Krivosheino, a rural community in the central Siberian province of Tomsk, became one of a handful of pilot communities in Russia to embrace the challenge of opening their governance practices to citizens. Like most Russian communities, Krivosheino was accustomed to a top-down approach to governance, where government leaders had the first and final say on policy and service-provision issues. This attitude changed radically when Krivosheino was selected to participate in the first Effective Community Governance (ECG) pilot program in Russia. Launched in 2006, the program was designed to catalyze governance reforms across a range of diverse Siberian towns and cities, including citizen participation in government and community affairs through a full spectrum of activities. From volunteerism, to priority setting, to policy development and program planning, to measurement and evaluation, citizens have been engaged in change. What follows is a mini-case study of how one rural, low-income community in Siberia set out on the path of governance reform with ECG as its model and leaders who were open to change, including one whose outlook on leadership was transformed.
Krivosheino, a Siberian Rural Community, Pilots Effective Community Governance
The rural area of Krivosheino, on the River Ob in Tomsk Oblast (state or province) of Russia, was settled 180 years ago, but the township of Krivosheino was just incorporated in 2006 as part of landmark Federal Law 131 that devolved more responsibility to the local level and mandated citizen participation in government. The township of 7,000 people includes a central town and two outlying settlements, and is in the county of Krivosheino, population 16,000. The county’s economy, long dependent on a depleted timber industry, has been in decline, contributing to budget deficits. Average income in the county is 9,000 Rubles (about $380 U.S.) per month, well below the Oblast average of 16,000 R per month. Unemployment is high at 8 percent and many unemployed residents survive on the minimum monthly federal subsidy of 2,000 R. But the economic picture is far from hopeless. Due to its proximity to the oblast capital and low land costs, Krivosheino has been attracting a growing number of summer residents, retirees, and commuters. Small business has seen a recent revival with the opening of a bread factory that exports products to other regions of Siberia and employs dozens of local residents. In fact, Krivosheino is like many struggling, rural communities in Russia: facing difficult economic challenges, but not insurmountable ones. Its ability to rebuild and thrive depends on both capable leadership and robust citizen involvement in improving the local quality of life.
The Siberian Civic Initiative Support Center’s (SCISC’s) prior experience with progressive county officials made Krivosheino a good candidate to be a pilot community in the first test of the Effective Community Governance (ECG) Model in Russia. The pilot team included the first elected glava (mayor) of Krivosheino Township, the county government’s Specialist in Innovations in the Social Sphere, and a representative from the local newspaper. The glava’s participation in the ECG program was particularly timely, as the model provided his administration with a foundation for developing the local governance practices of his new township. County participation supplemented township efforts, resulting in reform of several county governance practices related to priority community issues. The team’s work over a two-year period focused primarily on effectively engaging citizens in governance. Their accomplishments can be divided into three stages: (1) introducing deliberative dialog and gathering citizen priorities, (2) improving representative participation, and (3) embedding citizen engagement in community planning, and making use of citizen assets to help achieve improvements.
Introducing Deliberative Dialog and Gathering Citizen Priorities
In the spring of 2007, the Krivosheino team held a series of discussion forums and roundtables in both the town Krivosheino and surrounding settlements, in order to engage local residents in identifying top priority issues. The team used a brainstorm format to generate lists of community issues, followed by a voting process where participants could rank the importance of each issue. The consensus developed on the basis of these citizen dialogs was that unemployment, youth leisure, and housing maintenance were the three issues of top concern to local residents. Because the team felt that unemployment was largely related to broader economic conditions that they did not have the local capacity to fully address, they decided to focus their efforts on of youth leisure and housing maintenance.
Improving Representative Participation
Based on the suggestion a resident voiced at a discussion forum held in an outlying settlement, Krivosheino Township Glava Nikolai Lipukhin established Initiative Councils, a new mechanism for increasing the geographic and demographic diversity of citizen participation. Initiative Councils were created in Krivosheino township’s two outlying communities, celo Zhukovo and derevnya Novoistambul, with two major goals:
- To give a voice to often-isolated rural residents who don’t have the means to participate in distant public hearings or otherwise provide input into community planning and policymaking.
- To address the concerns of specific ethnic populations (in this case, the Tatar residents of Novoistambul) and provide a role for these groups in community planning and improvement.
The councils meet at least once a month with Lipukhin attending all meetings. They are designed to engage residents in the discussion of community issues, the development of community plans, and assigning or taking responsibility for specific community improvement activities.
Embedding Citizen Engagement in Community Planning and Leveraging Citizen Assets
For the first time ever, the county of Krivosheino engaged youth in developing the mandated county youth plan, “Youth of Krivosheino County 2007-08.” Roundtables and discussion forums with youth were held in June to determine youth priorities. The program suggestions that grew out of this effort were then incorporated into the plan and allocated budgetary funding. Activities that were subsequently implemented based on the plan include:
- Creation of Alternativa, the first nonprofit organization in the township of Krivosheino. The organization is focused on preventing youth drug and alcohol abuse.
- Creation of “young family” clubs on the territory of rural settlements within Krivosheino County.
- Engaging youth “expert councils” in identifying resident priorities and measuring resident satisfaction with housing maintenance services in targeted buildings.
- Carrying out Clean Shores, a riverside volunteer-based environmental project.
Both the Krivosheino county youth plan and the Clean Shores project have since been incorporated in the broader county government plan which secures funding for both for at least the next two years, and likely much longer. So, the priorities of youth themselves and their specific program suggestions have now been embedded in a long-term county plan and budget for the first time as a result of the Krivosheino’s commitment to citizen engagement.
The Krivosheino team also worked to improve citizen engagement on the priority issue of housing maintenance. This work focused on supporting the local resident-owners association, facilitating meetings and providing consultation on housing maintenance and heating issues, and supplying both human and material resources for a wide variety of community beautification competitions. In addition to engaging youth and resident volunteers as citizen assets, the town administration also turned to local business people to play this role to help achieve improvements in town maintenance and beautification. Nikolai Lipukhin contracted with more than 20 local businesses in Krivosheino (80 percent of the businesses in town) to provide in-kind maintenance and building services to the community in exchange for resources provided by the government. For example, when the town provided construction materials, a local construction company volunteered the labor required to build a fountain in the main square.
A Participative Community Leader Emerges
Glava Nikolai Lipukhin referred to his experience in SCISC’s Effective Community Governance program as changing his whole outlook on being a public official, as he came to appreciate the importance of engaging citizens. After two years in office, he faced a tough re-election campaign in the fall of 2007. At the time, Krivosheino had developed a serious crisis: community residents were four million rubles in debt to the local commercial utility company, and many disputed those charges. The company had already delayed providing heat when the temperature dropped in the fall, and the threat of further denial of heating services as the Siberian winter approached was of critical concern to the community. Citizens could be tempted to blame the crisis on the administration and determine that a change of leadership would solve the problem, but that is not what happened. Lipukhin was re-elected on December 2, 2007, with over 50 percent of the vote, well ahead of the next highest candidate. While many factors contributed to this outcome, Lipukhin felt his dedication to citizen engagement made a difference in his re-election. All in all, it seems safe to say that the administration’s commitment to engaging citizens in solving community problems together, their effort to encourage deliberative and open dialogs, and the concrete programs they established based on citizen priorities and suggestions over the past two years, contributed greatly to enhancing citizen trust in the glava’s leadership.