Success stories and reflection on the process
Infrastructure projects for communal service delivery are only effective and sustainable when implemented with citizen participation and citizens’ support. In the past years, Moldova has received a lot of external support for infrastructure development and maintenance. Be it water, sanitation, waste management, or street lighting – citizens’ involvement in the decision-making contributes to an inclusive process where their voices are heard. In a sustainable infrastructure and governance project, “authorities are successful in implementing projects when citizens are more involved and provide feedback. The more engaged they are, the more development can take place,” believes Lilian, one of the experts of the MĂ IMPLIC project.
This study explains MĂ IMPLIC ‘s approach to community engagement in infrastructure projects in Moldova for communal service delivery and whether this has been successful so far. The project MĂ IMPLIC focuses on improving civic engagement in local governance and aims to support local public authorities (Primaria) in 30 villages (group of villages) to improve communal services in such areas as solid waste management, sanitation, street lighting, and water supply. The MĂ IMPLIC team believes that by engaging citizens from different age groups and professions, as well as by working with the local government, these improvements will have a long-lasting effect, therefore public participation plays a pivotal role in the project approach. Infrastructure projects carried out in a non-inclusive way are a missed opportunity to develop the relationship between public planning and civic engagement. The MĂ IMPLIC participating villages were encouraged to create partnerships between local authorities and citizens. Ten out of 30 of these projects are implemented in partnership and are focusing on solid waste management. Partnerships along with community initiative groups, co-participation, and learning are the main pillars of MĂ IMPLIC project.
The project did not engage in identifying the priority problems related to service provision. We accepted the priorities proposed by the Primaria that they want to address with MĂ IMPLIC’s help. We worked together on defining the solutions. Our approach was to identify, discuss and then jointly decide on the best one out of different options. Sometimes, not all options are known to the Primaria and the citizens; the desire to have a specific solution creates a blind spot to the actual problem. For example, buying a big and powerful waste collection truck will not solve the existing financial problems, including fuel and operations costs. To address these challenges and find the most feasible solution, the project focused on turning problems into solutions as a significant part of its implementation stage.
The following methodology was used by the team:
1. Define your problem and your team
Every local community knows what their problems are. There may be no water, or that water is of poor quality; waste is not collected and there are too many unregulated places where this waste is dumped; street lighting illuminates only the center of the village but not the part of the village from where traffic enters the village. Few communities, however, have an assessment of their priorities and solutions to address these problems. Is it more urgent to improve water quality which is especially poor in the part of the village, which is up the hill, or to fix street lighting which leaves all the village in the dark during the winter months? Analyzing the problems in detail and understanding how the people affected can contribute to solving them was an important stage of our approach.
2. Analyze your potential solutions and create a design of the service
Once the local actors agree on the problem statement, they tend to look for its solution. However, the services we deal with are quite complex (waste management, water, and sanitation, street lighting) and often different actors prefer different alternatives. At this stage we involved facilitators to support local communities:
3. Identify the best solutions
As a result of citizen participation and expert ideas, the teams came up with at least two solutions. They were publicly discussed during a solution workshop and citizens selected the most appropriate and sustainable one from a technical, operational, and financial perspective.
The solution workshop had a goal to define common criteria and vision for the development of the service.
The MĂ IMPLIC project provides financial support for some of the identified investments in the service infrastructure. The project requires co-funding of 20% of the project’s grant support. This co-funding can be covered by funds from the local budget, or by funds obtained through other, donor- or state-budget-funded programs. Raising the co-financing from the population (including from the diaspora) is also eligible.
One of the pillars of this process is the community initiative team, comprising representatives of the community, the mayor, and representatives of the Primaria. The community initiative team informs the population, works with the technical experts and facilitators, and ensures that the needs of different citizens are represented. Partnerships, co-participation, and learning are the other key pillars that make the foundation of the project. These pillars will be described in this study.
