Office of Community Participation – Report of activities – 2020

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Summary of our activities in 2020 including information, consultations, partnerships and dialogues with the local community.

Magyar nyelvű összefoglalók munkánkról // Summary about our work in Hungarian:

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Józsefváros – an introduction

Józsefváros was originally born as a suburb of Budapest bustling with commerce and industry and it was named after Emperor Joseph II in 1777. The district has traditionally been culturally and socially diverse, welcoming many ethnic and religious minorities and migrants. Today it is home to around 80,000 residents and has one of the largest Roma populations in the capital. There is also a big Chinese community living and working here and many refugees and migrants start out their life in our city in this district. The 8th district is among the poorest parts of Budapest with unemployment above the Budapest average and the poorest pensioners living here. The district has one of the largest social housing stocks in Budapest with around 10% of the total housing stock in the district. Most municipal units are in miserable condition because of the neglect of the past 70 years, while the district is also undergoing heavy gentrification.

Józsefváros was hit hard by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a phone-based survey in Józsefváros in July, 2020 by the think tank Political Capital, 51% of respondents said that the financial situation of their household got worse because of the pandemic. 19% of the respondents under the age of 65 lost their jobs. Altogether 37% of respondents were affected existentially (financially) by the pandemic by either losing their jobs, being on unpaid leave or losing some form of income among other reasons. Regarding income level, the poorest residents were the most affected by the crisis: 60% of those with less than 100.000 HUF (around 300 EUR) household income and only 28% of those with more than 400.000 HUF (around 1100 EUR) household income reported negative financial impact.

Why participation?

Self-governance means that citizens can collectively and autonomously shape their own physical and social environment and their own future and are able to have a say in the decisions that affect them. Today in Hungary, municipal governments are the most widespread institutionalized form of self-governance. However, in many respects, local governments have moved away from this original purpose and are operating increasingly as bureaucratic institutions isolated from local residents. While local governments are especially important institutions of representative democracy, using the principles and tools of participatory democracy offers an opportunity for citizens to reclaim these institutions and for municipalities to serve their original function in a more sensitive and meaningful way.

It is the shared responsibility of citizens and municipalities that local governments receive proper feedback about their work and become more open to the needs, proposals and creativity of citizens. Creating a more participatory municipality is the goal and at the same time tool to make sure that public life and politics belong to everyone and that nobody is excluded from the political community because of their age, gender, identity, social status, religion, mental or physical condition or any other reason.

Today “participation” is a buzzword often used by politicians, experts and civil society, but its actual meaning often remains vague. In the mayoral campaign of 2019, mayor András Pikó’s program placed great emphasis on involving residents more in running the municipality. But participation does not mean that it is the mayor personally who solves all the problems, as this would make his functioning virtually impossible. Quite the opposite: a well-functioning local government does not need residents to advocate for their problems individually. Instead, there is a system in place for residents to share their criticism and find the appropriate channels and platforms to address their needs. By striving for a more participatory local governance, we not only expect the experience of democracy to improve for residents but we also believe that by we can come up with new, creative, efficient and just solutions to our shared challenges.

What is the Office of Community Participation?

In March, 2020, the assembly of the 8th district created the Office of Community Participation as part of the Mayor’s Cabinet to dedicate resources to the development of the culture of participation in our district. The main aim of the Office is to strengthen the communities of Józsefváros and engage local residents in common decisions. The main principles of the Office are the following:

•    plain and accessible language

•    transparency

•    accessibility

•    justice

•    solidarity

Our main tasks are the following:

In order to offer adequate and transparent information to Józsefváros residents, our task is to create client friendly surfaces and channels of communication and make sure that the operation of the municipality is understandable and transparent to everyone.

We are also charged with implementing consultative processes on behalf of the leadership of the municipality to involve residents in the decisions that affect their lives.

We organize and support events and programs that create opportunities for the municipality and local residents to engage in constructive dialogue including community meetings and public hearings.

