review identifies strengths and weaknesses of Public Participation Network structures
the department to work with stakeholders to identify priorities and guide future action
Minister for Community Development and Charities, Joe O’Brien, has published the independent review of the Public Participation Networks (PPNs), fulfilling a commitment made in the Programme for Government.
The review of Public Participation Network structures, commissioned by the Department of Rural and Community Development, was conducted by Mazars.
It evaluated current structures to identify any challenges as well as opportunities for further strengthening and enhancing Participation Networks.
Speaking about the publication of the review, Minister O’Brien said:
“I am delighted to publish the independent review of Public Participation Network structures today. It is the product of extensive stakeholder consultation and input. I am pleased to say that over 650 individuals inputted into the process, taking part in a survey, focus groups, and providing written submissions. This speaks to the passion and energy of all those involved in the Participation Networks, who often go above and beyond in working on behalf of their communities across Ireland.”
The review identified the strengths of the Public Participation Network, such as:
it gives communities access to decision makers that would not otherwise be possible
provides a voice for communities in local decision-making
creates strong relationships between stakeholders
it delivers ongoing communication, engagement and information-sharing
It also identified a number of areas where improvements can be made and has made recommendations to address these.
Key recommendations include clarifying roles and responsibilities, ensuring independence is maintained, and providing more proactive and coordinated HR support for Participation Network staff.
The review also recommended introducing a national Public Participation Network coordination structure, which would engage with local development and representation structures such as the local development companies, the Older People’s Councils and Comhairle na nÓg.
Minister O’Brien added:
“I am eager to encourage greater diversity among those taking part in Participation Networks, and in particular in supporting young people to become involved. In keeping with the participative ethos of the Public Participation Networks, my department will now work with the stakeholders to develop a roadmap to guide the implementation process. We look forward to moving together to strengthen the Participation Network structures so they can further contribute to our vibrant local government sector.”
The Department of Rural and Community Development will now work with stakeholders to develop an implementation roadmap to guide any changes to Public Participation Network structures.
Participatory and co-design processes will be used to prioritise recommendations based on stakeholder input, and to ensure a diverse range of views and representatives are involved.
This initiative forms part of a range of measures being undertaken by the department to support the community and voluntary sector, and to empower thriving, sustainable communities across Ireland.
Other notable actions include the publication of the General Scheme for the Charities (Amendment) Bill in April 2022, which aims to improve the ability of the Charities Regulator to conduct its statutory functions.
It will also ensure more proportionate regulation leading to greater public trust and confidence in the charities sector.
The recent establishment of The National Advisory Group on the Development of a Government Policy on Philanthropy in Ireland will also support the sector.
Public Participation Networks (PPNs) were set up on foot of the 2014 Report of the Working Group on Citizen Engagement with Local Government.
A Public Participation Network
is a network that allows local authorities to connect with community groups around the country. The primary function of the PPN is to provide representation for the community sector in Local Authority policymaking structures, giving local volunteers a greater say in local government decisions which affect their own communities. The PPN is the 'go to' for all local authorities who wish to benefit from community and voluntary expertise in their area.
A “root and branch” review of PPN structures was conducted by an independent contractor (Mazars) in 2021 to evaluate the current structures in place. The purpose of the review was to:
assess the operation of the network to date against the overall objectives as outlined in the 2014 Report
identify opportunities for further strengthening and enhancing PPNs
make recommendations as to how to build on existing strengths and support the future development of PPNs
focus on highlighting examples of best practice already in operation and provide recommendations on how these could be replicated across the network where appropriate
The report outlines findings in respect of the PPN structures and also puts forward recommendations aimed at improving them and addressing some of the current challenges.
The review also fulfils the Programme for Government commitment to ‘Carry out a comprehensive review of PPNs to ensure that they are fit for purpose for climate action and community development.’