Six villages and six stories were chosen to assess whether citizen engagement in the development of communal services is meaningful and helps the overall improvement of local governance in the selected villages. Mayors, representatives of community groups, entrepreneurs, experts, and facilitators shared their stories and experience from participation in the first phase of MĂ IMPLIC.
The Mă Implic project works with 49 communities in 30 local projects in total.
The communities covered in this article which are visualized in this map represent only a selection of this total.
Even though the final result is access to communal services for the population of the village, the participatory element strengthens local governance and creates a difference as people become more engaged and aware of the process and its complexities. They know the costs of services and how they are calculated, what needs to be done to connect to communal service, and how the local administration handles the process. “It’s a long-term approach. People become more interested, local administration and people are interacting more and everyone is involved – there is higher accountability and responsibility from both parties,” believes Vasile Kapsamun, the mayor of Dezghingea.
Dezghingea (UTA Gagauzia) and Cenac (Cimislia district) are two villages that partnered together for a project on solid waste management. While Dezghingea already provides some services for waste management, such as the collection of waste from households with a tractor, this is a new service for Cenac. The representatives of the local governments partnered together to ensure a more efficient waste management collection and recycling service for both communities. Young people, older people, local businesses, and people from different parts of the villages were involved in the decision-making. They have worked together with the project team and facilitators to shape the way the service will be delivered. It was discussed how often the garbage will be collected and where it will be dumped. With support from technical experts, it was also decided what kind of garbage containers will be installed and where. While working on the solution and the vision for the final result, the team was supported by technical experts who helped assess whether the solution is viable technically – i.e. whether the chosen machine model will be able to operate on the village streets.
Posters distributed in communities, explaining, how the communal solid waste management service works
“People are organizing themselves and becoming more involved. They are the ones who decide and not only the mayor. There is involvement from citizens, and they are well represented – young and old people alike, local businesses, representatives from the local administration, as well as parents and teachers,” believes Oleg Sandu, the mayor of Cenac. He also argues that by having a participatory approach “people know that the local administration is working not only during elections.”
In addition to establishing a solid waste management system, this is the first time the two mayors partner on a joint project and they are planning to continue this partnership and serve as an example for other local communities. “It is a first joint project, it is the beginning of all beginnings, it’s a great idea to solve the common challenges together, neighbors should be friends,” believes Vasile Kapsamun of Dezghingea.
Risipeni, Izvoare, Taxobeni, and Horesti from Falesti district also partnered together to ensure the management of solid waste in their communities. This has led to the creation of new services for waste management with a strong emphasis on recycling and waste separation. In addition, representatives of the local community initiative team from the initial four villages have been joined by another three villages (Sculeni, Cioropcani, and Buciumeni) to create a Local Action Group in order to continue their work together. “We became a great team together; we became friends and want to continue this partnership. We started a Local Action Group together with three other communities to work on tourist maps. Hence our cooperation will not stop here, and we believe that more sustainable projects can be implemented in partnership and by working together,” said Mariana Strechi, a teacher from Izvoare.
Citizens of Risipeni and MĂ IMPLIC team are planting trees at the place of an unauthorized landfill which was liquidated by the primaria
Despite legal challenges on how to manage and implement the service jointly for several communities, the team grew stronger together. By going from house to house and informing people, the team has received support from the population. People are engaged in understanding the process and are helping to spread the word. “Education is difficult and takes a long time, we still have a long way to go. It is great to have a team that works directly with citizens and represents them. It is a sustainable approach, it’s important to first build the foundation of our cooperation. Citizens are also willing to contribute financially to the project,” argues Dmitri Mosoreti, the mayor of Risipeni.
“I like that we take small steps. Until we don’t solve a question, we don’t go further,” said Lilia Dubasar, the mayor of Taxobeni. By including citizens and making them part of the team, there is also a commitment from their side and motivation to solve upcoming challenges. “A mayor can come up with ideas, but when there is no support it is hard to implement new initiatives. The team is great, each mayor knows their people. We go from house to house, but the challenge is to establish the tariffs and there are also challenges on the legal level – who does the equipment belong to? We are working with a specialist to discuss the legal aspects of our cooperation and looking for a functional model of a municipal enterprise with each local council as founding members,” said Sergiu Strechi, the mayor of Izvoare.
