You’ve got mail: One Moldovan mayor’s new slogan
27 Feb 2015
Larga is one of the 60 communities that UNDP in Moldova is supporting to become a model of democratic local governance.
For us, this means finding ways to get citizens engaged in local affairs, a major challenge in rural communities in Moldova.
One way that we’ve tried to intervene is in challenging our mayors to increase transparency in their work – and to improve communication with their citizens.
For the Larga mayor, Radu Urecheanu, this challenge presented an opportunity to try something different.
Here are some notes from his – and our – learning-by-doing process:
1. Using traditional communication tools
Mayor Urecheanu’s first step was to use the traditional communication tools available in his commune: information boards, local newsletters, and public hearings.
However, we quickly realized that these methods didn’t immediately work.
“Unless one uses big font writing and attractive pictures, nobody reads them,” said the Mayor. “And what about those people who work on the field all day long? When will they come to read the announcements placed in front of the mayoralty?”
To reach out to his constituency, the Mayor turned to alternative solutions.
The commune’s website was revamped to broadcast the local council’s meetings, and it soon began receiving traffic from a variety of people interested in local matters.
These days, the regular meetings of public servants can be accessed on-line (both live and archived) from any part of the world. According to the Mayor:
“Besides increasing transparency, making these records available online is also a good way of holding local councilors accountable for their decisions.”
Of course, this particular alternative carried its own challenges.
Many citizens remained left out of the local communication stream; according to our baseline survey, only 50 percent of the rural population have access to a computer. Of those, only about half have internet access.
Guided by this lesson, the Mayor devised the next step:
2. SMS communication
The local government created a database of local mobile phone numbers.
The numbers were then grouped according to demographics ,and social and professional groups. In this way, the mayoralty could target specific groups with customized messages about current events.
The mayoralty sent about ten targeted text messages per month to each person.
Word of mouth soon caught on, and before long, more and more people began asking to be included in the database.
These days, every household in the commune is connected to the SMS circuit.
IMPACT: increased participation
The impact of such communication has been immediate.
The Community Hall with a 500-person capacity couldn’t fit all the citizens that came to the next local meeting.
The same local hall, which had been half-empty before, was now overflowing.
The participation of citizens in local events has increased significantly with a baseline survey revealing data well-above the national average (49 percent – approval of local government performance, and 50 percent perceived improvement of local government’s performance in the last three years).
Moldovan press has also caught wind of the story, sharing the mayor’s success story, leading other mayors to express their interest in replicating this practice.
Together with colleagues from Social Innovation Hub – MiLab our next step is to support the local government from Larga to expand the use of this tool as a two-way communication channel, more specifically as an SMS polling application.
Even if at the local level the council is the main decision-maker, the mayor sees the benefit of SMS-polling, since it allows citizens to make their voice heard in a fast and affordable way.