Strengthening Local Self-Governance through Community Unions - Example: Community Development through Community Unions in Armenia
BackgroundBy forming Community Unions, a number of communities can tackle joint problems and achieve economies of scale more efficiently:
In addition, community unions are a way of enlarging the concept of community from the local to the district level.
The success of such unions depends on the presence of democratically elected local representatives. Unions are better able to have a positive impact on the communities they serve if the following conditions are met:
Establishing a development fund is the key to the success of community unions:
Such a fund gives unions a decisive role to play in community development. Otherwise, the chronic lack of funds experienced by local governments may make unions all but irrelevant to people’s needs. The unions manage the fund, which is used to support the implementation of community development projects by local self-administrations.
Oversight and coordination is provided by a province-level commission uniting representatives of different community unions, provincial administration, NGOs and potential donors.
The development fund can be used for the training of community groups and other investments as long as the interventions are directly related to food security, income or job creation, or poverty reduction.
Capacity BuildingOngoing capacity building is an integral part of the establishment of a community union:
Community union members received intensive training on organisational development, financial and legal issues, advocacy, monitoring and evaluation. This improved their performance and client-orientation, and enabled them to promote widespread participation in decision-making by community members.
In addition, training courses totalling four days were organised in each of the participating communities, involving mayors, councillors, accountants, secretaries and civil society representatives. These courses covered issues from financial management and taxation over legal issues to poverty reduction, citizens’ participation, and project management.
Capacity building took place in parallel to the creation and establishment of Community Unions. Training of trainers multiplied the effects and ensured that a very large number of people could be reached. Within one year, over 17,000 people had received some form of training. Apart from the provision of training, capacity building sometimes also involved the support in the creation of the necessary physical infrastructure such as offices, equipment, and supplies.
Capacity building targeted five specific groups: local government officials, Community Union members and staff, regional government representatives, local non-governmental organisations, and community groups.
a. Town, village mayors and councillors were trained in:
b. Members and staff of Community Unions received training in:
|c. The capacity of regional government representatives was built through:
d. The ability of civil society organisations to play a positive role was enhanced through:
The regional development fund organised the training of community groups in:
The following steps were followed to promote community development through community unions:
1. Introducing Concept of Community UnionsThe concept of community unions is introduced and explained to the district administration and to community mayors.
Workshops were convened with the support of the regional government and brought together all mayors of the region. The executive officer of an already established Community Union took an active part in the proceedings to enable the other participants to benefit from his experiences. The mayors actively participated in discussions about how a union could further development in their area, what roles it could play, and what aims it should have.
2. Inception / Founders Meeting
Those mayors who have expressed interest in joining a community union convene for a founders meeting, at the end of which they democratically elect the chairperson of their future community union.
3. Hiring of Union Executive OfficerThe members of the Community Union select and hire an executive officer to take care of the union’s day-to-day management and administration.
In order to ensure that this important role was filled by a trusted and competent person, union members agreed on which skills and experience their future executive officer should possess. One union required candidates to be under 35 years of age, have a higher education, at least three years’ professional experience in management, and an excellent knowledge of the region.
After minimum qualifications and experience had been specified, the vacancy was widely advertised by placing announcements in all towns in the region. Members jointly interviewed candidates about what knowledge and skills they can bring to the job, how they see the role of the position within the community, and what priorities they would set. After the interviewing, the mayors jointly discussed all candidates. Finally, they held a secret vote on who to hire.
The elected executive officer signed a probationary contract that stipulated which tasks he or she had to accomplish during the period of probation. The executive officer then went on a cross-visit to an experienced community union to study their procedures, policies and approaches.
4. Formal Establishment of the UnionAfter consultation with the Ministry of Justice, the community union was registered as a non-profit, non-trade public organisation uniting several individual community administrations. This gave it a status similar to that of an NGO. Registration formally established the union as a juridical person, which allowed it to handle both public and private resources.
Its executive officer opened a bank account and began collecting the previously agreed-upon membership fees from union members. Membership fees served the purpose of increasing long-term sustainability by covering the union’s operational costs. In addition, they boosted the sense of local ownership.
The union set up a supportive structure, the so-called technical working group, hired staff and established an office, which was renovated and equipped with the support of donor funds.
5. Setting of Project Selection Criteria by the UnionCommunity union members discussed which criteria should govern the selection of community development projects put forward by individual communities. Clear criteria were established, and communities were requested to put forth proposals.
A score sheet containing all agreed-upon criteria was drawn up. The score sheet not only constituted a transparent and objective tool for evaluating and ranking proposals, but also provided valuable guidance to communities during the proposal development process.
The following main criteria were established:
Three additional criteria were weighed less heavily. These criteria, for which extra points could be earned, were:
Adding up the points of each proposal created the final score. When several different proposals from different communities were compared and evaluated, the final scores provided an invaluable objective basis for deciding which proposals should be selected for funding.
6. Creation of a Project-Proposal Screening CommissionA province-wide independent screening commission was set up to overview the work of several (in this case, four) community unions. The commission was responsible for coordinating and approving larger development projects whose value exceeded a certain amount. In addition, the commission could veto the approval of smaller projects by individual community unions.
The commission’s tasks were to:
The commission consisted of twelve people:
Decisions in the commission were taken by a 2/3 + 1 (=10) majority so that at least one representative of each group had to agree.
The commission was chaired by one of its members, who was elected by members and served for one year on a rotational basis. The commission came together for a general meeting twice a year, during which it:
7. Selecting Community Development Projects
Communities conduct needed assessments rank priorities and submitted a proposal that addresses their top priority.
The general board of the community union selected projects for funding approximately twice a year depending on the funding available to the community union. It did this by ranking all proposals received according to the previously established selection criteria and choosing those projects for funding that show the greatest potential for furthering community development.
8. Project ImplementationAfter a community development project had been approved, a contract was signed between the community union and the local self-government involved. The latter was responsible for implementing the project. The screening committee periodically carried out monitoring at project sites. Additional monitoring was done by the community itself, and by its community union.
Money was transferred in three instalments. 50% of the project cost was transferred at the beginning, another 40% once the project was half finished, and the final 10% following project completion. Financial reports were checked by a well-trained accountant of the community union to ensure that the project’s financial documentation met the standards required by Armenian legislation.
After implementation had been completed, participatory evaluation at the community level allowed beneficiaries to give their feedback on the project
9. Conference of Unions