" /> To listen and to hear: what people know and want to know about decentralization (an essay)

To listen and to hear: what people know and want to know about decentralization (an essay)


Head of civil organization “Society of independent experts”



Information or message


Kakha Benukidze, ex-minister of economy of Georgia, under whom Georgia became the most reformed country of the world, warned, that “once you start reforms, you are facing the risk of provoking public dissatisfaction”, and stressed, that one of the mistakes of his reformative activity was the underestimation of the importance of informing the public.

 Information is the data about objects and events of the surrounding environment, which reduce the level of uncertainty in the human mind, the incompleteness of knowledge, which reflects essential human needs. Obviously, we never say: “I dont have enough messages”. We say: “I need more information!”

 Psychological research proves that if information is necessary but scarce, the gap is filled with fantasies, gossips, rumors etc. Fantasies and gossips, in their turn, can provoke disillusionment in one’s expectations, fears and panic. “It lies and grows sour, like straw, in icy water of futile fury, under belated rains of repentance” (L. Ukrainka).

 Talking about informing, we should have a clear picture of what and how we are going to inform the public about. Every citizen of Ukraine hears messages, which include such words asreform anddecentralization, every day. Yet, it doesn’t mean that reformation process actually becomes more understandable to the majority of average Ukrainians. According to the data of a social survey, recently conducted by Kyiv international institute of sociology, Ukrainians confuse reforms and populism: for most respondents reforms mean rising salaries and pensions, as well as removal of deputies’ immunity.

 Hypothetically, we assume, that people get insufficient information, that does not allow them to understand, which particular steps (of the authorities and of the citizens themselves) are envisioned by reformation process; which consequences can and should be expected from the reforms (by the state and by every citizen). It should be stressed, that people feel the lack of information, and not the lack of messages. Unfortunately, our media, usually, give us too many frightening messages. A successful country is a country, where people feel protected, safe, happy, where they do not feel economically and physically threatened, where they have confidence in the coming day. That is not our case. The messages themselves do not provide any explanations as to how a person can influence the events, what he or she should do, what depends on him/her, and how every person can be involved in the process of social and economical development of the state, and contribute to improvement of his/her life. Sometimes it seems like mass media should be renamed into mass messaging service.

Its the realization of the necessity to improve the mechanism of informing Ukrainian population, which provided me with an incentive for conducting the research to define the basic ideas of an informational campaign on implementation of governmental authority decentralization initiative. The research was initiated and financially supported by the Swiss-Ukrainian project “Decentralization support in Ukraine” DESPRO.

In order to find the truth, one must shed some light upon it

 The research envisioned obtaining not just statistical data, but the widest possible spectrum of Ukrainian citizens’ opinions of authority decentralization. The task was to find out, which meaning was assigned to the concept ofauthority decentralizationby representatives of different social strata, age groups, regions of Ukraine; which particular information on reforms interested the public; what citizens considered the main obstacles and barriers on the way to authority reformation; to what extent people were ready to accept reforms and what they expected from authority decentralization initiatives, etc.

The data collection methods were selected based on the opportunity to freely express one’s opinions in discussion of different topics. The methods included in-depth interviews and group discussions (focus-groups).

 Participants of the research included: journalists from all-Ukrainian and regional media, bloggers, mayors of small towns of Ukraine, public servants, lower-level representatives of local self-government bodies, students, private entrepreneurs, cultural sphere workers, teachers, rural residents, farmers, activists, and pensioners.

Geographical scope of the research covered the following regions: Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Odessa, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv oblast (towns of Tetiiv, Yagotyn, Novoukrainka, Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky, Boryspil, Boyarka, Kagarlyk), Zhytomyr oblast (cities of Olevsk, Korostyshiv), Sumy oblast (city of Putyvl’).

Age: from 20 to 68 (most respondents – 30-45). Gender proportion: 1/1.

Research term: NovemberDecember 2014

 We tried to stimulate discussion participants to share their thoughts, expectations, feelings, concerns, fearsnot just by expressing their opinions out loud, but also through creative (project) tasks. The atmosphere of group discussion, sometimes, produced revelations, findings, and guesses.

The general impression of group discussions, according to almost all research participants, was positive. They perceived the discussion as an opportunity to express their thoughts about the most painful issues, and, at the same time, as an attempt to clarify the unclear aspects of social and economical development of the country.

First I wanted to ask: what is the purpose of all this? Why are the funds set aside? (meaning DESPRO). But now the answer has revealed itself. “because they have political culture”.


