awareness-raising campaigns, communicate with citizens, identify funding, and monitor progress. Through these activities, the quality of public service delivery was improved, while citizens were more actively involved in local decision-making. In the process of developing the plan, the Community Initiative Team effectively represented the community.

“Team members were selected on the basis of a public notice. Each sector in the village has delegated one person or leader, as we call them, (five in number) who has a good image and can positively influence the slum dwellers. The elected leaders have been the link between the town hall and the sector they represent and have been able to get the message across to the others,” says Rima Stăvilă, a member of the EIC, representing civil society.

The citizens, being of different ages and occupations, participated in all stages of the project implementation.

In some cases, several localities have worked together to develop joint services. This was only possible through effective communication and joint efforts. On good cooperation, the team of four municipalities (Risipeni, Taxobeni, Izvoare and Horești) reminds us: “We are like brothers of the cross and have joint activities in several inter-community projects, including a local action group (LAG) created and registered. All the meetings held were jointly organized with the four member LPAs, which allowed us to get to know each other better, synchronize our efforts and all benefit equally from this project. In order to ensure the full implementation of the Plan and the sustainability of the service, we are joining efforts to find other financial sources, from donors or government programs“, says Dmitri Mosoreti, Mayor of Risipeni municipality.

In Bădiceni, a local councilor says that the mayor is the one who creates the team spirit that unites the members, and the good cooperation between institutions is also due to the mayor. The mayor, for his part, says: “The town hall alone can do nothing. Together we are a team. These statements speak of the good relations established at community level and the degree of cooperation between the institutions and the community.

What does the participation process offer to improve a public service?

  • Citizens, being the final consumers, speak openly about how they would like the service to be provided.
  • Citizens find out first-hand about the problems the operator is facing and suggest ways in which these can be solved.
  • Citizens understand that improving the service requires resources: money, time, specialists in the field, etc.
V. Intelligent service planning

The planning process proposed public service models that include several components: operating and maintaining services, attracting investment, communicating with consumers, monitoring progress.

In the case of water supply and sanitation, this would include identifying reliable water supply sources, connecting all households to water and sanitation, building a water treatment plant and septic tanks, and improving water quality. In the case of waste management, this would be a purchase of individual bins, purchase of a waste collection truck/tractor, identification of a landfill site, training of the population on separate collection and composting of organic waste, identification of waste recycling contractors, etc.

Solutions can last over time if several factors are considered:

  • approval or modification of local tariffs covering the cost of service.
  • offering preferential tariffs for socially vulnerable people and introducing penalties for bad payers.
  • drafting and reviewing the acts governing the
  • quarterly monitoring of the implementation of the Plan and involving the team in checking actions when necessary.
  • informing the public about the activities carried out and consulting them as necessary.

The planning process was a learning process. Each stage was discussed, explained, and understood by all team members. If at the beginning some members found it difficult to explain how the service will be organized, who and what role they will have in the planning process, what the technical solutions are, etc. – today anyone in the team could talk about these issues.

VI. Public consultations

The plan was consulted with local people in several consultative meetings held in various sectors and institutions. In this way, several residents were able to find out about the plans for the next two years, how the interventions will be implemented and how much they will cost. Often, at these meetings, people also raise other issues of local interest, which has strengthened the relationship between the LPA and citizens, but also increased the involvement of the population, both physically and financially.

The date and venue of the consultative meetings were announced in advance[1] . Citizens could also submit recommendations and comments online. The message that launched the consultations at Capaclia was: “Capaclia needs you. Take part in the public consultations!”

Even though they were held in a restricted format, the public consultations achieved their purpose. However, communities regret that they were unable to hold general meetings because of the pandemic.

After consulting citizens and adjusting the Plan according to their recommendations, the document was approved at the City Council meeting of each partner municipality. In Bădiceni, facilitator Ala Taran appreciated the preparedness of the Local Council meeting, where each councilor had a folder with detailed information about the project. Although at previous meetings there were councilors who did not support the project, at the meeting approving the Plan, the vote was unanimous. Team members believe that sometimes the length of the process is welcome, so it brings consensus to the Council as well.

The Facebook post of the LPA Capaclia, announcing the start of the public consultations

At public consultations as at the feast

Some communities have turned the public consultation process into a series of events, and the public hearings have been celebrations. The Community Initiative Teams of Risipeni, Taxobeni, Horești and Izvoare town halls developed and approved an action plan for each locality with clearly defined responsibilities.

