Involving Citizens and Civic Associations in Policy Formation in Estonia
One of the responsibilities of the state in fostering participatory democracy includes involving interest groups in regulatory and decision-making processes on broader terms.
The main objectives for public consultation and participation are creating open and transparent decision-making procedures, increasing the level of trust of citizens, and improving the quality of democracy. Besides these, important aspects also include how to select an organization with whom to consult, the question of timing, giving feedback, evaluation of procedures, awareness of the aims and principles by all stakeholders, balancing the views of different interest groups.
For analyzing procedures and principles in Estonia in engaging interest groups into regulatory decision-making processes and to find out problems and needs, a survey was conducted in 2004 among chairmen of parliament committees and factions, department heads of the ministries and national representative organizations of NGOs and private enterprises. The survey was initiated and funded by the Open Estonia Foundation.
Attitudes towards engaging NGOs are rather pragmatic in Estonia. The idea of setting standards for engaging NGOs is quite novel, as the principles and procedures of engaging NGOs are not yet deeply rooted and parties have different opinions on the necessity of such standards. However, balanced consultation and participation should form a natural part of policymaking and help avoid problems in later stages. Efficiently engaging different interests is rather a question of attitude and approach than techniques.
It is recommended to adopt general rules or principles for getting citizens and NGOs involved in decision-making procedures. Engaging procedures must be open, balanced and transparent. A minimum time for consulting should be agreed upon – no less than 2 weeks, preferably 4 weeks – and feedback should be given to NGOs.