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Newsletters > October 2011 > Spotlight on SO6 sub-project PEPA
PEPA is the unique PEOPLE Sub-objective 6ís co-financed project focusing on the civil society empowerment. This project is therefore in front line for exploring any innovation or experiences leading to empower grassroots organizations and evaluate how administration is supporting their participation to the local governance. Independent and sustainable CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) are the conditions for establishing a healthy democratic environment and play a crescent role for implementing practices leading to sharing governance.

First objective was to learn from different experiences (good practices) taking place in the 3 regions covered by the PEPA project (Andalusia, Veneto and Hampshire).

∑ Several successful cases of self-organised social and cultural centres running and operating in Andalusia are being investigated by University Pablo de Olavide (UPO) which is engaged in a long term investigation on how these centres are structuring the participation of CSOs. The context of limited funding for CSOs is highlighting such kind of experiences. UPO will finalize its activities by August 2011 and the outcomes from a round of in-depth interviews and of a participatory expert workshop are being processed to deliver a set of policy recommendations. A Participation group open to regional experts has been setup to investigate the potential of CSOs empowerment represented by the social networks. This group should continue after the PEPA project stopped.

The Veneto region, at local districts scale (ULSS), runs social and sanitary policies in close collaboration with CSOs, mainly around the cooperatives movement, for producing a Multi-years Local Plan (Piani di Zona - PdZ). The model for participating established by PdZ and currently managed by ULSS might be probably improved, especially in a period of reducing financial resourses. A questionnaire has been sent to the participants of the PdZ tables and the principal objective is to make some useful considerations to emerge to the thought about the sense and the destiny of this model. A set of recommendations is being processed.

Hampshire Economic Partnership (HEP), representing several local authorities across Hampshire, has been investigating how empowering local people and community groups to have a greater voice and influence over decision making and for the improvement of public services. The UK context of Big society is impacting the Local Area Agreements which are a three year contract with central Government to ensure that economic prosperity would be enhanced in local communities. The main outcomes of a survey at Isle of Wight CC on community empowerment have also raised the needs to attract the youth to the public affair and to be active at social networks. A seminar has been then organised to disseminate the conditions and opportunities for CSOs in the Big society context and to present a social network guide edited for supporting the first steps with social networks.

During the course of the project, two main tendencies targeting CSOs emerged:

Big society: As outlined in many studies, CSOs activities in most of the European regions are highly depending on public subsidies released by local or regional administrations. CSOs are each time more services providers and then submitted to market constraints. The volunteering sphere might be minored in such conditions.

CSOs participation to public affairs is being politically encouraged since the last decade. The degree of confidence towards CSO is very high in most of European public opinion when comparing to other sectors of the society. The economical crisis now affecting Europe is re-opening a debate on downsizing administration (from local to national) and reconsidering their role, scope and competences. The Big society model, recently applied in UK after the last government split and further extended in The Netherlands, tends to throw back competencies to civil society.

Social media: Work undertaken as part of the PEPA project has identified a growing disparity between Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and their communication with regional and national government. This is one of the first results of the Survey conducted by HEP which reveals the needs for local administration to be active at social media level. This is the condition for integrating more people, specifically youth, to the public participation as designed by local government. The investigation conducted by UPO addressing self organised community groups also mentioned the needs to better network and disseminate their activities beyond the traditional communication support (printed, emails or newsletter, Website) to get more recognition and audience.

The point for the PEPA partners was to investigate how CSOs might maximise the use of social networking sites as a tool to improve their participation in local governance and to open the democratic process. A guideline has been edited by HEP and UPO focusing on their respective targets. UPO has been organising a seminar around the usages of social network for improving CSOs capacity for Communication, Participation and Funding while HEP organised a workshop involving local authorities on social networks best profit.

The main PEPA outcome consists of a set of policy recommendations developed on the basis of the 3 regional experiences and on the main evidences from 2 mainstreams deeply affecting the role of CSOs in Europe.