The Cork City Public Participation Network (PPN) is a network of community, voluntary, social inclusion and environmental groups active across Cork City. Membership of the network is open and free of charge. The PPN is structured into 3 sectors, when a group/organisations joins the PPN, it is asked to self-select into one of: Community & Voluntary, Social Inclusion or Environment sectors.
The impetus for Public Participation Networks came from a discussion, started by Social Justice Ireland, and developed in collaboration with the then Department for Housing, Planning Communities and Local Government, around the need to address perceived weaknesses in citizen engagement, participative democracy and engagement with local government in particular. Ireland has one of the lowest rates of elected representation per head of capita in the European Union, and there is a very low level of voter turnout in local elections. Non-nationals are also not afforded the right to vote in national election and referenda.
The network meets as a whole at least on a quarterly basis. These network meetings, usually hosted by at the premises of a member organisation, are a chance for member organisations to meet other groups in their areas and sectors, hear about consultations and initiatives aimed at the third sector and be kept up to date with the progress of the PPN work programme. The network has a flat structure and so members and representatives take turns facilitating and running meetings. Member organisations may raise items for the agenda and themes to be discussed. As well as these larger meetings, smaller, ad hoc and topic specific meetings may be organised when the need arises or when a particular consultation needs to be addressed.
The work programme of the Network is determined and overseen by a Secretariat, with approval from the plenary. The secretariat is a steering group who are elected from the members of the network. The Secretariat meets around once a month to be updated by the network coordinator as to the progress of the work programme and initiatives and opportunities which arise.
Member organisations also elect representatives to City Council strategic policy committees, the Local Community Development Committee and the Joint Policing Committee. These representatives serve in the role for the length of the local authority term/ The PPN is often asked to send representatives to other fora. An election process is followed for each one of these.
The role of Cork City PPN is to:
- provide a mechanism for the Council to consult with the public on new plans, strategies, policies, services and other community supports
- act as a platform for groups/organisations to discuss, advocate and contribute positively on issues of common interest
- facilitate the representation and participation of the public on Council committees (i.e.: Strategic Policy, Local Community Development, and Joint Policing Committees)
- provide networking opportunities and act as a hub around which information and ideas is shared
Image: Group shot of the Cork City PPN Plenary Meeting hosted by UCC at the BlackStone LaunchPad, Boole Library, March 2018.
In 2017 the Cork City PPN achieved the following results:
- PPN employed a full time coordinator.
- PPN invited to meet on with the Lord Mayor, the Chief Executive and Senior Management Team of the City Council and all directors of service.
- Representatives were asked to sit on the Steering group of the Cork Healthy City and Cork Community Health Network.
- Membership increased from 90 organisations to 124
- The profile of the network is on the increase, and the voice of the third sector in decision-making is gradually amplified.
Martha Halbert, Coordinator, Cork Public Participation Network believes that the structure for the PPN “has only been in place in Ireland since 2014, and Cork City PPN is a relatively recently operation. However, PPN has taken great strides in its relatively short life span. PPN has significant opportunities for learning as the organisation provides a conduit for public involvement on: plans, services, policies; participation on Council Committees; and a forum for sharing of information and ideas pertinent to the economic growth, environmental and social inclusion of Cork City.”
Dr John Hobbs, the Cork Institute of Technology ecoRIS3 co-ordinator suggests "that the PPN is an ideal programme that local authorities across Europe should be engaging in to take on board the views of their citizens. Through such interactions real social innovation can occur."