In order to foster partnerships between local residents, civil society organizations and the municipality, we design and monitor processes that lead to mutual decision-making around specific issues including participatory budgeting and community-based planning.

At the moment, our Office consists of four staff members including a head of office, a community organizer and two assistants and we also work in close cooperation with the head of communications of the municipality.

Where can you find us?

Address: Józsefvárosi Polgármesteri Hivatal (Baross utca 63-67.) Fsz. 3/1

Phone: +3614592139



Our activities in 2020

1. Public forums and community events

a)    Thematic forums, community meetings and public hearing

The aim of thematic forums and community meetings is to create opportunities for local residents to meet directly with their elected representatives and municipal officials to participate in shaping the life of the district by asking them questions, presenting their proposals, expressing their opinions and voicing their criticism.

Under normal conditions, our plan is to hold at least one community meeting in each of the 9 neighborhoods of Józsefváros every year. Unfortunately, in 2020, this was not possible due to the pandemic. We ended up organizing the following thematic, community and public forums in 2020.

Thematic forums:

–    forum about film shootings in public spaces (approx. 50 residents) – part of the long-term consultation about the local legislation regarding film shootings in public spaces

–    forum about the house rules of municipal public housing units (approx. 30 participants) – part of the long-term consultation about the house rules of municipal public housing units

–    online forum about public safety (approx. 100 participants) – information and Q & A about security cameras in public spaces

–    hybrid forum in cooperation with the Office of Urban Architecture about the Integrated Local Development Strategy (approx. 100 participants)

–    online forum about new rules regarding public parking (100 participants) – part of the long-term consultation regarding new parking rules

–    urban walk and workshop to generate ideas as part of the participatory budgeting of the municipality of Budapest (15 participants)

–    forum about the trees and greenery around Rókus hospital (approx. 10 participants) – our role was to prepare decisionmakers for the facilitation of the forum

Community forums, mayoral forums and public hearing:

–    3 offline community forums in three neighborhoods of Józsefváros (Orczy negyed, Magdolna negyed, Corvin negyed, approx. 40-60 participants in each)

–    2 online community forums in two neighborhoods of Józsefváros (Losonci negyed and Százados negyed, approx. 60-80 participants in each)

–    3 online mayoral forums (followed by several hundred people each time)

–    one public hearing (approx. 20 participants) in cooperation with the municipal clerk’s office (mandated by law)

b)    Community programs

Community programs are events that help the residents of Józsefváros come together and are great opportunities to generate new encounters among residents and the municipality. We implemented the following programs in cooperation with the Józsefváros Közösségeiért Nonprofit Zrt. and all of them were free to enter.

– Cultural programs

Commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day: wreath-laying ceremony, urban walk and film screening (approx. 100 participants)Day of Hungarian Culture: urban walk and community recitals in cooperation with C8 Civilians for Józsefváros (approx. 50 participants)

– Outdoor community movie screenings in Teleki tér (9 occasions, approx. 550 participants) – this was the only widely available public event in the district after the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic

– Strengthening gender equality by naming public spaces after important women.

In the spring, we initiated the naming of two public squares after Júlia Brunszvik (co-founder of the first nursery school in Hungary) and Vilma Hugonnai (the first female medical doctor). In the summer, we organized public naming ceremonies for both with the participation of around 100 people.

– Community clean-up in various parts of the district with a total of 90 participants

– Supporting biking as an alternative form of transportation

Free breakfast for cyclists in cooperation with the Hungarian Cyclists’ Club (approx. 150-200 contacts)

Biking around Józsefváros for beginners in cooperation with the Hungarian Cyclists’ Club (5 occasions, approx. 60 participants)

– Showcasing the historical significance and architectural heritage of Józsefváros

Budapest100 programs in Józsefváros celebrating local communities in cooperation with the Contemporary Center of Architecture (3 venues, 500 participants)

Day of Places of Remembrance – urban walk in the 8th district in cooperation with Beyond Budapest (2 occasions, 50 participants)

