How Santa Pola has strengthened communication with the local associative network through the development of updated database of associations and NGOs
Edited on09 February 2021
Santa Pola is a Mediterranean city located on the south-west coast of Spain. With more than 32,000 inhabitants, the municipality has a very active associative network, that has grown extremely fast in recent years, made up of approximately 200 organizations from all kinds of sectors and activities. Its plurality and extension reflect the participatory nature of citizens and their commitment to the challenges that the city is facing.
Despite this growth, a very large part of the municipality associations is unfortunately not active or do not have a significant impact on the community. Many of these inactive associations were formed years ago for a specific purpose or event, and once this activity carried out they remain registered in the database although they do not maintain any activity. A good example of this is the Moors and Christians Associations, that have a significant number of members but only meet once a year.
Another characteristic aspect of the associative ecosystem of Santa is that many associations are made up of just two or three people, with most elderly members, and without generating synergies with other associations with similar characteristics and purposes. These facts have made it difficult to define fluid and effective communication mechanisms between local administration and associations.
In recent years, the Santa Pola city council and the Local Development Agency have carried out multiple actions to strengthen existing NGOs, providing them with services and spaces to maximize their social impact. One of the most important actions stems precisely from the transfer and learning process of the URBACT network Active NGOs. In particular: the design and development of an updated association database to identify active associations.
This database constitutes a key element in the development of local policies to support associations. Without this updated and truthful information of the currently active stakeholders, it is not possible to establish an effective and fair policy, to define a fluid communication with them or to identify and strengthen synergies between NGOs. At the same time, it is not possible to actively involve associations in local administration policies without previously knowing which ones are active and which do not have the capacity to operate in the community. Knowing the local reality of the Santa Pola associative network constitutes a challenge for the local administration that must undoubtedly be solved through the creation of this updated database.
Santa Pola's participation in the ACTive NGOs project has led to many learnings related to the management of associative spaces and the strengthening of local associations. Undoubtedly, one of the most significant has been the transfer process aimed at establishing an effective system to identify the active associations of Santa Pola. In the different transnational meetings, the professionals of the city council and the Local Development Agency have been able to observe how other cities established registration mechanisms for associations and stable communication instruments with them. This is the case of the Riga NGO House, the good practice of the ACTive NGOs project.
The Riga NGO House has a database of active city associations, with up-to-date information on their activities, goals and contact details. This database constitutes a key element of association management and one of the most important sources for establishing an effective communication strategy between local administration and associations.
The Riga NGO database started in September 2013, when Riga’s NGO House opened. It was one of the crucial tasks of the newly established institution to systematically collect information on those NGOs that would like to take part in the NGO House activities. The database is created on a voluntary basis including more than 1000 contacts.
In this regard, the main lessons learned from the Riga experience are:
- Database structure with the following information: name of the NGO, email address, phone number, the name of the legal representative or other contact person and additional notes, e.g. the website or other relevant information. The database is structured around an Excel file.
- Communication to members of the Database: Distribution of the Riga NGO House news about upcoming events, actual information in the NGO sector, NGO House monthly newsletters, project proposals, etc.
- Updating methodology: the database is being regularly updated in cooperation with the NGOs via emails and direct contacts. Within the framework of the ACTive NGOs project, Riga started a more ambitious process of updating and supplementing the database. They ask the NGOs to fill in a questionnaire, specifying the contact details, the responsible officials and, in addition, the area or areas in which the organization operates.
From Santa Pola's point of view, the main learning point does not lie in the technical details of the database or in the mechanisms that the city of Riga has established to obtain updated information from the associations. Santa Pola's learning process focuses on awareness, on the recognition that it is not possible to articulate an effective strategy to support associations without having a reliable overview of the association’s reality. In this sense, the ACTive NGOs project has been key to promoting the development of this updated database and register system in Santa Pola.
Beyond this aspect, another of Santa Pola's main challenges is to keep the database updated (email, telephone, contact person) and to have a standardized methodology to carry out this process. This lack of updated information is an important barrier to maintaining fluid communication between our NGO Houses and entities, in particular to inform them of activities, training, etc.
But how this policy has been transferred and adapted from Riga to Santa Pola? The first step was to convene an internal coordination meeting between the City Council, the professionals of the Local Development Agency and the representatives of the main NGO Houses of Santa Pola (Centro Civico and La Senia). This meeting was essential to highlight the importance of the project, define the methodology to be implemented and to join efforts from all parties to get it started. After the initial meeting, the interest in carrying out the update of active associations was transferred to the URBACT Local Group and the work methodology was explained.
The work methodology has focused on five main steps.
In the first place, a technical check of the current database has been carried out. The main stakeholders who work every day with the associations and in the NGO Houses have analyzed the existing registers and carried out a first filtering of which organisations are active, and which ones are not. Subsequently, this information has been contrasted with information from the public records of the province of Alicante.
Once this done, the structure and basic content of the new database have been defined. This structure contains basic information on associations as name, address, e-mail and phone number.
Third, two large face-to-face events have been scheduled for all the associations currently in the registry. The objective of these events is to explain the project to NGOs, to identify new potentially active associations, and to present an online questionnaire to be sent to each association to update its information. The associations that answer this questionnaire will be considered active.
Once the Database updated, another key pilot activity will be carried out that will allow us to fulfill the objectives and purposes of the ACTive NGOs project in Santa Pola. A meeting will be held to publicize the phase of "Accreditation of Active Associations" in recognition of the Santa Pola City Council to all local NGOs and associations in the municipality that meet a series of minimum requirements, such as: having updated and sent the data form to the City Council, demonstrate in a brief summary the latest actions carried out and the number of people participating, their objectives, etc.
Finally, after the submission of the applications by the associations, we will deliver the accreditations on the day of the Final Event of the Active NGO in Santa Pola. This event will take place in an emblematic place such as the Castillo-Fortaleza de Santa Pola, and all the associations participating in the ACTive NGOs project will be summoned. These associations accredited with the seal of "Active Associations" will have preference in the municipal subsidies and grants that are approved, as well as reserving spaces managed by the municipality”.
In November 2020, 71 active associations have been identified out of the total of 250 that appeared in the initial list. Despite the significant effort made by the ACTive NGOs ULG members to identify active associations, it is necessary to give a new impetus to this task.
On November 6, 2020, the Santa Pola ULG came together, with an important participation of the political team of the city council and one of the elements discussed at the meeting was precisely the assessment of the next steps to continue with the update. It was agreed to convene a new technical working meeting focused on this issue to decide how to close this phase.
To conclude, this transfer process that has started in Santa Pola could not have been carried out without the active participation of the city in the ACTive NGOs project and, in particular, without the support and inspiring example of the city of Riga and the rest of the partners. ACTive NGOs has represented for the local administration of Santa Pola a trigger for change and an undeniable impulse to develop new public policies that respond to the urban challenges of the Santa Pola association network.
Mª Carmen González Vives – Santa Pola Local Development Agency
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