Citizenship and participatory democracy

Kit RégionalESS N°8

June 2021

Réseau des collectivités Territoriales pour une Economie Solidaire (RTES)

In connection with the renewal of regional executives in June 2021, RTES proposes a Regional SSE kit to raise awareness among candidates and provide tools for future regional teams wishing to support the social and solidarity economy (SSE).

This kit will include about twenty practical sheets, based on the principle of the MunicipalESS Kit published in 2020, illustrated with examples, and presenting in a synthetic and concrete way how a regional council can include the SSE in its policies. Sheets 1 and 2 of the RegionalESS kit are SSE presentation sheets. They can be consulted under the references Social and Solidarity Economy: What are we talking about? (fact sheet n°2504.) and Why implement a cross-cutting policy to support the social and solidarity economy? (fact sheet n°2505).

Fact sheet 8 examines the ways in which regions can encourage citizen participation.

Regional councils, like all local authorities, are confronted with an increasing demand for participation from citizens to contribute to public policies. Co-construction has become a mode of governance and decision-making that can no longer be ignored.

But, more generally, the regional institution can act to take into account the expertise of inhabitants, encourage the various forms of citizen involvement and support popular education initiatives such as those carried out by associations and collectives that act on its territory.

There are several possible levers of action:

Recognising the actors involved by signing a regional charter

The region can initiate the signing of a charter of reciprocal commitments between itself and the associations, based on the model of the national charter signed by representatives of national associations of elected representatives, the State and the associations. The region may adapt this charter by adding specific commitments between itself and the associations, independently of those in the national charter.

The region can organise dialogue with the associations by dedicating a vice-presidency to them, by organising regional conferences on associative life, and by setting up a consultative council of associations. It can support them through thematic policies (culture, youth, sport, environment, social cohesion or employment) but also transversal policies (training, support to inter-associative dynamics, etc.).

A conference on associative life in Brittany

In Brittany, the Region defines itself as the structuring level for associative life. Every two years, it organises regional conferences on associative life, which bring together 600 Breton associations. The structuring of a system that is favourable to associations is reflected in support for those involved in accompanying associations and networks, in the qualification of resource centres and in the identification of and fight against white areas, etc.

Establish regular and permanent consultation forums

Each topic can be the subject of a citizens’ conference whose members, depending on the theme, are drawn by lot, elected by their peers or chosen according to their expertise.

On more permanent subjects, « parliaments » can be set up following the example of the Occitan experience with its parliaments of the Sea or of the Mountains.

Several regional councils have set up regional youth councils (Brittany, Grand Est, Île-de-France, Normandy, etc.) where young people, elected by young people, are invited to make concrete proposals on subjects that concern them personally or that concern the whole region. Consultation can also be encouraged via online participatory platforms, such as in Grand Est, which lists consultations, surveys, participatory workshops and calls for projects in the region.

These mechanisms are a good complement to legal bodies such as the CESER (Regional Economic, Social and Environmental Council).

Occitania develops assemblies…

In 2016, the Occitanie region created an Assembly of Territories, a consultative body bringing together 158 non-regional elected officials. At the same time, a Parliament of the Sea has existed since 2013, which aims to federate the maritime community, to represent it, to allow consultation and collaborative work between the various actors of the sea and the coast and to bring out innovative projects. On the same model, a Parliament of the Mountains was created in 2018. There is also a regional youth council with 158 members aged 18 to 29.

Involving citizens in decision-making

Beyond consultation, we can go further by integrating a decision-making part in adapted mechanisms. This is the case with participatory budgets. They have expanded considerably over the past two years but are little used by the regions.

In 2019, nearly 19 million French people could vote for a part of the budget in 141 municipalities, 18 departments and one region (Occitania). France thus has 170 participatory budgets in operation. 2019 also saw the appearance of the first thematic budgets, on sustainable development. The implementation of such schemes, which are now well known, can be reproduced in all regions.

Helping to create a culture of participation

By reaching out to young people, the Region is preparing its future. Transmitting democratic functioning habits, encouraging participation, involving more, can be done in the places where young people meet. Projects can be carried out in high schools with the French Ministry of Education. The region can also join forces with a network such as L’ESPER (L’économie sociale partenaire de l’école de la République) and support its Mon ESS à l’école scheme, or encourage the creation of junior associations, youth initiative cooperatives or youth service cooperatives (CJS). In Brittany, for example, the Region is a partner of the collective entrepreneurship education cooperative CRIC, which supports the CJS.

… and participatory budgets

While many participatory budgets are general, the Occitania region has developed its approach in the form of six thematic budgets: a citizen participatory budget for sustainable food: « Your ideas and solutions for sustainable food in Occitania »; another on culture as a « common good »; another on « Occitania open to the world »; one on the sea and the coastline; one on the climate « My solution for the climate »; and the last one on « Occitania’s mountains, lands of life and innovation ».

Accompanying and being accompanied by popular education structures

Participation cannot be improvised. The regional councils can find competent contacts who are specialists in participatory approaches within the SSE, in particular from the popular education movements which, for many years, have tested the tools of participation, consultation and collective decision-making.

SSE in high schools

Within the framework of a call for projects launched by the Normandy Region, more than 400 high school students or apprentices have implemented SSE-related initiatives in their schools. Supported by the Social and Solidarity Economy and Youth Citizenship departments of the Normandy Region and the Rectorat, the scheme has enabled schools to carry out educational projects based on the SSE, resulting in concrete achievements. This is a way of teaching young people to take charge of their lives in a democratic and participatory framework.

Where to find the right contacts?

The Cnajep (Committee for National and International Relations of Youth and Popular Education Associations) brings together the popular education networks in France. It has a branch office (Crajep) in each region which can put you in touch with support structures for the development of projects. There is also the Crefad network. Finally, we should mention the government’s « How to » website, a toolbox for public innovation that provides basic information on, for example, service design or citizen participation approaches.

To go further

  • The testimony of a mayor whose approach is relevant to all elected representatives: Jean-Marie Darmian, Le partage du pouvoir local, published by Le bord de l’eau, 2019.

  • A Fondation Jean-Jaurès note on participatory budgets by Antoine Bézard: « Budgets participatifs: donner du sens à la participation des citoyens ».

  • The website of the Occitanie Region to find all of its citizen initiatives (participatory budgets, consultations, questioning tools, citizen commissions), as well as the website of the Grand Est Region.