During the research it has been detected, that the understanding of sense and interpretation of theauthority decentralizationconcept substantially impacted the attitude towards reforms. The more knowledge and understanding we have, the more positive we feel about acceptance of and personal involvement in the decentralization process. Associations with the worddecentralization” became the brightest proofs of this statement. Positive associations were named by those who could explain the difference between centralized and decentralized authority, give examples of the results achieved by decentralized authority in other countries:  Moving forward, Responsibility, Democracy, Delegation, Justice, Opportunities, Well-being, Self-fulfillment, Self-organizing, etc.

Among those, who identified decentralization with separatism, federalism, events in Eastern Ukraine, Regions Party, the knowledge of the discussions subject was scattered; their perceptions of the sense (essence) of the reform were either very contradictory, or totally absent (mostly, in Odessa, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lugansk, Donetsk oblasts). This group of discussion participants had negative associations: Streamlining, Crisis, Ruin, Dictatorship, Depression, Fear, Chaos, Slapstick, Conflict, and War.

  It was this particular group that changed its opinions to opposite ones in the course of discussion. For instance, the initial statement of a group representative was “Decentralization arises aggression in me… it’s disgusting”. In the middle of discussion he already stated: “Centralization is dictatorship. We should move away from the dictatorship. But when authority at the local level is delegated – it’s democracy, already.  Decentralization is development”.

However, it should be noted, that almost all research participants admitted that their personal understanding of certain state-making aspects in Ukraine was clarified and changed. Some participants realized and stressed that the reasons for misunderstanding and debates during the discussion of any socio-economical problems were not confined only to lack of information. Other reasons for being unsatisfied with the information, available to mass audience, named by the participants, included: lack of trust, belief that the leaders do lead the country towards success, doubts concerning better life prospects for every specific person, lack of understanding of and explanations for certain actions of the state officials.

Generally, people understand well, that decentralization is associated with changes, concerning wide scope of life: development of state, activity of communities, improvement of economical condition of administrative and territorial units, improvement of citizens’ lives, attraction of foreign investments, etc.

 Most research participants are not satisfied by the condition of the present state government. The drawbacks, mentioned by participants, included limited opportunities for development, lack of order and clear plan of action, domination of financial benefit over common sense, lack of stability, constant changes of authority, lack of transparency, lack of public engagement in state-making process.

An interesting comparison was suggested by one of the discussion participants:

Ukraine is a prison with translucent walls. Everyone sees everything, bit no one can do anything, because the opportunities are limited.

According to a part of respondents, the need for authority decentralization reform is urgent: the reforms should be implemented right now, and the sooner the better. The arguments for urgent decentralization included: activity of the civil society, change of public conscience/mentality (as a result of Maidan), longing for change, engagement of youth in social transformations, economical relevance.

 Another part of respondents considered reforms to be premature. The key argument against reforms is the low level of political and legal culture in the society, civil passiveness of the majority of people, lack of educated, responsible, and dignified leaders at the local level. An apt illustration of the statement was presented by one of the discussion participants:

Corruption, violence, and bribery prosper in this country. “Would you like to fight it?” “No, I want to participate in it!” This is the motto of modern deputies and officials.


According to research participants, the key threats, induced by authority reformation (if it is implemented today) are: hampering of the process of population uniting as citizens of unified Ukraine, weakening of the country in the face of a strongcentralizedenemy, abusive exercise of power at the local level, facilitation of local-level corruption,  division of communities themselves into “friends” and “aliens” (during introduction of administrative and territorial changes resulting in uniting of several communities into a single one), complication of access to establishments, which are important for community life.

 Particular anxiety about potential negative consequences of authority reform was expressed by representatives of Odessa, Kharkiv, Lugansk, and Kyiv – those, who identify decentralization with separatism.

 Most participants of the discussion state that communities are not ready to conduct effective policy at the local level. Respondents mention passiveness of communities, low level of general culture, insufficient education level, lack of legal and political culture among rural residents. A very small number of options for improving the situation was suggested. Everyone agrees that we lack a creative unifying idea. People united to fight against Russia. Let us also unite not against but for something!

 More optimistic views of the future (in terms of community activity and mentality changes) were expressed by Maidan supporters from Kyiv, Vinnytsia, and Ivano-Frankivsk. They do see decentralization supporters, who represent their hopes. Among thefriends of reformthey name representatives of business, youth, active officials, territorial communities, which have resources, and are capable of adequate disposal of funds, people, who experienced the advantages of decentralized authority in practice. Here is a statement by a small business representative: “Business entrepreneurs are the most active and daring group. If you don’t hamper us, and stimulate us, we can make a change. Give us the opportunity to make money. We will become the “virus” to contaminate the communities”.

This part of discussion participants is sure, that the community must be the key controller of reforms, while the coordinator’s role must be given to the state. Certain risks of civil control were underlined by representatives of Odessa, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, who provided examples ofcontrollerswith weapons, whom they chanced to meet.

