Helping Cities to Implement New Citizens’ Participation Models in Italy

Simone D'Antonio

By Simone D'Antonio, on June 7th, 2013

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Developing and maintaining structured forms of civic participation is not a mainstream practice for many Italian local authorities. But some useful initiatives such as the URBACT National Training Scheme, which took place on the 23rd and 24th of May in Rome, support Italian cities so that they develop a wider approach to stakeholders’ participation. Today citizens in Italy ask for more participation and involvement in political decisions. Cities can make the difference and act as pioneers to ensure that citizens’ opinions are really taken into account.

The URBACT Local Support Groups: A New Practice of Staholders’ Involvement 

In each URBACT city, a group of local stakeholders – the URBACT Local Support Group (LSG) – is created to work with the local authority in the implementation of the project. The training scheme was designed for its members but the objectives of the training go beyond the mere implementation of the URBACT project. It actually aims at developing methods of stakeholders’ involvement that will be used by cities in the long run.

The composition of the Local Support Groups is very heterogeneous: of course there are local authorities’ representatives. Some other members come from the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) or the private sector, some participate as inhabitants of a specific area, and some are experts in the field of each project. They work together for the whole duration of the URBACT project to develop a strategy for the city – The Local Action Plan – in the main field of the project, may it be for instance the development of sustainable food or the creation of stronger links between the university and the city, such as in EUniverCities project.

The experience of the Local Support Group is significant and interesting because it encourages dialogue and change at local level beyond the URBACT project activities. It stimulates more widely public-private cooperation. The participation model put into practice in the Local Support Groups creates a positive dynamic of cooperation. It brings in new practices and working models to institutional and non-institutional parties.

Italian Cities Have Been Successful at Involving New Types of Stakeholders

In Novara, a partner of the 4D CITIES project, the Local Support Group involved the faculties of Medicine, Pharmacy and Biotechnology of the local university, but also associations of patients, in the development of a scientific-technology park. In Messina, partner of the project Sustainable Food in Urban Communities, groups fighting for more ethical purchases helped in the development and implementation of a promotion campaign for “kilometre zero” food consumption.
In the frame of the USEACT project, in Naples the association of young builders was involved in delivering training about efficient land use and the creation of new public spaces.

Raising Participative Methods Standards to an Equal Level

The training session was a good opportunity to compare the experiences from Northern and Southern Italy. Although cities came with different levels of experience, the training raised working and participative standards to an equal level, thanks to the adoption of a common methodology. And this will really have an impact on the everyday working mechanism of local authorities.

‘The exchanges of experiences with other cities are fundamental’ said Daniela Catanoso, officer of the Municipality of Messina and local coordinator of Sustainable Food in Urban Communities. ‘Seeing what happens at the international level but also in other Italian cities is a good incitement for cities such as Messina. (…) It helps us overcome divergences and allows us to make our territory more competitive and to speed up the process of economic development’.


New Bridges Between Stakeholders 

The most original aspect of the Local Support Group activities lies in the way it creates links among associations, citizens committees, professional organizations, research centres and other interested parties. Creativity and personal engagement become core elements of the construction of a well-functioning network of professionals at urban and national level. The Italian concept of piazza (public square) defined as a physical meeting place that stimulates relationships among people finds a virtual homologous in the concept of the Local Support Group, which can be perceived as a mosaic to which everybody can contribute.

Long Lasting Effects on Urban Policy Making

The methods adopted during the training were aimed at finding the right stakeholders to involve at local level, at solving problems and at harmonizing relationships but also at communicating results to citizens. They will be replicated at local level in the coming months by the Local Support Group members as well as by the local authorities. The outputs will thus be shared with the local community.

“As Municipality – explains Marco Bozzola, Deputy Mayor of Novara, partner city of 4D CITIES – we are planning to organize public events to appraise and share the expertise gained with the Training Scheme and in the framework of the 4D CITIES project, in order to make citizens aware of the direction taken by the process of urban transformation’.

It is easy to foresee that actions like this will produce a cascade effect, which will create positive benefits for all communities and will generate better relations with public authorities and among stakeholders themselves.

Therefore the Local Action Plans and Local Support Groups should not be perceived as an end but as a stage along the route to create greater efficiency and participation. And all their members are agents of the footprint URBACT will on cities long after projects have been concluded.


by Simone d’Antonio – Responsible for Communication activities of Cittalia-Anci Ricerche – National Dissemination Points of URBACT for Italy

More pictures from the training sessions are available on URBACT Flickr Gallery.

Follow the training sessions on Twitter: #urbactNTS and @URBACT!



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