Falun – Democracy City
Unless you’re interested in the history of mining or are a keen winter sportsperson, you may never have heard of Falun. It lies in the heart of Sweden, around the “Stora Kopparberg” - the “Big Copper Mountain” - which once produced two-thirds of all the copper used in Europe.
Why? Because effective people power matters more than ever, and recent constitutional revisions in Sweden and the European Union have strengthened citizens’ initiative rights at local, regional and transnational levels. Backing these developments, the Falun City Parliament decided in 2011 to launch the “Democracy City” process. With the support of all the political parties in the “Fullmäktige” – the local parliament – Falun has begun the work of establishing an “infrastructure for citizen participation”. The purpose is to encourage, facilitate and support its citizens in becoming truly active members of a town in which “every vote counts” on election day and “every voice is heard” at all times.
On the way to becoming a “Democracy City” the elected all-party “Falun Democracy Commission” has outlined an initial roadmap featuring five main areas:
1) Democracy CentersWithin a participatory infrastructure a variety of interactions between citizens and institutions will be enabled: information, consultation, dialogue, influence and co-decision making. As a support measure, these varied forms of interaction will be allotted specific physical space at the various public library venues of the City, offering places for communication, meeting, consultancy and formal decision making on election day. By this means, the public, non-partisan, and non-profit making role of public libraries will be combined with the need for highly accessible spaces for local democracy beyond the existing established venues such as private homes, party headquarters, association premises and coffeshops.
2) Democracy NavigatorsWhile the citizens of Falun enjoy a host of different rights and tools for making their voices heard, most people have little knowledge of those rights and of how and when they can be used, and for what purposes. For this reason it is proposed to establish a new functional position in the public service of the City – that of Democracy Navigator. Such officials could serve at the Democracy Centers and, of course, also on demand – by phone or electronically – to guide interested citizens through the often technocratic and complex world of local politics and administration. Establishing and offering such non-profit consultancy to the citizens will underline the administration’s welcoming attitude towards active citizens, but also make the interaction between citizens and institutions more efficient – a win-win situation, in fact.
3) Young DemocracyReaching 18 years of age means becoming an eligible voter in Falun and Sweden. Suddenly you can not only elect your representatives or organise/support a citizens’ initiative, you can even become a representative yourself. Beginning this new and important role as an active eligible citizen needs to be carefully prepared. It is a critical moment for our democratic system: if young people do not begin to use their new rights in the first few years of political eligibility, there is a risk of them being permanently lost as active citizens, since habits of passivity are hard to change later. So Falun Democracy City intends to invest in wide-ranging youth democracy programmes featuring Youth Democracy Ambassadors and local democracy teaching materials and curriculums for the municipal schools.
4) Falu Democracy WebSince the birth of Web 2.0. online interaction has become a much better implemented feature – further underlined by the emergence of the social media, whose users are much more often ready to also become involved as active citizens. For this reason the development of online features will be made available for democratic interaction in a much more comprehensive way than today, adding transparency, information giving, and constructive interaction to municipal affairs in a strategic and longlasting manner. Falu Democracy Web will become the online back-up platform for all possible expressions of active citizenship as well as a forum for dialogue between citizens and the institutions.
5) Democracy NetworksFalun City is, of course, not alone in Sweden, Europe or the world to invest in a participatory infrastructure. In many other towns, regions and countries fascinating efforts have been and are being made to bring the people back into politics between popular votes, with such features as new online consultations, participative budgeting and public meetings between citizens and institutions. With modern democracy needing to be upgraded in a economically globalized environment, the City of Falun is intensifying its active participation and leadership in relevant networks and organizations on all political levels – bringing together “Democracy Cities” all over the world.
In summer 2012 Falun City decided on a “Democracy Action Plan 2015”, which indicates clear milestones ahead. For more information on “Falun Democracy City” please contact Bruno Kaufmann (Chairman, Democracy Commission).