Supporting Greater Civic Engagement in Ozurgeti Municipality Through Streamlined Text Message Service

Supporting Greater Civic Engagement in Ozurgeti Municipality  Through Streamlined Text Message Service

Public engagement has taken on a renewed priority in Georgia thanks to the activism and efforts of civil society. Civic engagement has been codified at the very heart of local governance through a 2014 reform that introduced various methods of civic engagement, including petitions, civil advisory councils, and open community meetings. However, direct communication between local populations and government still remains a challenge. Both local populations and their elected representatives fail to use their rights and responsibilities to jointly manage their municipalities. The rural populations suffer from apathy or outright cynicism towards the political system – a symptom of years of ineffective governance and lack of government’s willingness to serve their constituents in a transparent way.

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Screenshot from the Social Ad on SMS service broadcast through Guria TV

For the past 15 years, Ozurgeti Young Scientists’ Club (an NGO based in Guria) has been at the front line in the struggle for the desired level and quality of civic engagement. In order to progress on government accountability, the NGO has had to combat ineffectiveness from many angles. Thanks to funding from EWMI ACCESS, the Ozurgeti Young Scientists’ Club (YSCO) enhanced its offerings to local people and government through the launch of an innovative SMS-based service. This service delivers short messages on Sakrebulo (City Council) meeting dates and agendas, and attendance procedures to residents who register for the service. Subscribers are also informed of action on major policy decisions at the Sakrebulo meetings as well as other important developments that impact citizens in the municipality.  To present the novelty and generate public awareness and interest, the YSCO traveled to 26 villages in the Ozurgeti municipality and met with more than 400 residents. As a result, 860 citizens have signed up for the service. In response to the service’s growing popularity, the local government has now made it possible for new subscribers to sign up for the service through the Ozurgeti Municipality website.

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Information meetings with residents about the SMS-based system and signing memorandums

Mr. Giorgi Toidze, a resident of village Likhauri, was one of the first residents who received the SMS and attended the Sakrebulo meeting: “I learned about the Sakrebulo meeting date and agenda from the SMS, which was very interesting to me. It is very important that people from Guria are able to attend the meetings and to engage directly with the decision-makers on the issues of their concern.”

In early October 2016, the Ozurgeti Municipality adopted legislative changes and made the SMS-provision service mandatory as a legal requirement for the local government. Moving forward, the Ozurgeti Municipality Sakrebulo is responsible for administering the program and sending out the   messages to citizens. The YSCO already transferred the software platform to Sakrebulo and is now closely monitoring it’s the implementation. When asked about this streamlined form of communication, the Deputy Head of the Ozurgeti Municipality commented that, “[The program] is a very flexible civic engagement mechanism. We are very grateful to the Ozurgeti Young Scientists’ Club for their support in our efforts to make citizens engaged in local self-governance.”

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Mindia Salukvadze – Executive Director of OYSC Presents the SMS-based System to Ozurgeti Sakrebulo Representatives

With this and other civic engagement initiatives the Ozuregti Municipality Sakrebulo joined the Government’s OGP (Open Government Partnership) 2016-2017 Action Plan committing to proactively disseminate information on its activities. It is the first time when local municipalities joined the OGP Action Plan.

Since inception of the program, YSCO and EWMI ACCESS have organized a series of meetings to share best practices with other regional groups and local governments across Georgia in the hopes that more municipalities and local governments will replicate or be inspired by the success of the SMS subscription service.

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