Citizen Participation Tops Local Government Agenda as Web 2.0 Comes to Baghdad
The USAID Iraq Community Action Program (ICAP) has concluded the second of two week-long workshops to build the capacity of webmasters for Baghdad’s 15 district councils. The training effort comes as the councils work to bolster their outreach to citizens in the capital, where internet cafes and numerous reliable home service providers have arguably made Baghdad Iraq’s most connected city.
The online portal for Baghdad’s 15 district councils welcomes visitors with an interactive map linking to more information on how to contact government offices and inviting feedback. The site has been further upgraded thanks to a capacity building effort organized by the USAID Iraq Community Action Program (ICAP).
With greater access, more residents are turning to the internet as their main source of information while looking for ways to conduct business online—from checking and paying bills to voicing their opinion on everything from politics to the latest music. That interactivity, sometimes referred to as Web 2.0, is also an opportunity for forward-thinking local government officials, who see citizen participation as key to improving public services and, ultimately, fostering stability.
It is also why USAID ICAP worked with each district council to build dynamic websites featuring information about each district, useful contact information and, most recently, a menu of widgets allowing citizens to vote on key public interest issues. The polling functionality has already been incorporated by several webmasters who attended the latest USAID ICAP workshops.
District homepages can be accessed through a single portal at www.baghbaqdcs.org. The pages mirror a broader effort to increase responsiveness in local government, in part through active advocacy by USAID ICAP-supported community action groups, or CAGs. Elected by their neighbors, CAGs provide a crucial link between citizens and local government, which turns to the groups to gauge needs and reflect residents’ priorities in the planning and budgeting process.
To date, Baghdad’s 126 CAGs, representing the capital’s 15 districts as well as specific issues like women’s empowerment and the rights of the disabled, have secured government support for more than 550 community projects benefiting nearly half-a-million Iraqi citizens. More than 150 other projects are in the pipeline.