Demo Lab 2016: What can Community Reform mean for you?

Jan 25, 2017

Community Reform in Armenia

The urban and rural communities of Armenia are currently experiencing challenging times. This is because the landmark community consolidation reform is in full swing. By 2018, the number of recognised communities in Armenia will go down from 915 to a just a bit over 300.

As with any transition, this process is mixture of painful and hopeful, full of anxiety, novelty and opportunities. New dynamics are produced, not always for the better: competition in elections intensifies; social, cultural and economic interests of different settlements can collide, causing a lot of tension in the process. The reform package, intended to mitigate these effects, does not necessarily have responses to all the emergent questions and issues.

Community residents tend to be the most sensitive to the changes that the reforms will bring. They are affected both in their communication and interaction with local government and in how they access community services. Promises are many, but risks are even more.

At the same time, the reform also creates an opportunity. An opportunities to design a local governance system that is more responsive to the needs of the citizens. This is the thinking behind UNDP’s Women in Local Democracy 2 project (funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), which, among other, acts as ‘gender hub’ for the reform.

Building new communities together

What does this look like in practice? Very simply, it looks like bringing the people we work with together to discuss and design collaboratively ways to make the new, larger communities more democratic.

We call this approach the “Demo” Co-design Lab.

Prior to the Lab, we announced a call for ideas on fostering citizen engagement, cohesion, women and youth participation in the cluster communities, as well improving services of the local government. We received a lot of responses, especially from women and youth we had previously worked with.  Six of the best ideas were pre-selected to enter the Demo Lab and form the basis for further discussion, debate and design.

The idea submitters (with their teams), subject-matter experts, young activists, and local and regional government representatives came together at the Lab to turn the ideas into projects or prototypes. 48 hours later, with lots hard work, emotions, and expectations, 55 participants came up with, six prototypes . Through the process, participants had a chance to visit ‘advice corners’ to share, discuss and validate their newly emerging ideas with the experts in the room.

Finally, the Jury  awarded the following three Demo Lab prototypes with prizes:

  • “#ConnectZaritap” - the first prize winner – aims to form a network of active women and youth in newly-consolidated Zaritap community uniting 9 villages in Vayots Dzor. The model combines learning, cultural and social activities, online and offline networking to ultimately create a citizen participation platform that would enable citizens propose and advocate for solutions to problems of the consolidated community. The “Dialogue Park” project - the second winner – aims at establishing public corners in city parks for informal dialogue and communication between local government representatives and community residents.
  • “B`Comm” - the third winning idea - aims to become a mobile platform for connecting youth in the community with the local government (especially local council members) and serve as a tool for the engagement of youth in community decision-making.

“DemoLab was an opportunity to revive my knowledge and, most importantly, to work with and learn from competent young people, and so timely”, says one of the Lab participants.

Feedback from participants suggested that the Demo Lab format was a big success and worth repeating. It produces projects through collective effort, which are validated right away by all parties concerned. Moreover, most of the participants make the implementing team of the winning initiatives (mostly women and youth). Ultimately, these efforts will help strengthen the culture of collaboration between the local government and the community residents. The rest is simply a matter of time, effort and response.

What’s next?

The winners have already started to bring their initiatives to life. Throughout this process, UNDP provides mentoring support and coaching. News on the results will follow.

To experience the atmosphere of the Lab, check out the video and photos from the event. If you’d like to learn more then get in touch! We’re always happy to share!