 Most recipients agreed that decentralization of authority was the new rule of state government, and its implementation required new educated young leaders. However, most respondents agree that not all leaders must be replaced, and each case requires individual approach. Only in Ivano-Frankivsk the prevailing opinion is that decentralization must be preceded by lustration.

Most research participants think, that the mainenemyof decentralization reform is (and will be) the Central government. They will be pushed away from the “feeding trough”. They will have nothing to carve-up. That is why, according to discussion participants, the reforms are not actually implemented. There is no political will for them (as most proponents of urgent reforms think).

It was suggested, that decentralization process as a step towards democratic society creation, would also be hampered by Russia.



Specific features of certain components of information campaign on authority decentralization

Information sources

It is very important for people to trust the information source, the person, who takes the responsibility for conveying the key idea, the ways and the outcome of authority decentralization. The person must be a competent and respectable individual.

Informersof this kind, mentioned by the respondents, included: Specialists who write laws; Authority representatives; Journalists; Civil Activists; Representatives of medium-size business, who understand it all with their soul; Representatives of civil organizations, who will deal with it seriously; Specially trained people, who will translate it into understandable language and explain it to the public.

Here is a statement of a young discussion participant:A young, energetic, educated lecturer is needed here, in Odessa, to explain to the youth what decentralization is, how it will be implemented, what the new specialists should be, what the prospects for the youth are, and what we can achieve”.

 Only the participants of Vinnytsia group, as well as one journalist, managed (based on their experience) to name specific competent people, who were able to convey and explain the key points of authority decentralization reform. They were: Anatoly Tkatchuk (Institute of the Civil Society), Volodymyr Groisman (former mayor of Vinnytsia, presentlyspeaker of VR)

Information sense

Analysis of statements made during group studies allowed us to define the main decentralization-related topics, which interested people. What is decentralization, and what is the difference between the decentralized power, emerging as a result of this process, and other authority forms? What decentralization gives to each specific person? Will I live better? What “price” can a specific person pay for the obtained result?

 However, the main demand of the people is the understandability of information.

 According to some people, first and foremost, information must be truthful, objective, and non-manipulative.

An interesting example of manipulation concept understanding was provided by one of the discussion participants: “They suddenly started saying: “Oh, we will have visa-free regime! Cool”! Yes, definitely, cool, that’s for sure! But the question is: “Guys, why are you so happy? Did you really lack just those 40 euros to make your long-waited-for trip? In fact, you couldn’t afford the trip at all!”

The ways of information presentation

The ways of informing people can be different – explanations, answers to questions, demonstration of specific facts, confirming that decentralization is an effective way of life improvement.

 These can be examples of foreign states (discussion participants named Sweden, Norway, Poland, Germany, England), illustrating the benefits of decentralized authority.

 Examples of successful solutions of some local problems from national experience can also be convincing: laying water pipelines, reconstruction of buildings, kindergartens, schools, medical and obstetric centres, etc.

In interesting thought has been expressed: decentralization stimulates people to believe in themselves, have higher opinion of their capabilities, improve their self-esteem, become more active, and unite. An individual must be convinced, that (s)he is needed by the society and by the state, that (s)he can make a difference. Information about the ways of fostering self-esteem, the will to change something and to influence the authority answers the needs of a modern person.

 As for youth, the most influential factor in terms of understanding the benefits of decentralized authority and opportunity to change something is participation in organization of interesting cultural public activities and initiatives. The more people attend these activities, the moreenlightenedpeople we engage, and the more decisions and options we come up with.

Engaging youth in organization of mass activities (such as festivals), solo projects or volunteer movement yields convincing results a mass, in fact, a hundred, of active young people, emerges, who are eager to change things.

 The information must push an individual towards reflecting on the way things are, towards some conscious choice. An individual must realize and understand, what (s)he has to do in order to get an outcome, and personally choose the “price” to pay. For example, they tell me: “In 5 years all the roads in the town you live in will be in perfect condition. But in return, you will have to put aside such-and-such amount from your salary during these 5 years”. Second option: “You do not pay anything, you do not owe anything to anyone, but in 5 years we will have a perfect life!.. Everything will just happen by itself. Third option: “No one pays anything to anyone, but you take the shovel and the rake, and go to work on those potholes on the road once a week”. I choose what I want, and what I think right.

In order to understand the meaning of decentralization, one can use the examples, illustrating the drawbacks of central power (for specific people). Here is a vivid example from the experience of one discussion participant, illustrating how centralized power can contradict common sense: When we were organizing educational workshops, we faced a problem: there was no hall in the village that would be large enough to seat all the people. When we address governmental bodies, we get the answer: “What shall we do if some inspection comes?” They have to submit an application for permission to the raion level. We say: “We will pay you”. Village council heads or school principals work like that at their own risk. Others, fearing the consequences, say: “We will rather do without 800 or 1000 UAH, than have problems or end up in prison”.

