The Project for Ukrainian Local Self-Governance (PULSE)
In response to corruption and Russian influence over the national government, there has been a recent shift in Ukrainian politics towards localized self-governance. The decentralization process is intended to give Ukrainian citizens more control over decisions that affect their lives, such as how to allocated resources in ways that best serve their communities.
In December 2015, The International Research and Exchanges Organization (IREX) implemented a project called the “Policy for Ukraine Local Self-Governance (PULSE)” in order to strengthen local governance, improve conditions for community development, and promote stability. IREX is partnered with the Association of Ukrainian Cities to engage citizens in local governance processes and inform them about what decentralization means for their schools, roads, health care, parks, and institutions. The project includes training staff members at libraries and local civil society organizations on how to effectively inform and engage citizens in community initiatives. The project, which is scheduled to last until December 2020, has reached over five thousand Ukrainians. Despite this success, it faces the challenge of reaching enough people to make a significant impact on Ukrainian society.
Libraries were chosen as the foundation for the PULSE initiative because they are public information centers where everyone is welcome. The civil service societies involved in PULSE are all non-governmental organizations with an underlying agenda of reverting resources away from the national government and into the hands of local governments. The staff of these libraries and civil service societies are trained through PULSE so they can pass on the information to the greater public.
Key Findings: Partnering with local civil service organizations and locally allocating resources are both imperative for instituting local self-governance. Significant gains have been made thus far, but in order to reach a broader audience PULSE should put efforts towards holding more training seminars and creating an association of libraries. These initiatives would connect the project to more Ukrainian citizens, thereby increasing its overall effectiveness. Additionally, creating an association of libraries involved in PULSE would enhance the project’s coordination and effectiveness. This could be done by created an association similar to the American Library Association in the United States.
The Russian-Ukrainian War has been ongoing since the Russian military invaded the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Russian soldiers took control of strategic positions and infrastructure within the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, effectively annexing the area. Even though Russia’s military presence is limited to the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, it has had a significant effect on the nation as a whole. The majority of members of the international community and organizations such as the United Nations have condemned Russia for its actions in post-revolutionary Ukraine. They claim Russia has broken international law and violated Ukrainian sovereignty.
Many Ukrainians resent Russian influence and want to regain national sovereignty. Local self-governance is seen as a way to circumvent direct Russian influence over the Ukrainian government. Unfortunately, Ukrainian local governments are historically weak and institutionally underdeveloped. In order to successfully implement political change at the local level, steps must be taken to bolster the power of local government. In 2015, IREX and the Association of Ukrainian Cities implemented the Project for Ukrainian Local Self-Governance (PULSE) to increase awareness for and participation in local government. The idea is that if citizens start looking toward their local government as a significant political platform, then Russia will not have as much influence in Ukrainian society and resources will be distributed more efficiently.
International Research and Exchanges Organization: IREX is a nonprofit global development and education organization. It contributes to good governance through partnerships with institutions at every level of society. IREX supports governments in ways that enable them to become more effective, accountable, and responsive to the people they serve. In Ukraine, IREX partnered with the Association of Ukrainian Cities and local civil society leaders by providing funds and manpower to implement PULSE. The organization prefers partnering with local actors, because they feel that is the most efficient way to bring about significant positive change in an area.
Association of Ukrainian Cities: AUC is one of the most prominent non-governmental organization in Ukraine, which represents the position and advocates interests of local governance. Founded in 1992, the AUC has the status of the All-Ukrainian association under the Law of Ukraine on associations of local governments. It unites over 760 communities where more than 80 percent of the Ukrainian population lives. AUC experts help communities in all oblasts of Ukraine to, “prepare development strategies and their implementation plans, to develop investment passports and projects to promote small and medium-size entrepreneurship.” The organization worked alongside IREX and local civil service leaders to implement PULSE.
Community Reform Groups: PULSE has trained members of 20 community reform groups throughout Ukraine. All of the reform groups have the underlying goal of reverting resources away from the national government and into the hands of local governments. These reform groups have partnered with libraries to organize community engagement and informational activities for Ukrainian citizens. The activities inform people about their rights and resources and share information about how decentralization can impact their everyday lives.
Libraries and their staff members: PULSE has trained staff members at 25 libraries throughout Ukraine on how to increase communities’ access to information and facilitate engagement between local communities and government officials. Libraries are seen as a focal point for the PULSE project because they epitomize access public information and serve as places where all are welcome to learn. As of 2018, these libraries have partnered with community reform groups to organize 312 community engagement and informational activities for Ukrainians throughout the country in support of decentralization and reform.
The Project for Ukrainian Local Self-Governance consists of using libraries as centers for civil society education. IREX and the Association of Ukrainian Cities formed a partnership to train librarians and civil society leaders about how to effectively help other citizens learn about their rights and resources. The trainees, in turn, engage other citizens on local self-governance processes. They also share critical information about what decentralization means for their schools, roads, health care, parks and institutions.