– Coronavirus through children’s eyes

Open call for drawings and other works of art by children, award ceremony and permanent exhibition in the municipality (18 entries)

2. Dissemination of public information

We place great emphasis on the widespread dissemination of municipal information in a plain and accessible way. On the one hand, our aim is to make sure that citizens understand the processes, issues and questions that affect them, which is the basis for citizens, communities and civil society to have a say in the decisions that affect them. On the other hand, for an institution that calls itself client friendly, it is essential that all services, opportunities and information reach even the most vulnerable citizens. We are convinced that because of the sociological features of the 8th district, there is a great need for the intensive use of offline tools of communication. We cooperate with other municipal companies in the production and dissemination of these materials.

a)    Short information materials – 23 in total

Topics: social institutions, rules regarding littering, rat extermination, financial aid and social assistance, community gardens, noise complaints, rules regarding dog ownership, operation of the local assembly, how to prevent hypothermia etc.

Dissemination: website, Facebook, posters, flyers

b)    Municipal decisions, local news

In 2020 we created summaries and information materials about all of the decisions of the municipality that affect the wider public

Dissemination: website, Facebook, posters, flyers

c)    Infopoint posters – 25 A1 posters in 34 different places in the district (updated twice a month)

Topics: social assistance, open calls, programs, free services, pandemic-related news and information

d)    Municipal newsletter – 15 newsletters to 3000 addresses

Topics: local programs, events, consultations and information of public interest

e)    Information booklets

– booklet for cyclists (700 pieces)

– booklet on municipally owned public housing (in process)

– booklet for volunteers under the pandemic (online distribution)

f)    Information boards in residential buildings (1500 pieces)

– production and maintenance of information boards containing useful information such as the contact information of the local representative, family doctors etc.

g)    Coronavirus-related information (posters and online information in Hungarian and 6 foreign languages)

– email to custodians of residential buildings

– email to local NGOs

– posters in all buildings of Józsefváros

– posters in community institutions and stores

h)    Supervision of film shootings in public spaces

– public information for residents for 12 film shootings approved in the district

i)    Information boards in public places

– changing information boards on kindergartens

– regularizing public information regarding the cutting down and planting of trees

– information boards in dog runs

3. Research

a)    Surveys

The aim of surveys is to collect information to prepare and improve municipal interventions.

– Survey about the impact of the coronavirus (690 respondents)

– “The social status of Józsefváros residents and the diagnosis of the municipal institutional system” (in progress)

1 phone-based public opinion survey among 1000 Józsefváros adults

6 focus groups with 8-10 participants each

20 expert interviews

b)    Needs assessment

The aim of needs assessment is to understand what people need before a specific program or intervention is implemented.

–    Survey about the needs of female employees of the municipality (online, 23 respondents)

–    Dog owners’ needs (online & offline, 280 respondents)

–    Participation needs of local residents about their preferred forms of communication and interaction with elected representatives (online & offline, 110 respondents)

–    Needs and feedback regarding the Tolnai recreation park (in process)

c)    Evaluation

The aim of evaluation is to see how people like an intervention, program or development.

–    Evaluation questionnaires regarding our urban biking programs for beginners (25 respondents)

–    Development of Népszínház utca (in progress)

4. Consultations and public reviews

a)    Consultation

We have initiated long-term consultations in a number of topics in 2020 to be able to make decisions in a collaborative way. The process of our consultations usually takes the following form:

– Data collection: public forum, one and offline survey

– Summary, analysis and interpretation of data

– Informing and lobbying decision makers about the summary of needs and opinions to make sure that these are included in the preparation of policies or legislation

– Supporting the implementation of the final political decisions

Our consultations in 2020 were in the following topics:

–    Consultation regarding the shooting of films in public spaces (number of survey respondents: 766, number of participants in public forum: 50 people)

–    Consultation about the house rules of municipally owned public housing (number of survey respondents: 100, number of participants in public forum: 30 people)

