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The spirit of decentralisation

Aug 08,2017 - Last updated at Aug 08,2017

Engagement, support, inclusivity, participation, delegation of tasks, facilitation, empowerment, collective wisdom, consensus decision making are some of the key words that come to mind with regards to the newly enacted Decentralisation Law in Jordan.

Decentralisation is not restricted nor confined towards public policy decision making. As we are entering this new democratic era, this law opts to manifest itself into great learning experiences, should we decide to make it a successful endeavour. This democratic form of self-governing communities will expose people to how participation works towards the inclusivity of all people of different gender, ages, backgrounds and ethnic roots. 

In principle, this law is aimed towards public participation. But it stretches far beyond society and government as a whole. It is indeed an invitation for people to come together to hold meaningful conversations, to openness, to a shared collective wisdom of people, to finding common ground and goals, for better planning, prioritising and management of cities. 

The law will enable the local councils to bridge the gap between people and the government. If the local councils are deemed to be a success, then civil society organisations such as charities and NGOs need to work hand in hand with these councils to enable them to reach out to a wide array of people. Councils working solo will not be able to reach out to people effectively. But how can such charities and nongovernmental organisations achieve that? 

Existing civil organisations are doing a great job. However, I believe that we need to establish civil organisations that are solely aimed at community development in general and community engagement techniques in particular. Such organisations will take the role of neutral facilitators to run participatory workshops, where people will be invited on regular basis to attend such workshops, to hold conversations about things that matter to them, such as: challenges facing their neighbourhoods, cities or their youth. It is only through holding such purposeful conversations amongst people to discuss what really matters to them, that we shall touch upon a new era of democratic consensus building and decision making. 

This, of course, can be achieved by carefully designing workshops that fit the purpose of people coming together. This in turn, can provide a venue for the decentralisation council committees to attend such workshops and engage in a participatory manner and learn from the outcomes. This in turn can provide a gateway for bridging the gap between the decentralisation councils and the government. The key to holding such participatory workshops is to inject democratic values amongst people and experience democracy in new way that has never been done before.  Such participatory workshops will enable people to voice their opinions and share their experiences in a rather disciplined manner which will contribute to the final outcome of decision making. People this way will have sense of ownership in the outcome. 

Furthermore, the spirit of the Decentralisation Law does not touch society and government only. I believe it will shed light on organisations as well. Organisations can learn to switch to a "culture of participation" by moving towards "flatter organisations" to reap the benefits.  Managers and leaders can learn to harness the collective wisdom of its people in a participatory manner. Leaders and managers may learn to become more facilitative rather than directive. By facilitative, I mean to make it easy for people to work together when it comes to establishing new visions, goals, and problem solving. This can be achieved by engaging people in participatory style workshops that will harness the collective wisdom of everyone involved for the sake of regenerating visions, goals and problem solving. 

A culture of participation and empowerment of people gives the Decentralisation Law its dynamic spirit. What I admire the most about this law is that the spirit of mutual trust and cooperation is the driver behind the vision of the legislator. It is a call for a new everyday democracy for everyone to experience and enjoy. In brief, to decentralise is an invitation for people to be empowered, to participate and to acquire a sense of ownership towards things that matter to them. We as Jordanians should support this newly enacted law. We need to look forward for a new way of life: Where democracy flourishes by getting people to work together in an energising participatory manner. Please do participate in the coming elections. 



The writer is an independent researcher on community development/engagement and methods of public participation. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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