The Kick Off & Training Meeting of the project took place in Pontedera (Italy) on 27 and 28 March 2023 and laid the foundation for the subsequent activities. The working team had the opportunity to get to know each other personally and the event was attended by representatives (municipal officials and relevant stakeholders) of all eleven partners/cities involved in the project.
The first part of the meeting was conceived as a space for dialogue and interaction between the partners to discuss the project objectives, the roles of the partners, the planning of the first year of activity and the sharing of expected objectives/outcomes. A specific session was devoted to the Monitoring & Evaluation Plan and to Administrative & Financial Management, in order to provide support and shared information to each partner for the correct implementation and reporting of the project.
The second part of the meeting promoted an initial discussion between cities and partners on participation in diversity contexts in the framework of the intercultural policies. This session provided information, key elements and some useful tools for cities and partners, sharing concrete experiences and gathering ideas on how to design and then implement the participatory process in diversity contexts to support intercultural policies from a transversal perspective. Finally, the discussion addressed the key concepts of the Intercultural Assembly Methodology, which will be further discussed and validated within the Community of Practice Activities as Common Guidelines.
The opening of the meeting was preceded by an anti-racism awareness-raising initiative held on 26 March, which saw the direct participation of the delegation of DiverCities in a social lunch prepared by the youth and a workshop on Hate Speech & New Narrative at the ARCI Ragazzi Club. The event was a success: 80 people from the local community attended and supported the activities, with an important percentage of young people with a migratory background. The initiative was part of a series of awareness-raising actions within youth spaces promoted by public administrations and civil society organizations to celebrate the National Week Against Racism 2023, coordinated by ICEI and with the participation of intercultural cities that are part of the Italian Network Cities of Dialogue, thanks to the financial support of the German Foundation ‘Stiftung gegen Rassismus’.
The contents of the Kick Off Meeting
A first important thematic contribution was shared by the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities Programme, an associate partner of the DiverCities Project, which emphasised the importance of active participation as a key principle of the Intercultural Approach promoted by the Council of Europe and shared concrete experiences implemented by the cities that are part of the International Network: the Participatory Budget promoted by the Brussels City Council (Belgium) and the Assemblies for Equity promoted by the Leeds City Council (United Kingdom).
INTERCULTURALISM AS AN APPROACH
The internal debate and training/awareness-raising opportunities that took place during the meeting offered interesting insights and clear lines of work that will underpin the process of promoting intercultural town assemblies. Agreement was also reached among the DiverCities Partners with respect to the opportunity and need to work on and disseminate interculturalism not as a topic in its own right, but as an approach characterised by four principles which, when applied to any thematic or sectoral policy-making/implementation process, allow for the consideration of that area of intervention and/or process as intercultural. One of the four principles of the intercultural approach, as recalled by the Council of Europe, is participation.
A significant experience was the intercultural walk organised by the Municipality of Pontedera, starting from the Railway Station District. The first interaction took place with the operators of the Sportello Immigrazione (Immigration Desk) & SAI Office and then moved on to the Circolo Albero del Pepe. This is one of the places involved in the actions of the DIVERSAMENTE Project, another intervention that Pontedera is carrying out in cooperation with ICEI and the Italian Network Cities of Dialogue on anti-rumours strategy and youth activism. A lesson of Italian Language for people with a migratory background was ongoing during our visit. The last stop was the Wakanda Centre of the G2 Senegal Association formed by second-generation young people. The dialogue with two of these young people enabled the partners to concretely visualise the priorities and challenges that young people with a migratory background have to face on a daily basis, which question their identity and play a decisive role in defining their sense of belonging.
INTERCULTURAL ASSEMBLIES: FROM THE ANALYSIS OF PRACTICES TO RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
The design of participation processes and the link to intercultural policies were the focus of the training and awareness-raising opportunities organised within the KoM. In fact, an initial study was presented that ICEI commissioned from an expert from OBITen (Tenerife Observatory on Migration), which supported the design and implementation of an intercultural participation process on the island of Tenerife, recognised by the ICC Programme and the Council of Europe as a best practice and included in one of the recent policy briefs focused on participation. The study considered the most critical aspects of structuring an intercultural participatory process: definitions, the importance of this principle within the intercultural policies, the key elements to be taken into account in the design of such a policy process, diversity as a resource and advantage, the most innovative tools and methodologies.
Subsequently, SocioLab shared its experience in supporting participatory processes for local public administrations of Italy, focusing on the impact of participation on policies and providing a series of reflections and lessons learned from field experimentation. The intervention provided a clear idea of how to support participation in terms of stakeholder involvement and common/shared needs.
These training and debate opportunities allowed for a series of shared considerations on the development of consultation processes:
How to manage different agendas?
Attention must be paid to personal and political agendas that can dominate the discussion and leave little space for other agendas: the problem is not that people come with their own agendas, but how can we, as promoters of this space, ensure that different agendas have space in a consultation process and are equally taken into account.
How do we ensure representation of diverse communities?
An existing assembly or consultative process is no substitute for conducting participatory evaluations with the city’s diverse communities. No assembly can ever fully represent all citizens, as needs differ even within the same cultural or religious communities.
How to ensure that recommendations are taken into account by decision-makers?
Sometimes consultation processes fall into disrepute because nothing visible/concrete happens after them. It is important to ensure that you only move forward in public consultation and involvement if you know that you can follow up on the needs that have arisen.
How to ensure a safe space where everyone feels they can participate, speak and share their concerns?
The presence of the municipal administration in assemblies or consultative processes may create more discomfort, language barriers and a very ‘technical’ meeting may also lead to lower participation by lower educated groups, for example.
How can we avoid creating a ‘demand’ assembly, where people only come to ‘ask’ for something?
Sometimes community assemblies can be seen as a place where people leave their complaints and expect the municipality to do something. Some demands may be the full responsibility of the municipality, but they can still be discussed with communities and civil society action can be incorporated. Furthermore, many aspects have a citizen responsibility dimension, such as waste collection or public gardens.
How to involve people in projects/programmes?
Ideally, communities should be involved in all stages of a public policy or programme: planning, implementation and evaluation.
These considerations/recommendations will be systematised in a first document of Common Guidelines, which will be the basis for the design of a strategy to achieve an ambitious goal: the creation of Europe’s first intercultural town assemblies.
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