In Risipeni and Bocșa, 16 meetings were organized in slums, public institutions, economic agents and shops. During these meetings, participants received information leaflets and discussed how the future service will work. In this way, during the public consultations, citizens were not only informed but also better understood their role in improving the service.

At the final event, the public park was transformed into a place for everyone to rest and relax. There was improvised seating, a craftsmen’s exhibition, and of course the traditional pies and music.

Several slogans were considered for the consultation process, the one selected being “Clean from village to village”.

Risipeni citizens at public consultations

VII. Grant Agreement and securing local co-financing

The SKAT Foundation, through the project MĂ IMPLIC, provides non-reimbursable funding for the implementation of some actions of the Plan, after its approval by the City Council. For this purpose, a Grant Agreement is signed between the City Council and the MA IMPLIC project. The Agreement includes the amount allocated, the activities to be implemented from the donor’s resources (up to 80%) and the beneficiary municipality’s resources (at least 20%), the conditions for the grant instalment and the work plan.

With a Service Improvement Plan, the community can attract additional funding resources, both public (local budget, district budget) and from citizens. Similarly, municipalities can obtain funds at national level[1]  or propose projects to donors in open calls. In this way, the Plan becomes a useful tool that can attract additional investment to improve the service. In this context, the community contribution also increases significantly.

An important step was fundraising, which directly empowered citizens. The fundraising was successful, and the full amount agreed locally was raised. In the village of Capaclia it was agreed that each household should contribute at least 500 MDL to improve the water supply and sanitation service. The Diaspora was particularly interested in contributing and some natives donated for 20 households, which could not afford to participate.

Donations were made online, by bank transfer or at the village post office. The first 25% of the set amount was collected in record time for the village. The Capaclia fundraising campaign was successful due to good communication, previous experience of collecting and using the money, the involvement of the diaspora and the transparency of how the money was spent. All donors will be included in a list and there will be continuous communication about how the money is used until the end of the project.

The residents of Bădiceni are aware that every household needs to contribute to have drinking water on tap. Compared to the resources needed to build a well, people understand that the amount for connecting to the communal water supply service is not that high. Until the service was established, many villagers bought water or fetched it from other springs far away, as there are no wells with drinking water in the village. People, who cannot afford to pay the full amount to connect to the water supply, are even willing to pay in instalments to connect to the communal service.

[1] Such as the National Fund for Regional and Local Development, AIPA.

VIII. Sustainability of the service

The service can only grow in the long term through communication, enthusiasm, and interaction between the team and the community. If the project had been limited to just buying the technology, it would have ceased to exist from the start. Now, with experience and donor confidence, communities are confident that they will be able to find resources to run the service in the future.

Exchanges of experience and visits to localities that have gone through similar stages play a very important role because they bring a lot of enthusiasm and motivate citizens to change things in their locality.

Because they have been involved in the processes of identifying needs and solutions, more and more citizens want to monitor how the project is implemented and how the service works.

Each year, citizens will fill in a questionnaire, indicating how satisfied they are with the service provided. Similarly, the operator will annually self-assess its service performance, which will be compared with the results of the survey. The plan will also be reviewed annually as necessary.

The MĂ IMPLIC project team expects that in 2-3 years municipalities will propose other services for improvement because of the experience gained. “We would very much like the municipalities to take into account the developed Plan, to consider it useful and in accordance with the needs of the population to ensure its continuity. We would like the monitoring tool to be applied regularly, the document to be reviewed annually, a public opinion survey to be carried out every year to find out the citizens’ opinion on the impact of the project, and a self-assessment of the performance of the municipal service operator to be carried out annually”, said Lilian Danilov, activity manager of the MĂ IMPLIC project.

Tudor, an elderly man who regularly takes his rubbish by cart to the village dump, keeps asking the town hall when the waste collection service will be operational. He thinks that next year he might not have the strength to carry the rubbish himself. If it is collected at the gate, Tudor will be satisfied and would be willing to pay whatever it takes.

IX. Success factors

9.1. Systematic communication within the team and community.

Team members and the public communicated effectively and quickly, both physically and online via social media. At Capaclia, there were many carefully planned meetings with a clear agenda and defined roles for each participant. “Given the large number of team meetings and multiple discussions with the technical expert, we also became experts in the field of water supply and sanitation. The process is long and we have to be patient. Initially people thought that a project meant buying the station and installing it. Later, they realized that the implementation period takes time and that this allows everyone to gradually understand the necessary steps to be taken,says a member of the Capaclia team.

