In our last Strategies for Change session, we had Catherine Lane come and talk to us about Public Participation Networks (PPN’s) and how they can support us in our activism work.
A Little History
The development of PPN’s was part of Government reform under the Local Government Reform Act 2014. Then Minister, then Phil Hogan instructed All Local Authorities to set up new local committees (PPN’s) made up of local community and voluntary groups to represent the grassroots views of local people. (see – Minister Phil Hogan on Citizen Engagement & ‘Public Participation Networks’). For the breakdown of these three community sectors (known as Colleges), see the below table: (see – www.galwaycountyppn.ie).
So, in theory, every Irish citizen now has a “right” to be consulted in what happens in their local community. Thus (by law) giving the Community & Voluntary Sector a “right to sit at the decision-making table”.
PPN’s are relatively a new structure (six years old), and Catherine told us they are “still trying to find their feet.” Still, in all their endeavours, they must strive to enable local citizens to take an active and formal role in the policy-making activities of Local Authorities that will affect their communities. She went on to say that a lot of the issues that Local Government have responsibility for can “have a huge impact on the quality of all our lives and how we live our lives”, so their entity is critically important to all of us.
- the participation and representation and nomination of communities in a fair, equitable and transparent manner through the three Colleges (as above)
- build the capacity of the individuals within the three Colleges, enabling them to contribute to their local community
- the provision of relevant and up to date information to the three Colleges and functions as a hub around which information is circulated and received.
So to sum it all up, PPN’s are made up of a diverse network of community groups representatives that work together with their local authority to make sure that all three Colleges have a voice and have a say on issues that concern them (see – County Wicklow PPN).
Funding for PPNs is provided by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Local Authorities. This funding facilitates the engagement of a Resource Worker in each local authority area and also funds other related costs.
Principles and Values of PPN’s
- be inclusive of all volunteer-led organisations in their area, and actively seek the inclusion of groups that may traditionally have been marginalised or left out
- be participatory, open, welcoming, respectful, collaborative and facilitative; PPN’s must encourage actual participation in all aspects of its work. Clear communications to and from its member groups (community and voluntary sector ) using a variety of traditional and new mechanisms are essential to achieve this. The PPN should support new or inexperienced members to develop their capacity and skills
- be independent of their Local Authority, and all of its interests, be open, and participatory working structures support this
- value diversity and recognise that the sectors they support are wide-ranging and made up of people with many different lived experiences and opinions. PPNs do not need to come up with a consensus. Still, they are expected to give feedback on the issues and suggestions raised by its member groups
- be transparent in all its operations with its member groups, representatives and Local Authorities. It should communicate openly, regularly, and with precision
- be accountable to its member groups via implementing and abiding by good governance structures, policies, and procedures
See the user guide for more information – Public Participation Networks PPNs User Guide).
Catherine told us that these principles and values “needed to be on paper” as we (the community) have the power, and we can hold PPN’s accountable “if they are not being through to their values”.
The Structure of PPN’s
All community and voluntary groups in PPN’s are Flat in Structure, which means that “no one person is in charge”. All elected representatives are seen as. equals, have an equal voice and have real input into all decisions. There is also no leader, spokesperson, or chairperson. The membership is open to all community, voluntary and organisation representatives (nominated individuals by their voluntary or community group) active in their Local Authority area.
The main decision-making body of any PPN is called the Plenary (heart of PPN’s). The Plenary is made up of representatives from all its registered member groups from all three Colleges. Decisions are made at Plenary meetings, including the election of member group representatives, and each member group has one vote.
Plenary meetings are great for member groups to meet and network and hear about issues of interest to them. This group very much guides the work of PPN’s. The Plenary is also responsible for developing a wellbeing statement for its County (see – Statement of Wellbeing).
The Plenary meets at least twice a year to review the work of the PPN and set out the work for its coming year. In addition, all PPN’s must agree to a Memorandum of Understanding (see – www.investopedia.com) with its Local Authority and an Annual Workplan.
