Edited on 10/02/2022

The "Active Citizens -citizens participation in small and medium EU cities" project in which the Municipality of Cento is taking part, aims at giving voice to citizens and possibility for intervention in decision-making processes concerning their own city, through the use of new methodologies and new digital tools. Never before in this URBACT project has it been important to set up the Urbact Local Group (ULG), a group of stakeholders that, from the very beginning supports the Municipal Administration in the project’s operative steps, offering their own contribution and point of view in a continuous exchange with the representatives of the Municipality.

Through meetings and workshop activities, sometimes with a somewhat "alternative" approach, the members of the group tackle together the issues at the center of the project, each bringing the added value of their own background. If there is no doubt that in a path lasting over two years it is a hard challenge to keep the attention and motivation of the group members alive, it is equally true that being part of the group is a demanding choice requiring time, effort and ability to get involved. Nevertheless, actively participating in the ULG, however demanding it may be, can also represent an enriching opportunity at a civic and above all personal level.

This is what Michele Novi, one of the "historical" members of the ULG, tells us in this interview. He has enthusiastically joined since the beginning of the project and here he reports his personal experience.

Michele, would you like to introduce yourself? Who are you, what do you do?

My name is Michele Novi, I am 33 years old and I was born and grew-up in Cento. I deal with development and internationalization in my Company and, outside of work, I deal with various activities in the local area, including “L’Alveare di Cento”, a sustainable purchasing group, and “Bosco Integrale” which is a project aimed at creating a space for exchange, education and coexistence between the elderly, children and the disabled people, within an intact and natural five-hectare wood, through sustainable and inter-generational practices.

How did you find out about the Active Citizens project?

I no longer remember exactly how the first contact was, but the Municipality of Cento had communicated the initiative to all the associations in the area and I immediately found it interesting.

Why did you decide to join the Urbact Local Group?

I liked the project because it spoke of active citizenship and participatory democracy, but above all because it dealt with listening and co-creating practices between citizenship and Public Administration. Normally associations and voluntary work move independently, often convinced that the Public Administration is a block. I find it a destructive rhetoric and when I joined the group I hoped that this project could bring a change of mentality, whether in citizenship or in Public Administration.

Did the your participation within the group confirm your initial expectations or would you have expected a different experience?

The process has been long, alternating phases of optimism in which I felt we were all going in the same direction, to phases of pessimism in which we had some friction and slowdown, but I think that's normal. Overall, I'm happy with this process and how it went.

Have you gained any awareness of the community you live in thanks to the ULG meetings?

Absolutely yes. I met many other local organizations and associations, I met the neighborhood councils’ members and I learned what their role is, I met a lot of good people working in the Municipality of Cento who have shown their will to generate changes.

Has your idea of ​​citizen participation remained the same or has it changed in some way?

As I reviewed my opinion about the public administration, I also rethought the citizen participation and my preconceptions about the relationship with the Municipality. I’m aware now that we need more training and transparency between citizens and the Municipality, otherwise we risk of putting up a wall that is difficult to get over.

Actually we do not have a problems of lack of active citizens participation because Cento has a multitude of associations and active people. We have no public administration blockades and generally people do not want to "row against". But we need a change of perspective, we need knowledge of the processes and of the possible criticality and we need a positive will to change things.

Have you ever talked about your experience and the project in general to other citizens and if so, what reactions or comments did you get?

Yes, I happened to talk about it and I have often perceived skepticism regarding this project, precisely because the citizens’ distrust towards the Municipality is very strong and deeply rooted.

Did you have any difficult moments within the group, and if so, which ones?

I had the perception that during the co-creation phase of solutions, the "co" was lost and everyone expected the other part to "create". It is difficult to understand that we are on the same side and that the purpose is to share ideas together. Sometimes you expect things from others and fall into the usual crystallized mindset where no one wants to take responsibility to act.

Do you have any suggestions for improving the experience within the group?

I think there are no facts and tools to improve, just the mentality. From there everything starts. We need to feel more often that we are in the same boat and that we work together or nothing will change.

Would you recommend your experience of participation in the ULG to other citizens as well?

Yes absolutely, even if it costs some time and energy.

Do you sincerely think that the Active Citizens project will be able to bring concrete changes in terms of citizen participation?

Yes, I think yes. That is, the project seems to me well structured, encouraging the participants to follow a path of change. It is necessary to verify if the participants internalize this path or if they forget it when it ends. I keep on being optimistic!

Interview conducted by Anelita TASSINARI, Department of Culture of the City of CENTO (Italy)

Submitted by admin_import on 10/02/2022
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