Through opinion polls, people have a better understanding of the issues involved in providing that service. In Bădiceni, the population was very interested in participating. Families with young children and elderly people came to the discussions. To show their appreciation, in Risipeni, the most active representatives were given certificates.

Information campaign for citizens from Risipeni about sorting and recycling waste

Various methods were used to increase interest and awareness of the need for the service. The main processes in which citizens were involved were:

  • discussions with each household in the community and meetings by sector.
  • Information campaigns, including leaflet distribution, that made people understand why the service is important to the community, why they should connect to it, why they should pay for it and contribute financially to its
  • distribution of visual materials that explained the planning process, how a service works, etc.
  • communicating on social networks and in groups on Viber, distributing announcements at shopping centers, post office, educational institutions, health institutions, etc.;
  • participation in exchange visits between municipalities to establish collaborative relationships and to learn from good practice and inspire each other.
  • organizing photo exhibitions – PhotoVoice.

PhotoVoice — photo exhibition for Capaclia residents, part of the awareness campaign. Following a competition, 20 of the most evocative photos, taken by villagers, highlighting the water problem, were exhibited in several locations in the village. The exhibition was launched at a village council meeting, where councilors viewed each photo and read the “story of the picture”. In this way they understood that the drinking water problem affects everyone, and urgent action is needed to solve it.

9.2. The people without whom this process would NOT have been possible:

Although the mayor is the key pillar in the management of the whole process, the presence of :

  • an external facilitator to organize the team, mobilize the community and guide the development of the Plan. “If we save money on facilitation and organization, we lose quality. The facilitator was our mainstay. He ‘took us by the scruff of the neck’ whenever we needed to move forward. He also always encouraged us to move forward, negotiated with all the people involved to reach a consensus and have the service created today”, say the Risipeni team members, and the Capaclia team members also said that they “are very lucky to have a mentor guiding them step by step“;
  • a technical expert, whose role was to assist in choosing the best possible technical solution from the technical, financial and sustainability point of view. “The technical expert was very welcome, taking a serious attitude to our work and helping us enormously in choosing the best option. The expert explained everything so well that we also understood what the solution was, and now we can pass the message on to other people in the village,” said a member of the Capaclia team. In Bădiceni, the team appreciated that: “The solutions were not imposed. The expert explained clearly what we needed to do and together we decided. Because we understood the problem with the help of the expert, we changed the solution that was initially identified”.

As part of the MĂ IMPLIC project, citizens became more involved in the community as a result of the planning process to improve community services:

  • citizens participated more actively in public discussions and decision-making.
  • the authorities frequently consulted citizens, gave them access to documents and involved them in decision-making.
  • people from socially vulnerable groups were supported to connect to the service and offered preferential rates to pay for the service.
  • services have become more accessible and are delivered more efficiently.
  • local authorities feel more accountable to the community and report activities according to set indicators.

Composition and role of the Community Initiative Team. The team should be made up of the right people, who should be selected according to their interest and willingness to be involved throughout the process. It is important to highlight people who have some authority in the village, can talk to people and can convey information in simple and accessible language.

It is also recommended that team members represent different age, social, gender and occupational groups in order to have a balance of needs, opinions and proposed solutions. A diverse team, with responsive, critical thinkers and knowledgeable people in different fields, will make the process successful.

Good organization and planning of activities. For citizens to understand the logic of the activity, planning must be clear.  It is also important that the process is not too long, to keep people motivated throughout. Otherwise, delays in action, fatigue and distrust of the process may occur. To avoid this, the people involved must be willing and their actions well planned.

The calendar of activities, which includes all project milestones, was a useful tool for the teams. It is recommended that it is reviewed at each meeting to see the progress of the project.

Good communication between team members as well as between the team and the community throughout the process.

Citizens will have more confidence in the authorities if discussions and activities are conducted in a transparent manner. Moreover, this will encourage them to get involved voluntarily in the work and to make donations. Therefore, people will be conscientious in using the service in the future.

Have a core support person in the form of a community facilitator, i.e. someone who communicates “in a way that people understand”, who motivates and guides the team at all times during the creation and/or improvement of the service.

In addition to financial support, the MĂ IMPLIC project helps partner communities to correctly identify their need for better community service, to form a vision for the future development of other needed services, to plan their actions effectively, and finally to improve their community service maintenance and service practices.