The members of the community initiative team in consultation with citizens, and supported by technical experts, decided to make recycling and separated waste collection a priority. It is a challenge and not everyone is on board. Therefore the project team is organizing educational campaigns and piloting separated waste collection in schools. “We started with a survey and its analysis. People, in general, agree to collect waste separately. It is helpful sometimes to talk to people privately, they share their views and how they see potential solutions to the problem,” says Stefan, one of the members of the working community initiative team. A former public servant himself, he has learned a lot about waste management and is eager to contribute to the project with his technical knowledge and a network of contacts. Together with Mariana Strechi and their bigger team, they ensure that information reaches everyone.
Information session about the solid waste management service in Izvoare, Falesti
Elena Savitchi, the mayor of Borogani, Leova district, is leading another project on ensuring solid waste management. Compared to the other two projects, Borogani could not partner with other villages as they already have the infrastructure in place. Elena and her team learned a lot through the project, especially regarding its technicalities, such as the types of machines and the equipment necessary for waste evacuation. This was new both for her and for the facilitator Victoria. “I learnt a lot about compost, current technologies, machines, and modalities of garbage evacuation. The visit to Falesti gave us insights about garbage containers and how and where to install them.” The process is complex and ensuring solid waste management does not just mean buying a tractor. “Yes, the process lasts longer, it is more tiring than just getting a grant. Democracy is complicated, you have to listen to everyone and there are always different opinions until the end. We are talking to people and experts, going from house to house. If people get involved, they will know everything about the service, as well as how the costs are calculated and what is the infrastructure behind solid waste management service,” says Elena. She also mentioned that the project is technically very challenging, and she and the facilitator worked a lot on understanding the technical requirements. They have been in touch with mayors from other cities and villages and exchanged on how to best implement this service. The study visits within the project proved to be very resourceful.
Working group meeting in Borogani, Leova
One of the success stories in Borogani is getting the local priest to join the community initiative team. He is actively involved and engages with citizens in discussions about the service, and advocates for inclusive solutions related to waste management. “The success story is that the church and the priest got involved. He is a role model for citizens, and he is involved as a concerned citizen himself, it was not something I expected,” mentioned Liliana Puzderi, a member of the community initiative group.
“The process is a good model of how we should engage citizens. Usually, we are three to four people sitting together and making decisions – but in this way, we also discover new solutions and hear from people who would not normally be involved. There is a greater sense of accountability – as we have to deliver what has been promised to citizens. It is difficult to work and engage all people, but people are grateful when they get involved,” concluded Elena.
The members of the team include local business and municipal advisors. Liliana Puzderi is an active member of the local group. She is a person with disabilities and takes an active role in ensuring that public spaces and infrastructure and communal services consider the needs of disabled people. She has been involved in shaping decisions on how the waste will be collected and ensuring people do not have to carry heavy loads to access the service.
“Not only are citizens getting involved by expressing their needs and providing feedback, but they are also going from neighbor to neighbor to inform others. They know what the process should look like when the project is completed. Every citizen knows the timeline and key steps. Citizens are now getting engaged and asking about cleaning public spaces and removing unauthorized landfills. We have citizens from cities or who have lived abroad, and they want better services, especially when they see examples from other communities in Moldova – they know it is possible to have it in Borogani”, Liliana argues.
