Public discussions revealed a lack of capacity or willingness to engage in a pragmatic discussion on the necessary improvements to create a more inclusive society. In addition to the focus on “who is to blame”, the developments were not evaluated in the context of the last 20 years – as the result of the decisions and actions taken in the past that have created in a part of the population feelings of being unwelcome, insulted, endangered, not represented.
To change the public discourse, PROVIDUS proposed an initiative to enhance a focus on finding solutions and participate in shaping a more united/ inclusive society. To achieve this PROVIDUS organized online discussions and a citizens’ consultation on integration, followed by further discussions of the results with experts, politicians and the wider society.
During 13-24 February 2012 via the internet platform Mūsuvalsts anyone had the opportunity to put forward concrete proposals to enhance a more inclusive society, as well as vote and comment ideas suggested by others. 10 most popular ideas (taking into account the sum of the votes „for” and „against”) were handed over for further discussion at the Citizens’ Consultation on Integration.
Consultation on 25-26 February
Citizens’ Consultation on Integration in Riga on 25-26 February gathered 42 people who were invited via random selection – citizens and non-citizens, people from different regions, age groups, professional backgrounds and different ethnicities reflecting the diversity of Latvia.
The recruitment of participants was conducted by PROVIDUS via phone calls to respondents inquiring of their interest to take part in the consultation. Respondents were not asked about their opinions on integration issues. They were also not asked whether they have in-depth knowledge about the topic. Prior to the consultation participants received information about the aims of the event and a brief (in Latvian and Russian) on the main events and outcomes of integration policies.
The objective of the consultation was to seek a compromise among the participants on the needed improvements to enhance the creation of an inclusive society – concrete ideas drafted by the participants with the help of professional facilitators. This was achieved via a method that allows making a compromise step by step, including a short list of options, voting and elaborating of visions. Only ideas that received the support from the majority of participants were discussed further (ideas that did not receive majority support were heard and taken note of).
The 2-day consultation was moderated by professional facilitators making sure that all participants engage and nobody dominates the discussions. Part of the consultation took place in plenary, but most of the work was done in groups. Participants were divided into groups ensuring the representation of all regions, age groups, different professions, gender balance, as well as citizen and non-citizen proportion. Each group had a facilitator. Translation was provided to let participants without fluent Latvian/ Russian knowledge engage in quality discussions.
The consultation also involved decision-makers and experts explaining different positions on country’s integration policy and integration processes, thus also ensuring the feasibility of the recommendations drawn up by participants. First evaluations of the proposals were provided by representatives of the responsible institutions, as well as the President of Latvia who supported this initiative. Video from the President’s speech at the consultation (in Latvian) is available here.
A video with participants’ impressions (with subtitles in Latvian and Russian) is available here.
During 27 February – 12 March the wider community had an opportunity to evaluate – vote and comment – the proposals drafted in the Citizens’ Consultation on Integration in the internet platform Mūsuvalsts. Following this phase further discussions on the results of the Consultation were held with politicians and decision-makers as well as experts from the non-governmental and academic sector.
As a result of this, PROVIDUS initially planned to describe in a report (in autumn 2012) how experts and decision-makers evaluated citizens’ proposals, how they suggested developing them further, and also summarize actions that have taken place or were ongoing in the area addressed by citizens’ proposals. But, as evidence-based policy making takes time, PROVIDUS decided to support citizens’ proposals via permanent participation in the decision-making process on integration policy. PROVIDUS’ representative is a member of the Council overseeing the implementation of Integration Policy, chaired by Latvian Minister of Culture. The council evaluates and proposes changes in country’s integration policy.
 This method was used in European Citizens’ Consultations in 2007 and 2009 where PROVIDUS was the national partner in Latvia.
The initiative was supported by the President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš, as well as European Commission representation in Latvia, Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative of Open Society Foundations, Skrivanek Baltic, Draugiem.lv, Inbox.lv and Islande Hotel and individual donors.