The Secretariat is a Voluntary Board made up of 12 PPN representatives elected by the Plenary. The Secretariat works alongside its Resource Worker. The make-up of the Secretariat must represent a variety of different groups and is reflective of the diversity of the membership of its PPN. These individuals must also represent the other geographical areas of the County/City and the three Colleges. The Secretariat is responsible for the administration of the PPN between Plenary meetings. The Role of The Secretariat is to:
- progress the work schedule of the PPN
- make sure the Flat structure (equal power) is adhered to
- work closely with Local Authority PPN staff
- meets six times annually
- advance the recommendations of the PPN between meetings.
Voluntary and community groups register with the Municipal District that they belong to and work in. Each Municipal District has a PPN. A Municipal District is an administrative entity comprising of a clearly-defined townland with its population.
It can be a city, a town, a village, a small grouping of towns and villages, or a rural area. There are over 90 + Municipal Districts in Ireland.
Linkage Groups bring together Stakeholder Organisations that have a common interest in areas such as, Housing, Transport, Youth & Community, Community Safety & Policing, Community Leisure & Culture, etc. These groups comprise of a collection of PPN member groups/organisations interested in being involved in External Committees, e.g. Strategic Policy Committees, the Joint Policing Committee, and Local Community Development Committees.
Each Linkage Group works with their elected PPN Representative (Rep’s). Their role is to highlight community issues and influence. policy change. PPN Reps are PPN members who have been elected by a Linkage Group to represent the PPN. PPN Rep’s report to and from the Linkage Group that elects them (two-way communication).
Image is taken from www.limerickppn.ie
In some cases, potential Stakeholder Groups may be approached directly and invited to join a Linkage Group to ensure all lived experiences and voices are heard (see – Fingal Public Participation Network. Get involved today).
Joining a PPN
To join a PPN, you must be part of a community / voluntary group. Unfortunately, you cannot join as an individual. The community / voluntary group must:
- be made up of five or more people and have been around for six months or more
- have a postal address
- not be associated with a political party
- have a governance structure, e.g., a constitution
As mentioned beforehand, all member groups of PPN’s must fit into one of the three Colleges. So, for example, you might belong to a Sports Group (Community & Voluntary College) or be part of a Climate Change Group (Environmental College).
The Social Inclusion College Group is very relevant to Local Disability Activists and Campaigners because its focus will always be on equality, social justice and improving the lives and opportunities of its local people.
Why Disabled Activists Need to be Involved
- it is a government policy
- we have a right to have our voices heard
- it is an opportunity to change policy / practice / funding / priorities
- we know the real issues and the solutions
- there is a real need for collective engagement/strength
- influence decisions further up the chain
- we can hold PPN’s accountable
- fantastic opportunity to develop new skills
- network and teach PPN members about the social model of disability and the barriers that disabled people face every day of their lives
- build solidarity with like-minded PPN members/groups
Some of the Challenges of PPN’s
- you must be part of a community or voluntary group; no individual membership is allowed
- the number of groups registered with PPN’s was 17,780 at the end of 2020, however the percentage of organisations that opted to be part of the Social Inclusion College was only 16%. This is very low (see – Local Authority Performance Indicator – Report-2020.pdf)
- Top down model – how we invite and organise community participation and representation is decided and controlled centrally and at national level
- How can we measure impact and influence of people’s participation? need to capture rich data – who is missing?
- imbalance of power – are people who are most affected by policy decisions at the table?
- very complex structure and language – Plenary, Linkage Groups, Flat Structure, Secretariat, Colleges
- move beyond information and volunteering to influence decisions that affect lives
- time and resources – increasing demands being placed on Volunteers and Activists in local communities to engage with the PPNs and their associated structures need more supports for participation
- making Local Authority structures truly accountable and effective
DPER – Citizen engagement case studies
Social Justice Ireland – Delivering deliberative democracy
Local Authority Satisfaction Survey 2020
Information on PPNs – www.gov.ie/en/policy-information
Email Department – email@example.com