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“It is essential that communities have the means to act!”

  • Tuesday, April 28, 2020

  • Blog cover image

    "Who could have imagined one day that the French would be asked to stay home for several weeks?" Sébastien Prévot, chief of staff in the city of Saran opens the doors of his town in confinement. He talks about the difficulties experienced, the worksites that are now priorities, and the expectations of local authorities with regard to the government.

    A democratic voice full of humility and relevance.

    Through a series of interviews, Fluicity introduces you to "The voices of democracy". The voices of those who embody it, and the ways in which democracy itself lives, questions itself and reinvents itself.

    Collectivities: Visual showing an elected official to illustrate the series of articles "The Voices of Democracy" by Fluicity

    1. What does a city in lockdown look like from the perspective of city services? Tell us.

    A city in containment is a city at a standstill... but not at a complete standstill. Missions have changed or adapted.

    Most services are closed, it's true. You can't go to the pool anymore, or file a building permit, for example. The administrative services continue to work from home, as much as possible. The most active are the regal services like the Civil State, the Police, the services to the person.

    We have on our territory a private hospital, an EHPAD, health care institutions, liberal health professionals and the regional hospital of Orleans nearby. Therefore, many Saranais work in health-related professions! We continue to welcome their children in our structures. This necessarily implies the presence of municipal animators, school catering staff, maintenance service for cleaning and disinfection of the premises... A semblance of ecosystem is maintained!

    The town hall also runs a home for the elderly and 27 social workers continue their activities with the elderly (home help, meal delivery).

    So many municipal services continue to function, but in a degraded mode, so to speak.

    2. In what way has this crisis challenged your practices and your reference points within the town hall?

    In Saran, the human link and the direct contact with the town hall has always been important. This is part of the history of our city. Each time a digital service has been set up, its purpose was to offer an additional tool, never to replace the real contact. With an imposed containment, all this "non-virtual" functioning disappears.

    That's when you realize that digital tools for information, exchange or discussion, have their place at the local level. It is a plus to already have tools in operation. The earlier a city invests in these tools, the more it will have a solid user base, which can only grow.

    In Saran, not everything has been perfect, but we are doing pretty well in terms of keeping in touch with the population. However, I see 2 major difficulties.

    1. Lack of information to communicate. The cities learn, like everyone else, what has been decided by following the speeches of the President or the government. We are not the first to hear the announcements and a few minutes later, we are already questioned by residents about what has been said... Apart from doing educational work, we don't have many solutions.

    2. in our internal organization. Remote work for agents has never really been implemented in the city hall, especially on a large scale. The same goes for the elected officials, who were for the most part present every day in the town hall. Containment forced us to find makeshift solutions. But we will have to think about it calmly: the implementation of organized technical solutions will be a big job to be done at the end of the containment.

    3. With the crisis, what changes do you see in the role of local authorities?

    Everything I have just said proves the essential role of communities in times of crisis. City halls and mayors are the closest to the people, who naturally turn to them for advice and answers.

    But for this to happen, it is essential that communities have the means to act. For several years, everything has been done to remove the decision-making centers from the inhabitants. By transferring the prerogatives of city councils to more complex structures that are less close to the inhabitants, such as metropolises, or by drastically reducing their resources, it is more and more difficult for us to respond to the legitimate expectations of citizens.

    Will this crisis make people aware of this and, without necessarily going backwards, soften this recentralization in large technocratic structures? The future will tell.

    4. We have all been able to observe the reactivity of citizens in the face of the emergency and their solidarity. Can you tell us about the citizen and solidarity actions implemented in Saran?

    As soon as the confinement was established, inhabitants spontaneously offered to bring their help in different forms. In the small structures or when the town halls do not have a strong public service, this help must have been essential.

    Sebastien Prevot, Director of Cabinet in the community of Saran

    Sébastien Prévot, Chief of Staff, Saran City Hall

    In Saran, we have the culture of local public service and we were able to rely on the municipal staff to ensure solidarity. Voluntary residents were directed to charitable associations, such as Secours populaire and Restos du coeur.

    We also participate in an inter-communal initiative to make cloth masks. We have launched a call for volunteers on Fluicity, so that everyone can make masks according to their abilities.

    It seemed important to us to allow the inhabitants who wished to do so to be able to invest and feel useful. We suspect that after the confinement, the daily routine will not allow them to give so much of their time. But if this allows some to want to continue in this way, it is always good to take.

    5. The municipality is already experienced in participative approaches since a few years, with the "Saran 2000" project and then via the Fluicity platform. Has your vision of citizen participation evolved since the crisis?

    Not really. Who could have imagined one day that the French would be asked to stay home for several weeks? For the moment, the communities are in an emergency management. Everyone hopes, and I am part of it, that once this crisis is over, we will regain our freedom of movement and be able to live normally again.

    There will certainly be adaptations in our way of life and functioning, but it seems premature to say that we will radically transform our functioning before the crisis. Like many other subjects, citizen participation has adapted to this crisis and I think that it will find, for us, the way it was before the confinement.

    6. What would be the first thing to do for a community wishing to set up a dynamic of co-construction with citizens? Advice?

    For citizen co-construction to be effective, we must be ready to hear what the inhabitants are going to tell us. Sometimes, they will propose things that are unfeasible, because they do not know all the constraints of the administration.

    Let's take the time to listen to them and ask ourselves questions. Let's not get bogged down by even the most outlandish and complex proposals.

    Then, let's turn to the experts. Let's trust the municipal services who will allow us to bring their analysis and to reflect on the proposals of the inhabitants (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, risks...). The final decision will be made by the elected officials.

    In Saran, we started small by asking the inhabitants about simple themes to be put in place (choice of a playground for children, location of a book box, etc.). Then we started to implement simple projects proposed by them, such as the organization of an eco-citizen walk to clean our streets and public spaces.

    Our next step will be to work together on larger projects: the complete development of a neighborhood for example, or the implementation of a participatory budget

    "The voices of democracy" continue to be heard! Discover our interview with David Carmier, Deputy Director of the Cabinet of Mr. Sébastien LECORNU, Minister in charge of local authorities.