Citizen engagement and citizen participation are key elements for the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. Calling itself “La Città delle Persone” (the City of the People), the City administration has always addressed people’s needs, concerns and interests, by collecting their views and proposals through formal and informal actions and initiatives.
Immigrant communities, about 17% of the city population with their 40 associations, have their own say but, for various reasons, they are not always able to directly and equally participate in this process. In the frame of the city’s intercultural strategy, in 2011 the administration transformed the existing intercultural centre Mondinsieme (until then a municipal office) into a Foundation with own administrative bodies. With this decision the Municipality intended to strengthen the immigrant associations’ sense of ownership and active participation within the City. The associations are no longer considered as only beneficiaries, they also contribute to shape public policies and actions, in particular through their participation in Mondinsieme’ Assembly.
Convened at least once a year, the Assembly formulates advisory opinions and proposals on Mondinsieme’ activities, programmes and objectives (art. 23 of the Statute). Its meetings are always chaired by the Municipality, in the person of the Mayor and/or his Deputy. It is, therefore, a key opportunity for an open dialogue between the Administration and its citizens with a migrant background. The Assembly also elects its representative within Mondinsieme’ s Board of Director. The Board maintains constant exchanges with the administration, with which it co-designs the City’ s intercultural strategy.
To better structure the dialogue between the associations and the Municipality and to better organise their proposals around specific policy issues, a new participatory methodology was adopted during last Assembly (December 2, 2017). Participants were divided into four work groups, according to their personal interests and to the Association they belonged to. Each group was facilitated by a Mondinsieme’ staff member and by an "expert" on each specific topic. Three of the four themes corresponded to Mondinsieme’ s main programmes: Education, Migrant Reception and Neighborhoods. The fourth theme was proposed and voted by participants and was "Art and Culture" (other topics highlighted by the participants were: bureaucracy, training for newcomers, places of worship). Each group was asked to identify: - weaknesses (-); - possible improvement actions (+).
Aside of this important action based on the representativeness of the foreign communities through Mondinsieme, being an open city requires also broadening the debate and consultation to the city at large. Many other stakeholders encounter, work and manage at the city level intercultural aspects. The need to engage in an open consultation re-positioning and re defining the meaning of being and intercultural and open city was very high, especially at this time in Italy, following the recent negative debate on newcomers and inclusion.
For this reason a broader consultation process based on the same methodology was launched in January (a month after the consultation with associations) through a two day public meeting open to the whole Citizenry (“Noi Altri”, 31 January-1 February). 72 organisations (civil society associations and public institutions) and individual participants (185 participants in total) brought their input on the same topics, adding new perspectives to the vision provided by the Mondinsieme associations. All involved parties welcomed the initiative, which resulted in a true success, addressing the deepest challenge posed to the city at large: in an atmosphere mixing hate and path of closeness, many stakeholders needed to express and give new meaning to their integration/intercultural job and faith. The conference and debate welcomed the difficulties, highlighted the problems of today recommitting the city to guide an intercultural dialogue process in a hard and opposite moment.
The Municipality is now committed to translate such proposals into policies and actions. The Mayor intends to visit the most engaged migrant communities in order to give continuity to such a dialogue, and will call for another important city initiative on openness and intercultural relaunching.
The Administration will report the adopted decisions and actions in a second edition of this event, planned for the beginning of 2019.
Once concluded this first pilot year, the process will be assessed and eventually structured as a standard approach.
This initiative is still in a phase of implementation. Two detailed reports collecting respective outcomes have been written. The first report, related to Mondinsieme’s Assembly, has already been published, while the second one will be soon available. An assessment of the whole process will be carried out at the end of this first pilot year.