At the tail end of last week (10-11 October), representatives from across Ireland convened in Carlow for the National Public Participation Network Conference. In celebration, we’re highlighting a story from our latest issue, which shows the great work being done by the Wicklow Public Participation Network.
In many places, Public Participation Networks (PPNs) are doing exceptional work at community level. County Wicklow PPN is one of them.
Last year, they joined a pilot programme to develop a toolkit for communities to develop a ‘Vision for Community Wellbeing’ for now and future generations. The other places taking part in the pilot are Cork city, Longford and Roscommon.
This follows on from a recommendation in 2014 by the Working Group Report in Citizen Engagement with Local Government, which said: “Each county/city PPN will commence its work by going through a process to set out what it considers necessary to promote wellbeing for present and future generations.”
We often think about wellbeing in terms of an individual’s good physical and mental health. Community wellbeing, however, refers to the wider conditions that communities need for a better quality of life, a healthier environment and increased prosperity.
Helen Howes, PPN resource worker, tells Wicklow’s story:
We used the toolkit to run 11 workshops and five online consultations, and we took on board two submissions. We now have guiding visions for the county under six headings: health; environment and sustainability; participation and good governance; economy and resources; values, culture and meaning; and social and community development.
The benefits of doing this work have been amazing and include:
- Real engagement between the PPN and communities,
- The work of the PPN being highlighted,
- Increasing membership,
- More collaboration, and
- Strengthened relationships between [the PPN] and various community stakeholders.
It got communities to engage with each other, too. Groups from Hollywood attended the Baltinglass workshop and got so much out of it that they went on to develop a Hollywood Forum last year. By year’s end, the Hollywood Forum was approaching the Baltinglass Forum to see if they could work together on mutually beneficial projects.
Now, our PPN reps have an even stronger mandate when they attend Special Policy Committee meetings and other meetings of the council on our behalf. We provided training to our secretariat and reps to show them how to use the ‘vision statements’ and, more recently, how to source data to back up the statements in policy development.
With this mandate and material, we honestly advocate on the community’s behalf. This year, we have already used the vision statements in submissions to the Volunteering Strategy, An Garda Síochána Policing Plan, Wicklow Outdoor Recreation Strategy, and Heritage Ireland 2030.
We think they will be invaluable when the next version of the Local Economic and Community Plan goes out for consultation.