OPINION: Despite Covid-19 limitations, public participation tool must be seen working

Mr. Joash Onyonka

The future of public participation in these pandemic times has taken its organizers and promoters back to the drawing board. They are seeking alternative ways of implementing this important aspect of program making in the public sector.

The very nature of public participation being ‘public’ means that issues cannot be discussed without involving the public.

It is envisioned that public participation should not be discriminative. Issues must be discussed in the open where all members of society are openly allowed to air their views on an issue that directly affects them.

To make the discussion more micro, members of the public are allowed to form discussion groups on a certain program of which their interaction at this level is close to no social distancing.

Small groups members must be near each other as they discuss in low tones in case they would not want the other group to hear them discuss.In essence, there is close contact and for those who speak while spitting some saliva, there is no danger because we are born and talented differently so we have to accommodate one another’s weaknesses so long as we have an agreement at end of the discussion.

The nature of public participation is to attract as many people as possible regardless of physique to a given forum so that the many of them can give their accent or dissenting opinion to an issue or better it so suit the public.

Another natural tenet of public participation is the free interaction amongst members which results to a highly engaged team of participants. Here people disagree to unanimously agree on issues that directly affect them-after all it is their taxes that will be used to do those projects.

In many of these public fora, many other participants attend because there will be soft drinks and accompaniments in the middle of the discussion. The session is usually quiet until drinks are served, that is when real public participation takes places. People engage whole heartedly.

That was real public participation before the pandemic came and the new world order has changed everything, with public participation tool being a major casualty. Things have changed though. The public participation of yesterdays is in the shelves now.

The loud microphones that triumphed voices of the participants across the villages and towns are silent, the many people who were invited and would freely walk in and out of these gatherings are silent, at least for now.

Since the outbreak of Corona Virus disease, what is in the mind of every public policy actor is how to effectively strategize and use the available avenues to assemble an agreeable report that showcases clearly how the public participated in making a program a success.

Some may argue that town halls meetings, as were proposed, with a third of its capacity, will be a proper representative of thousands of the general public who would have attended would things have been normal. Question is, what selection procedure will be used to come up with a representative group that will be neutral and will air the general public’s views? Such are the challenges that covid-19 presents.

A general blue print is hard to develop because every public participation event is planned unique and has its expectations different from the other.

As the promotion and the usual planning and implementation of public participation as a tool to monitor, investigate and recommend or disapprove institutional activities, projects and developments more so those that are funded by the public get challenged, I suggest it is time to monitor trends that can survive for as long as the virus stays with us so that normal activities in this abnormal times continue.

Promoters of public participation must Invest in technology for both staff and auto spaces to bring the public and policy makers together to continue interactions without bureaucracies. For those areas that are out of signal, this challenge must be dealt with upfront.

Public participation discussions must be more than collecting views but instead build dialogue platforms for continued engagement and show the members of the public that their concerns and ideas will be valued, heard and acted upon.

No matter the approach that will be used to gather public views over a certain program, there must be value and safety placed on human life.

The writer is the Ag Director; Corporate Communication Nyamira County Government. He can be reached on jongiri3349@gmail.com

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Mr. Onyonka is Ag Director Corporate Communication, Nyamira County Government.


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