The goals of the project are three-fold:
- to facilitate local government input into the development and implementation of decentralization legislation and policies,
- to increase local government financial resources and enable their effective and efficient management,
- to empower local civil society and public institutions (such as libraries) to effectively inform and engage communities in the process of decentralization.
In addition to the goals listed above, PULSE strives to engage media in increasing visibility, highlighting successes, and fostering further conversations about the decentralization process. IREX and the AUC want to use the media as a way to promote the PULSE initiative.
Through PULSE, staff at 25 libraries and 20 civil society organizations have been trained on how to effectively inform and engage citizens in community initiatives. IREX reported that more than 50 interactive events were conducted that involved over 5,500 Ukrainian citizens. The events took place in 23 communities throughout 8 oblasts of Ukraine, including: Khmelnytskyi, Lviv, Zakarpattya, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Volyn, Zaporizhzhia, and Sumy. The PULSE program has sparked the establishment of 61 community reform groups across Ukraine. Through these groups, individuals with key interests in community well-being have built alliances and actively cultivate a spirit of cooperation.
The PULSE initiative also includes a yearly forum organized within the framework of the Democracy Study Centre (DSC) and implemented in cooperation with the European-Ukrainian Youth Policy Centre. The forum is about ways to foster positive inwards-looking change in Ukrainian cities. The representatives at this forum receive training on how to increase communities’ access to information and how to facilitate engagement between local communities and government officials.
The results from PULSE have been largely positive. More than 400 communities voted to amalgamate, which is an important step in the process of shifting decision-making to local communities. Press officers that PULSE trained have been featured in 238 articles, TV segments, or radio spots on local decentralization efforts. Local governments’ budgets in the communities targeted by PULSE have increased by 113 percent, which gives them more resources to serve their communities. There has also been overwhelmingly positive feedback from the over 5,500 participants. Those involved claim to have increased awareness, hope, and urgency to act. Over 70 percent of people polled reported receiving new and useful information about the decentralization reform.
A participant from Ilintsi in Vinnytsia oblast A. Chabanyuk said, “we enjoyed the active format of the event…[It] made us understand that only engagement and our ownership of where we live and work can change our lives for the better.” Another participant Nadya Dzyub, who took part in the event in Tokmak city, Zaporizhzhia oblast said, “I was impressed by the presented numbers, such as the amount of funding that the community actually receives…. For us, it means. That we will finally have enough funds to repair roads, cultural institutions, and schools.”
- It is imperative to partner with local civil service organizations. Including these groups in the decision-making process increases the effectiveness of a project because local people have a better understanding of their own wants and needs. Many Ukrainian citizens are eager to participate in PULSE because they want more decentralized control over their schools, roads, health care, parks, and institutions.
- Reaching a mass audience is crucial for making a significant impact on Ukrainian society. It is difficult to reach lots of people when libraries are the key actors, because many Ukrainians do not access public libraries on a regular basis.
- Resources are more effectively allocated when they are distributed at a local level where people have a strong understanding of their own situation. When locally elected officials have more power, the democratic deficit between constituents and representatives is lessened because each vote has more power. This makes it easier for people to achieve their goals and secure their wants and needs.
Although PULSE experienced success in both quantitative and qualitative aspects of the project’s goals, there is plenty of room for improvement. The 5,500 Ukrainians citizens reached by the project thus far are a small portion of the overall body politic, and a 113 percent increase in local government budgets it not enough to make a significant difference in society. In order to make a greater impact on the nation’s overall geopolitical landscape, PULSE needs to get more people involved. Three main objectives that could make PULSE more impactful are:
- Holding more training seminars at libraries – thus far, PULSE has held training seminars that trained the staff of 25 libraries and 20 civil society organization. These trainees have applied the knowledge and skills they gained from the training sessions to organize 312 community engagement and informational activities for Ukrainians. If more staff members are trained, they will be able to conduct more community engagement events, thereby increasing the number of citizens reached by the project.
- Continuing the project past December 2020 – PULSE is scheduled to last until December 2020. Extending the project past this deadline would give IREX and the AUC more time to reach a broader audience of people. Promoting local self-governance is an ongoing process.
- Creating an Association of Libraries – Libraries are crucial for this project because they serve as public community information centers that are welcoming to everyone. However, libraries hosting PULSE events independently of one another is insufficient in the long run. In order to make a lasting difference in Ukrainian society, the libraries must form an association under which they can coordinate how to move forward with educating citizens about local self-governance. The American Library Association (ALA) is a good model for this. The ALA’s mission is “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” Ukrainian libraries involved in PULSE should form an association with the mission of educating citizens on the processes and potential benefits of local self-governance.