In 2006, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation supported the Siberian Civic Initiatives Support Center (SCISC) and Epstein & Fass Associates to partner in a two-year experimental pilot program using the Effective Community Governance (ECG) Model as the basis for governance improvements in Siberian communities. As the program was quickly oversubscribed by interested communities, SCISC used funding from the United States Agency for International Development to leverage its Mott grant and enable six pilot communities to participate, instead of the initially-planned three. The two-year experience, summarized here, produced encouraging results in communities, leading the Mott Foundation to fund the pilot program for two more years. Phase II of the ECG pilot, planned to run into early 2010, will enable the Siberian Center and community assistance experts from SCISC’s network of affiliated NGOs across Siberia, with support from Epstein & Fass, to extend ECG to still more Siberian communities.
Major Questions Addressed by the Initial ECG Pilot Program in Siberia
How can we overcome apathy and engage citizens more effectively in community governance? How can we measure whether our government services are adequately addressing the needs of the community and citizens’ priority quality-of-life concerns? How can we feed back evaluation information to continually improve how we govern? These are the questions the Siberian Center, with the support of Epstein & Fass, set out to help six pilot communities answer.
Highlights of Community Results after Two Years of Experimenting with ECG
Each community responded with different solutions based on their own local realities. Four communities implemented successful governance innovations. Here are some highlights:
- In a rural community, the glava (mayor) established “Initiative Councils” in the township’s two isolated settlements to give these residents a voice in policy making. Also, both the township and county governments initiated several other new ways of engaging citizens in governance and improvement, resulting in multi-year funding of programs and policies citizens helped design, among other changes, as described in a mini-case study of Krivosheino.
- In urban Mejdurechinsk, the deputy chair of the city duma (council) commissioned the first-ever survey of citizen satisfaction with housing services and, based on resident feedback, launched several initiatives, including a public education campaign to inform residents of their housing rights and responsibilities.
- In the village of Maima, the chair of the duma championed a team that surveyed both youth and adults and found widespread agreement across age groups on priority youth issues. They then engaged youth groups to develop policies and plans which the youth presented to the village administration. As a result, new outdoor recreation facilities were built and the village made a sizable increase in the following year’s youth budget.
- Angarsk, the largest city in the ECG pilot, launched an ambitious new initiative to address comprehensive housing and neighborhood maintenance and service needs of all residents. The city government created the Center for Development of Local Self-Governance, which employs a team of organizers to identify problems in assigned neighborhoods and organize residents to address them. This was the first example of a local government hiring and training community organizers for non-political purposes in Siberia. The Center’s organizers surveyed over 60,000 residents and engaged citizens in numerous neighborhood problem-solving meetings, leading to numerous localized solutions. Some of the early results include resurfaced roads, refurbished parks, new senior recreation centers, police patrols reassigned to where they are most needed, and a shift of responsibility for one park from the county to the city government for more responsive maintenance — all driven by citizen priorities.
Initial ECG Pilot Began as Russian Communities Were Facing New Governance Mandates
The initial pilot program used an experimental design, with Epstein & Fass adjusting the content of ECG training seminars attended by all pilot community teams in the Siberian hub city of Novosibirsk as the needs and capabilities of the teams became apparent. SCISC adjusted on-site support and training provided to pilot communities by its staff and by community assistance experts from NGOs based in the Siberian regions where the pilot communities were located. The experimental design helped the program address practical concerns of local governments, NGOs, and citizens. One of those concerns was how to implement a new law on local governance.
The enactment of Federal Law 131-FZ, “On General Principles of Local Self-Government Organization” in late 2005, greatly increased both the autonomy and responsibility of local governments in addressing their communities’ issues. The law mandates “an independent and responsible solution of local issues by the population directly and (or) through bodies of local self-governments based on the interests of the people and with regard to historic or other local traditions.” While the law created the potential for more accountable and engaging government, it did not provide clear guidance on how local governments should comply with the new mandate to involve citizens directly in governance processes. As the variety of results summarized above demonstrate, Siberian pilot communities used their ECG training and assistance to find their own creative ways to meet their citizen engagement mandate.
Phase II Plans: Replicating Phase I Innovations and Taking ECG Practices Further
Based on the strong results of the first two years of community experimentation with ECG, the Mott Foundation invited SCISC to extend the program for another two years, with continuing support from Epstein & Fass. Phase II of the ECG pilot emphasizes replicating, in other Siberian communities, the governance innovations developed by the three pilot communities showing the most progress in Phase I. During Phase I, SCISC affiliate network experts identified several Siberian communities as good candidates for future ECG implementation, so potential replication sites have already been identified. Other organizations throughout Russia have also expressed interest in ECG as a result of the final Phase I event, a conference in Novosibirsk in January 2008 that highlighted the achievements of the pilot communities and featured master classes by SCISC network experts and the Epstein & Fass team.
Besides replication of Phase I innovations, SCISC and Epstein & Fass hope to help some communities take ECG practices further, including developing stronger community measurement capabilities and making their community improvement efforts more strategic. In the Russian community development environment, local government officials feel pressure to show results quickly, which leads to many “events” and “projects” rather than long-term programs or a coordinated series of actions designed to yield strategic outcomes. The Phase I ECG experience, though encouraging, reflected this short-term bias. A master class in strategic thinking at the January 2008 conference, led by Epstein & Fass, was very well received, encouraging SCISC and Epstein & Fass to plan a longer version of this training for Phase II. The new training will draw on Epstein & Fass’s Community Balanced Scorecard methodology to position SCISC staff and network experts to assist communities in developing highly-focused, longer-term strategies that align projects and initiatives to achieve quality-of-life outcomes.
Optimism is Tempered with Realism as the ECG Experiment in Russia Continues
Phase I ECG results were promising, but realistically, community governance reforms in Russia are highly dependent on the commitment and quality of local leadership. In Russia, ECG has yet to be put to the test of surviving a change of local administration. That will happen in Phase II: In Angarsk, the glava, a strong supporter of the city’s ECG efforts, was voted out office at the end of 2007, leaving the future of the Center for Development of Local Self-Governance and possible new ECG innovations unclear. On the other hand, in Krivosheino, Glava Nikolai Lepukhin credits participation in the ECG pilot with building the trust with citizens that secured his reelection, despite a volatile electoral climate fueled by a private maintenance company’s financial crisis that nearly led to the town’s heating supply being cut off. For these reasons, Phase II is starting with a great deal of anticipation and optimism, but also a dose of realism and uncertainty. SCISC and Epstein & Fass are keenly aware of the need to remain flexible and responsive to those on the frontlines of development: the communities themselves.