–    Consultation about the reform of public parking (participants in review: 42, number of respondents, number of forum participants: 100)

b)    Public review

We also help the municipality to gain insights both orally and in writing from the public regarding strategies, white papers or specific plans. The process of public reviews usually takes the following form:

– Making the document public

– Creating a form for opinions and input

– Organizing a thematic forum

– Collecting opinions and inputs and summarizing them for the decision makers

– Cooperation with the relevant municipal officials (especially where the law mandates public review)

We facilitated the following public reviews in 2020:

–    Public review of the Józsefváros Civil Strategy (number of reviewers: 12 organizations)

–    Public Review of the Integrated Local Development Strategy (supporting the work of the Urban Architecture Office)

–    Review of housing strategy by housing organizations and community groups (in progress)

5. Call for ideas, direct community vote

a)    Call for ideas

The call for ideas or ideas competition offers an opportunity for people to provide ideas for a program or intervention. In 2020, we took part in the promotion of the call for ideas in the participatory budgeting project of the municipality of Budapest

b)    Direct community vote

In 2020 we organized several direct community votes where local residents were able to both vote and make the final decision about a specific topic.

–    Children’s drawing competition (in the end, everyone got some kind of award <3)

–    For the Communities of Józsefváros Award (number of voters: 789)

–    Choosing a new play instrument for the Pom-Pom playground (number of participants: 64)

6. Community development

One of our most important tasks is to encourage local residents to work together for issues that are important for all of us and support the making of connections between people living in the district.

a)     Volunteering

In the spring wave of the pandemic, we recruited around 100 volunteers who helped the municipality to respond to the crisis such as putting up posters, shopping for the elderly, walking dogs, helping people fill out forms for social assistance, packaging and delivering free food, going to the pharmacy, helping people in official quarantine and running our toll-free helpline.

We also helped recruit volunteers for the community-based planning of Déri Miksa utca where a total of 16 volunteers helped with flyering, surveying, door-to-door recruitment and other smaller things.

Under the second wave of the pandemic in the fall, we worked again with volunteers to help Józsefváros residents in need. At the moment, we have 22 active volunteers who help with the toll-free helpline, walking dogs, shopping for the elderly, putting up posters, packaging and delivering food etc.

In December 2020, we created a strategy for comprehensive volunteer management. Our aim is to have a solid base of volunteers who can help the local community outside of the pandemic, too.

Our work during the pandemic has been acknowledged by two organizations: The Hungarian National Association of Local Authorities (TÖOSZ) has included our project titled “Community help network under the pandemic” among the 19 best practices in Hungary. Our spring volunteer activities were awarded with a certificate of excellence by the Volunteer Center Foundation.

b)    Józsefváros Comes Together

We created the Facebook group Józsefváros Comes Together where members of the local community can help and inform each other. Today there are 1100 members of the group.

c)    Supporting local businesses and civic groups

We have put out calls for small local entrepreneurs, family-owned businesses and civic communities to promote their services and activities and to encourage local residents to support the local economy. In the spring, 34 local entrepreneurs joined our call.

d)    Collecting donations

We have coordinated numerous municipal campaigns to solicit in-kind (e.g. canned food, detergents, disinfectants, nonperishable food items, equipment for digital learning etc.) and financial donations to support the residents of the district in need and we supported the similar activities of other branches of the municipality

e)    Community development among dog owners

In 2010 we started the first steps of a long-term community development process to find those dog owners who are ready to help us create a district with less dog poop on our streets and a better relationship between people with and without dogs. We assessed the needs of dog owners with the help of an online and offline survey, talked to many local dog owners and also joined all the relevant Facebook groups in the district. We have been participating in working out the details of a large social rehabilitation EU grant related to the development of dog runs in a specific part of the 8th district.

