Innovation in Governance
Updated: Feb 5
By Ivo Dreesen, Aaron Rudolf von Rohr & Magdalene Nickel.
The democratic system of the municipality Zwolle is based on Johan Rudolf Thorbecke’ parliamentary system of 1848. In the meantime, there have been some reforms, however, the bottom line is that the current system is not keeping up with the available opportunities to include and engage citizens in the public debate and the development of the city which would bring our governmental system closer to a democracy.
Recent attempts to use newly occurring tools, such as MijnWijk, or a Citizen-budget, have not reached the attention that is required to initiate a shift of citizens’ mindset. The idea of such tools (that are based on principles of deliberative and participatory democracy) is to put the citizen in the role of the decision-maker regarding policy-making (deliberative), and designer of their own social and physical environment (participatory).
The inconsequential implementation of these trending tools poses a threat to the development of the entire city. Cities around the globe are currently adapting to these new standards of governance. Zwolle needs to keep up, in order to benefit from the countless advantages of engaged citizens.
After a short Value Creator semester, Ivo Dreessen, Magdalene Nickel, and Aaron Rudolf von Rohr have decided to organize an event to bring together citizens, citizen initiatives and organizations, civil servants, policy makers, and politicians from Zwolle including the Mayor, to share, discuss and discover new ways of citizen engagement. The interactive online event "New Year's Celebration for Citizen Engagement'' took place on January 21, 2021. During the event, the participants received academic input in form of a pre-recorded interview with Y. Dejaeghere from G1000 Belgium. In the following, the participants discussed in break-out rooms about the opportunities and barriers for increasing citizen engagement, their role in doing so, and formulated statements of commitment.
Our journey began with researching how Zwolle has arrived at the situation of today and what trends and developments are taking place around the world regarding governance. Early on, we consulted people within our network that are somehow connected to the municipality. However, our scope of change was non-existent yet.
Soon enough, our agendas were filled with interviews. The network expanded by the day. It became clearer that there was a disconnect between the governing body (city council, alderman) and the governed. To a certain extent, this is the case in every democracy. However, the chance of that distance being too great is high. So we began our search for solutions and what our role could be in implementing them.
In this phase the team was under high pressure. We needed to find the point of greatest leverage to create change in the governance system of Zwolle - ambitious. Eventually, we decided against an advisory report and hoped for the power of ‘direct’ interaction in the form of an event in collaboration with the taskforce for citizens' participation (part of the city council Zwolle) and Studio Vers Bestuur, a department of the province of Overijssel that looks into new ways of governance.
The value creator has been a unique experience that differs in many ways from an ordinary project. The problem was found inductively - by looking at the whole situation and determining what was needed or can be added to improve the situation. One could describe it as the next level of agile project management.
We have learned a lot, expanded our professional network and gained experience in working independently and remotely, organizing events, conducting interviews, policy making, governance innovation and much more.