In Niscani, Calarasi district, where the project is focused on street lighting, cooperation and co-participation drive the project. The community has mobilized to create and decorate public spaces by planting flowers around electricity pillars. One entrepreneur donated daffodils for this cause and citizens volunteered to plant them in public places. The mayor, Petru Sorici, believes that once the project is completed, the village will be more active at night. People will be able to go outside at night to interact and have late-night activities, especially in summer when it is too hot during the day. He communicates actively with the population of the village. “I think it is the right approach, we communicate a lot with citizens – via Facebook & Viber. I put a lot of emphasis on citizen engagement.” Milodora Gheorghita, a member of the community initiative team believes that “it is an important approach to get citizens on board, also by financial contributions. Without engagement, there is less awareness and recognition, especially when the services offered are free. When people are involved, there is more responsibility, people are eager to preserve the service and ensure its functionality.” Additionally, since different parts of the population are represented, people do not feel discriminated against and are equally engaged. “Light brings light to people, we want all the parts of the village to be lightened, so people don’t feel discriminated against, and everyone feels treated equally,” believes Milodora.
Posters distributed in communities, explaining, how the public street lighting service works
The community initiative team also has developed a new project for water management because people have mobilized themselves and started contributing. “People are already much more aware that they have to contribute to community projects. There has to be involvement from their side. They are educated on this and participate in different local governance projects. Additionally, people are active in cleaning the streets, planting flowers, and making the village look more appealing,” she argues.
Pillars for street lighting are installed in Niscani
Two facilitators, Victor and Victoria, mentioned that “the project is innovative and more sustainable than usual grants. We engage and inform citizens. After signing the cooperation agreement, we have started information campaigns to get citizens on board. The project is solving real problems in the community. The fact that different groups of citizens are involved contributes to making results more long-lasting. When people are involved, they won’t be indifferent.” The 9 selected facilitators closely work with the project experts and the technical team, including technical advisors for all the communal services.
Local governance and citizen participation cannot be taken for granted. In communities where teams have less experience in infrastructure projects or citizens are less active, working on the technical solutions has been more challenging, requiring more time, and overall more demanding. In Leuseni the team is still working on the technical project and once it is done, citizens will be engaged more. “At the moment, it is just our team working. Once we have the technical project we will go and share it with the village. I think people should be more engaged, however they are not. Due to Covid we cannot organize big meetings at the town hall, so we do it via Facebook and we will speak to fellow citizens, but it’s not the same,” says Rita Bran from the mayor’s office in Leuseni. “I think the project is well designed overall. At the moment we are working on the technical part of the project, and we are very transparent, we share all the notes of our meetings online. We will involve citizens at the later stage,” says the mayor of Leuseni, Grigore Gheorghiu.
Posters distributed in communities, explaining, how the water supply and sanitation communal service works.
The community initiative team also expressed interest to learn how to better communicate with citizens. They are supported in this process by their facilitator.
In Ciuciuleni, Hincesti, where the team is working on the water supply project, the technical part has not been completed either. Zinaida Romascu, a member of the working team mentions that “I think it is good that we are going slowly but steadily, it is really important to consult with fellow citizens and I do it regularly. Not many are engaged, but those who want the water are more active. Also, people get more active when they see that work has started. It was good that we had questionnaires and interviewed citizens. Previously, we just asked for money, but now we have surveyed them, and people feel consulted. Additionally, people want access to water, so this is the main driver. Some people help in the process, and we try to engage everyone, but it is not easy.” The mayor, Gheorghe Grigoras thinks that “we still need some information and training on the topic. The whole process is quite long, and people do not trust us due to previous failures with infrastructure projects where promises were made, but the infrastructure was not put in place. So now the population is skeptical to contribute and to trust the local authorities.”
Technical service evaluation working groups in Leuseni and other partner municipalities
Overall, some of the processes took longer than expected and those who were interviewed acknowledge this. To maintain motivation and citizen engagement, it is best to combine the participatory element with the start of the technical project.
The following factors have been identified for successful citizen engagement in community-led projects:
The project on civic engagement in local governance – MĂ IMPLIC, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC and implemented by Skat Consulting Ltd, provides support to local public authorities in 30 localities / groups of partner LPAs, to organize the provision of communal services in a participatory, efficient, inclusive and sustainable way.
***Written by Anastasia Pociumban for MĂ IMPLIC Project.