In 2003, the City of Ljubljana created a Citizens’ Initiatives Service (CIS) allowing citizens to actively participate in decisions that affect their lives, and to quickly resolve their complaints or problems. The Citizens’ Initiatives Service promotes direct communication between the mayor, the city administration, public institutions and public enterprises on one side and citizens on the other. Citizens can contact them in person, via telephone, fax, e-mail, regular mail, and a web service.
In 2006, CIS introduced the Mayor’s Open Days, where the mayor meets with citizens at least twice a month at the Town Hall. As a result of this direct communication with the population, the Information Office Info65 + was established for the elderly and people with disabilities. Thanks to this service, certain regulations have already been adopted or amended mostly in the field of traffic regulations; a part of a street was converted into a “shared space”; a free public transport service has been introduced; four electric vehicles, which run within the city centre pedestrian zone, have been facilitating elderly and mobility-impaired people since 2009.
The web service and the Mayor’s Open Days enable the citizens to actively participate in the policy-making process and gain a sense of belonging. They can also make a complaint or a request on local issues, while receiving a reply from the local authority no later than within eight days, while, in practice, three days on average is needed to prepare the answers as they are the priority in our municipality. The citizens’ initiatives are also welcome and very effective feedback for our professional services with regard to our work and planned or already taken decisions. A web service Citizens’ Initiatives enables an insight into the opinion and views of the residents of Ljubljana. It is often the first address they turn to and all the initiatives can be seen on the web portal. Our data shows that the use of the web service is increasing and so is its popularity among the residents of Ljubljana. Therefore we assume that promptness and quality of responses is very good. In recent years, the citizens have also used the social network Facebook for posting their initiatives and resolving process.
Citizens’ proposals and an open, professional and prompt communication between the city and its residents significantly influence the quality of life in Ljubljana. The Office for Citizens’ Initiative obtains the answers from the different departments and/or public companies, which are managing water, waste water, public transport, waste, etc. In this way, the issues addressed by the citizens are dealt with comprehensively and integrated.
In recent years, the popularity of the Mayor’s Open Days has risen so much that it takes place at least twice a month in the Town Hall, which is also accessible to people with disabilities.
All questions and suggestions of announced citizens are forwarded to the competent expert service before the Open Day, so the expert opinion is already available to the mayor during a conversation with a citizen. After discussion, the mayor’s opinion is sent back to the competent department for the final assessment.
Due to its limited jurisdiction, the municipality can’t help directly in all cases, but many people find hope and see new opportunities just speaking with the mayor. Our approach to the issues is therefore integrated due to cooperation between all levels of local government with appropriate social, economic and environmental actions, as well as being sustainable. Social inclusion, as one of the sustainable goals, is an important aspect in this practice because the communication is open to everybody and on different topics, such as personal and social distress.
As already mentioned in the process of obtaining answers for the citizens, NGOs, institutions or associations, all levels of local government and/or public companies are working closely together. We encourage citizens and other stakeholders to use portal service, which is user friendly, because the application does not require a registration. Also the profile of participants is general. Anyone can participate, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, skin colour, any degree of disability, level of education, etc. The possibility of co-decision is given to all. It’s also important that the citizen can make an appointment with the Mayor easily only with the assistance of the Office for Citizens Initiative. The Mayor doesn’t have the maximum time provided for each interview, he meets all the citizens who have made an appointment, regardless of time or of the time required for the conversation. Some questions can be answered quickly, other issues may require more mayor’s time. Also, in 2006 the Information Point Info65+ has been established as a direct result of citizen’s initiatives. The point is primarily intended for the senior citizens and persons with disabilities. They can meet there, obtain basic information on services and activities available to them in the municipality and also hand over their suggestions or requests.
Based on numerous initiatives, certain regulations have already been adopted or amended, after the professional examination, mostly in the field of traffic regulations. Due to citizen’s propositions, slow traffic zones have been introduced, parking barriers set up and a part of Slovenska Street was converted into a “shared space”.
On citizens’ initiatives, a free public transport service, Kavalir, has been introduced. Four electric vehicles, which run within the city centre pedestrian zone, have been facilitating errands for the elderly and mobility-impaired people since 2009. The service operates on call, but due to their slow speed, they can be hailed anywhere on the street. The ride is free of charge. The participation of the citizens also had an impact on housing policy. The rules for the allocation of the assigned rental housing for young people were partly based on a great number of citizens’ initiatives.
Based on the initiatives concerning the inclusion of the elderly and persons with disabilities, InfoPoint 65+was established in 2016. In response to various citizens’ initiatives, MOL has also introduced fieldwork with the homeless. Of course, all wishes and proposals can’t be accepted, due to technical, financial or legal reasons, but the common goal of all the services is to maximise the satisfaction of Ljubljana’s residents and improve the quality of life.
The citizens’ initiatives are welcome and are very effective feedback for our services with regard to the work and planned or already taken decisions. As such, our good practice would undoubtedly be interesting for other European cities, because it encourages participation and also emphasises inclusion at its best.
CIS can be, from a technical and organisational point of view, used in any city, but the successful operation of the web application requires highly motivated employees in all competent services. We believe that the citizen’s voice being heard is an issue in all European cities (and beyond), so the citizens’ initiatives would most likely be an interesting and valuable practice for them as well. Our model presents an attempt at cooperation between the citizens’ involvement in policy-making and the internal workings of all levels of city administration and public companies, which we think would also be beneficial to other cities throughout Europe.
It must also be stated that the initiatives are commonly very constructive and well thought out, so people are not using this channel to merely criticise or vent but mostly to give rational, elaborated proposals. We believe that Mayor’s Open Days can also be organised in other cities, but the attendance and popularity of the Mayor’s Open Days in Ljubljana are strongly associated with the mayor’s personality and reputation.