City governments and mayors in the region are now facing difficult challenges arising from climate change, economic transformation, and demographic shifts in their cities.

Sustainable development – particularly in cities – must be both environmentally responsible and socially inclusive. This is especially true for the Europe and Central Asia region, wherein more than two-thirds of the population resides in urban areas.

City governments and mayors in the region are now facing difficult challenges arising from climate change, economic transformation, and demographic shifts in their cities. As a result, these officials are experiencing increasing pressure to find sustainable solutions to transforming urban centers into resilient and sustainable communities – doing so by reducing energy costs, improving quality of services, reducing waste, providing socially inclusive urban environments, and creating economic opportunities for their citizens.

When social accountability mechanisms are in place, cities are able to provide better services to their citizens, particularly for the poorest and marginalized citizens. These mechanisms are, essential, tools designed to increase transparency, citizen participation and feedback (often by employing Information and Communications Tools – ICTs), and methodologies that can accurately cap­ture and quantify the needs and demands of citizens so that service providers and policy makers can make informed decisions about sustainable urban development.

In an effort to appropriately design these mechanisms representatives from local government, civil society, and the private sector gathered on March 19-20 in Skopje, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to learn more about social accountability and to hear how ICTs are used effectively in increasing accountability, improving service provision and enhancing citizen dialogue. Participants in the Local Governance in Service of Citizens: Strengthening Social Accountability Workshop came from five selected cities from South East Europe – Durres in Albania, Banja Luka and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Skopje in FYR Macedonia, and Pristina in Kosovo.

During this discussion participants also learned about the findings from the Social Sustainability and Accountability Initiative, which was developed by the Europe and Central Asia Social Development Department in collaboration with the World Bank Institute’s Urban Practice and the Urban and Water Department of the Europe and Central Asia Region.  This initiative is part of the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Sustainable Cities Initiative and the World Bank-Austria Urban Partnership Program.

The main objective of the Social Accountability Initiative was to increase knowledge and awareness of social accountability issues among city stakeholders and assess the current social accountability mechanisms in place in the selected municipalities and discuss with the participants opportunities and constraints to develop new approaches and ICT tools to improve collaborative governance aspects at the city level. In the long term, this shall contribute to strengthening the integrity in public service in the pilot cities.

The cities shared findings from their assessments and pointed out some of the specific challenges they are facing, such as a lack of trust in local government, increasing apathy among citizens toward their local governments, and, according to one participant from Durres, the problem that “the Municipality [is] often seen as totally detached from its citizens.”

Representatives of these five cities and other key stakeholders from Non-governmental Organizations, central and local government officials, and representatives from local government associations from South East Europe, were given the unique opportunity to exchange ideas, share good practices from other cities in the Region, and develop proposals for each pilot city.

As stated by one participant from Prishtina, this initiative “came exactly in time, as this issue has not yet been discussed in the Municipality Prishtina.”

The Workshop aimed to support and encourage participants in clarifying strategic areas for reform that are both relevant and viable and ultimately help transform subsequent ideas into concrete action plans.  These action plans will be discussed during the NALAS International Municipal Fair in Fall 2013.