 Another example of how centralized authority limits the opportunities for providing public services. We have libraries, which have their given narrow responsibilities, and do not deviate from them. They stay closed and do not function. There is an employee, getting his/her salary from the state, but (s)he does not provide any services to the community. At the same time, libraries with creative librarians do perform plenty of functions and work all year round.

Target audience

 Specific features of the audience should be taken into consideration in the process of informing and creation of a circle of decentralization supporters.

Particular attention should be given to working with youth, starting with the school.

It is important for youth to have some evidence, which proves that decentralization expands the opportunities for self-fulfillment (getting education, job, information).

How can region-specific features be taken into consideration? Analysis of statements made by representatives of different regions demonstrates that these regions are at different stages of awareness of and willingness to accept the innovation (reform). Using the logic, suggested by one of the participants, we can acknowledge, that Odessa is at the first stage – denial; Poltava, Kharkiv, Kyiv (journalists’ group) are at the second stage – doubt; Ivano-Franikivsk is at the third stage – studying, while Vinnytsia is at the fourth stage – joining in.

 One of the discussion participants provides and example of specific features of self-government and activity of communities, solving their problems in Zakarpattia (Transcarpathia).

Recently Ive arrived from Zakarpattia. There is a village there called Zarichchia. The village has about 600 hectares of greenhouses. Every household has up to half a hectare of greenhouses there. They provide early cabbage harvest for the major part of Ukraine.

What is interesting about that? They did not spend a long time under the Soviet rule, like we did, and the Soviet Union did not manage to eliminate the feeling of ownership in them. Some officials wanted to enter the village, destroy those greenhouses and build a greenhouse complex. The whole community stood up and didn’t let them do that. When some subjects they considered unnecessary were introduced into the local school practice, they also stood up and refused to accept it with their whole community, saying: “This will not happen in our village”.

If they see that the roads are damaged (they have 600 lorries in 600 households of that village; naturally, those heavy trucks break the roads, and, naturally, the state does not have the funds to repair them), they unite, street by street. There is an entrepreneur, who has several trucks, and can afford it and there are hosts, who work decently and earn decent money. They unite and make the road for themselves beside their houses… When a new block is built, they build the road themselves.

Of course, some funds are invested by the village council, but it’s just a drop in the ocean.

If you look at the living standard of those people, at their awareness level, you understand that they are not waiting for charities; they are just working for themselves.

An interesting finding in terms of patterns of relations between different regions of Ukraine, in my opinion, is the allegory of family relations.

 Western Ukraine is our grandpa. He constantly maintains the culture in our family. The Father is the Centre of Ukraine. He directs the funds this way or that way. The South is associated with the mother, who constantly procures products from somewhere, and bathes our children in the river.

Information channels

 No doubt, in order to inform the public, one needs to actively engage traditional informing channels: broadcasting (television, radio) and printed ones (papers, magazines). In their suggestions research participants stressed the necessity for creation of a Series of programmes, video reels about people, who successfully implemented something as a result of decentralization.

Beside that, people feel the need for personal meetings with interesting people, who can explain, answer a question, “charge” others with their ideas and notions concerning reforms in Ukraine.

Wed like the people who can explain all this, to come. We want this to happen in an interesting interactive format. We want the people to be able to visit the meeting, first and foremost, to see their idol. But he, in his turn, must suggest an idea for them. For example, for youth it must be a sportsman, or an artist, or a politician, or a TV star.

 It turns out, that people have a need for live communication, for interesting public lectures. Here is the brightest statement: I personally agree to gather people around the Duke, or on Potyomkin’s stairs, providing we will be told something interesting about what to do in order to have a bright future. The youth will attend!

 Naturally, an important information channel (resource) for youth is an online social network. One of the participants of group discussions confessed that she had around 2000 friends on Facebook only. The minimal number offriends, named by other youth representatives was 70.


Criteria of a successful informational campaign


All human relations are based solely on mutual trust. Otherwise, you simply cannot leave your house. Actually, you cannot build the house itself. Without mutual trust any society is doomed to degradation and decline.


Let the fundamental principles be understandable to grandmas and grandpas, as well as to first-graders.

 DESIRE to learn more about the advantages of decentralization and to do something for implementation of reforms in life: information must appeal to people, make them believe in themselves and do something

 CONVICTION in the necessity of reforms

Information, leading to mentality change


(to be continued…)


Next essay will be on the specific features of thoughts on decentralization of the mayors of small cities of Ukraine.