7. Józsefváros awards

Every year the Municipality of Józsefváros awards people and communities who have contributed to the district in an outstanding way. We participated in the reform of the municipal awards, which are now the following: Honorary Citizen, Order of Honor, For Józsefváros, Józsefváros Golden Wreath, For the Culture of Józsefváros. We promoted the nomination process of the awards in the community and received a total of 84 nominations. Besides, at the proposal of the working group on the civil strategy, the local assembly created a new award called For the Communities of Józsefváros, which is a 100% community award: community members are free to nominate and the final decision is also made through a direct community vote. This year, we received nominations for 12 organizations. In the end, two community organizations were selected for the award with a total number of 789 valid votes.

8. NGOs and community organizations

It is important for the Józsefváros municipality that local communities and NGOs become strong and active. This is why we have created a working group to create the civic strategy of the district, which has not existed for the past 30 years. The main aim of the strategy is to make the cooperation between the municipality and local civic organizations and communities open and transparent.

The strategy was made available for public for review. We received inputs from 12 different organizations, which we included in the final version of the strategy.

In 2020, we also participated in the dissemination of the call for proposals for local civic, cultural, religious, sport and ethnic organizations and we coordinated the independent review of these grant applications.

We also started to build a closer relationships with the civic organizations working in the district. We had one-on-one conversations with the following organizations: Rosa Parks Foundation, How Are You Association, KultDesk Cultural Foundation, Marom Club Association and

We have created an online municipal newsletter for civic organization that we disseminate among interested local organizations.

9. Customer relations

a)     Toll-free number

We started our toll-free number service on March 17, 2020 as a response to the emergency created by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. During the spring, the number could be reached every day between 8am and 8pm and people could ask for any help or information. We also added an online form for residents to ask for help during the first wave of the pandemic. After the first wave, the number’s availability changed to 8am to 6pm weekdays and then during the second wave, it was again available on weekends, too, between 10am and 6pm. During the Christmas period, we boosted the number of available lines to be able to help people who are lonely or need longer conversations.

The calls are received by volunteers as well as employees of the municipality or the municipality’s companies who volunteer for the job. The requests are processed either by the person on duty directly, by the local social institutions or by the maintenance company of the municipality.

Our office is responsible for coordinating the calls, training the volunteers and also for quality assurance.

Between March 17 and December 1, 2020, we received 3500 calls (which corresponds to about 4000-4500 cases because many callers ask for help or information in many different areas).

b)     Management of citizen requests at the mayoral cabinet

Beginning in the fall of 2020, we have started to coordinate a system for managing the requests by local residents who contact the mayoral cabinet by email or mail in cooperation. We regularly monitor these requests, offer solutions to the problems and create statistical analyses to understand the needs and opinions of local residents.

c)     Józsefváros App

We participated in the development of the principles for running the Józsefváros app, an application that helps residents report problems in public spaces more efficiently. From January, 2021 we will take over the coordination of the app with the help of local companies responsible for public security and public space maintenance and other organizational units.

d)    Towards a human-centered municipality and bureaucracy

In the second half of 2020 we participated in writing the Quality Management Manual of the municipality where we have been designated as the unit responsible for the assessment of clients’ needs and satisfaction. We have started to develop a system of customer management that goes beyond the legally mandated minimum and aims to provide services that meet their needs.

10. White papers

a)    Participatory budgeting

In 2020 we created a working group with municipal employees and external experts to write the concept paper for running the local participatory budgeting process. While the economic crisis caused by the pandemic did not make it possible to put this in practice, we hope that the budget of 2022 will make it possible for us to start this long-term process.

b)    H13 white paper

We created a proposal for the reform of the H13 Center for Students and Entrepreneurs to make sure that it truly serves Józsefváros residents including more vulnerable communities and also works in a more efficient way.

11. Partnerships

We have been the co-coordinators of the development plan for II. János Pál Pápa tér, an important park in our district that is full of opportunities for social interaction.

We have been working in close cooperation with the municipal social services system to support local residents under the pandemic and have led weekly meetings with the leaders of local social institutions to design support schemes for the most vulnerable residents.

You can read about the summary and evaluation of four participatory processes that took place in 2020 here >>>

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