Dr Barry Cannon1 Active Citizenship in Central America: creating alliances between local government, civil society organisations and universities in the poorest regions of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Research carried out by: Universidad Católica, (UNICAH), Honduras. Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), El Salvador. Universidad Autonoma De Nicaragua, (Procomin-UNAN), Nicaragua. Regional study coordinated and condensed by: Centre for International Studies, Dublin City University, (DCU/CIS), Ireland. Instituto para la investigación social y la incidencia, (IISI), Honduras. I. Introduction The Active Citizenship Project in Central America, which began running in July 2006, arose out of the need for civil society organisations (CSOs) to have evidence based research to support their lobbying efforts with government. It is also based on identifying Universities in the region as a resource for Civil Society in the region with capabilities that have not been fully explored, and that are ready to contribute by getting involved in structured research. A further motivation behind the running of the Active Citizenship Project was the need to foster networking amongst CSOs in the region, especially in the context of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (commonly known as CAFTA-DR), between the United States and the Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic, and the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and the Central America countries on a free trade association. A fundamental motivation behind the project in this context therefore is to strengthen closer relations between Universities and CSOs on a regional basis. One of the main weaknesses identified in creating such links was a lack of research capacity within universities and CSOs. Most research taking place in the region is 1 DCU directed by the needs of large international cooperation organisations and not on the priorities of local organisations and the universities themselves. This research takes place through consultancies, providing little continuity in research agendas for the universities; preventing them building up expertise in particular fields. Consequently, along with other factors, this limits to an extent the role universities can play in national public life a disadvantage that stands out among the acute social, environmental, economic and political problems that Central American society faces. However, CSOs see Universities as crucial strategic allies in their efforts to participate in the processes of the creation and transformation of public policies. There are six institutions and organisations involved in the Project Active Citizenship in Central America: four universities, UNICAH from Honduras, UCA from El Salvador, PROCOMIN-UNAN from Nicaragua and DCU/CIS from Ireland, and two CSOs, Red de Desarrollo Sostenible (RDS-HN) and IISI from Honduras. As part of a long running cooperation agreement between Irish Aid and the universities, the latter have been providing a diploma in NGO management to local CSOs in the region. This has been judged a success by the partners and NGOs involved as well as Irish Aid and collectively it was decided that the possibility of providing a similar type Diploma to local government in the region should be researched. Consequently, it was decided that some basic research should be carried out in a limited number of municipalities in the poorest regions of the three countries in order to identify the training needs of the Local Councils, with a view to creating a potential Diploma in Municipal management, targeted at municipal experts and civil servants, with the aims of improving their capacity for lobbying, leadership and promoting resources for local development. Furthermore, it was decided that the research project would be carried out by UNICAH in Honduras, UCA in El Salvador and PROCOMIN in Nicaragua, in shared coordination with DCU and IISI, in order to help build capacity for research within those institutions. The following conditions were set for the research: 1) Focus on the role that Universities can play in supporting Local Councils so they can promote development in their local areas; 2) Identify ways in which Universities, Local Councils and CSOs can work together for local development; 3) Identify means to establish cooperation between Universities and CSOs in the context of regionalisation; 4) Carry out the work within areas where Irish Aid has built up relationships, preferably with CSOs funded by Irish Aid; 5) Actively consult CSOs working in the areas of research, draw up terms of reference (TOR) and an action plan and agree on how to cooperate in the implementation of the research, and, 6) Ensure equal status between CSOs and the Universities in research development and implementation. II. Research purpose The purpose of the study was to identify local requirements that Universities can fulfil in order to optimise CSO lobbying impact in activities directed at Local Councils, as well as those carried out in partnership between CSOs and Local Councils towards the State, with an aim to aid local development. III. Products, goals and objectives Among the products, objectives and general goals set were the following: 1) Revise issues on local development in recent literature per country and in Central America as a whole; 2) Develop Terms of Reference and Research plans, per country, agreed by the University and the chosen CSOs in the selected regions; 3) Choose, in agreement with these CSOs, three municipal areas of high priority, having in mind the criteria mentioned above; 4) Interview at least three key experts on the issue, members of organisations and international cooperation agencies, by country; 5) Identify, interview and maintain contact with at least three representatives from CSOs working in each of the selected municipal areas; 6) Identify, interview and maintain contact with at least one municipal elected representative (preferably the mayor) and two key municipal civil servants in each selected area; 7) Draw up a national report, circulate it among the interviewees and adjust it by adding their comments and remarks. The report should include conclusions; suggestions on the role that Universities can play to support Municipalities and CSOs in local development; and suggested indicators to check objectively the efficiency of these measures, if taken; 8) Draw up a regional report, publish it and circulate it through a regional event and other means, among municipal communities, international cooperation, CSOs and Universities. IV. Methodology It was proposed the research be carried out as follows: 1) Bibliographic review: each university revises relevant bibliography, related to local development in Central America and on best international practice. The review should establish the research basis, and should be supported by interviews with a small number of experts on local development that have been consulted; 2) Identification of methodology to gather and analyse the primary information: the tools for research should emerge from the bibliographic review and should focus on the object of study. Interviewing is the main instrument used to gather primary information, so an interview guide, an interview application guide and a report writing guide were developed. In this way quality, reliability and comparison of the information were to be guaranteed as much as possible; 3) Identification of people to interview: each university identifies, in the selected Municipalities and in agreement with the CSOs, at least three municipal civil servants and three key people involved in the decision making of each municipality. Information acquired helps to analyse the following issues: Ways in which the Universities can support Local Councils in their training needs. This is based on information about: training received by the employees and municipal representatives; who provides the training; benefits and difficulties of the training; training requirements by areas; the role played by Universities in this training; difficulties of access to training; obstacles to undertaking actions related to government phases, phases of proselytism and effects of these variables in the relations between municipal civil servants and the CSOs and the citizenship – patronage systems and others. Ways in which Universities and CSOs can improve their cooperation by supporting the Local Councils. This emerges from investigating the existing cooperation between Universities and CSOs in supporting Local Councils; how this cooperation works; how to improve it; other ways of cooperation that could be introduced; how to organise and implement better this cooperation. The double role of the Local Council as actors is taken into account: they demand scarce resources and public policies of the State; and the CSOs and the general public demand resources and public policies of them. Carrying out tasks of local development. The main development tasks of the Local Councils are investigated and analysed; how they are carried out and with whom; how the Universities can support the Municipalities when carrying them out and what the challenges in their performance are. Lobbying issues. The difficulties for the Local Councils in communicating with the central government should be investigated and analysed. Poverty Reduction Stratgies (PRS) implications for the Local Councils; ways in which municipal participation improves PRS; ways in which Universities can support the Municipalities to have an influence on public order and to fulfil their role in the PRS; Research: What is the value of the research for the Municipalities? How can it be used to improve the perspectives of local development? How can the research affect the PRE? How the Universities could provide better support to the Municipalities through the research? Analysis of the information. The compiled information to be analysed, and the national report drawn up. IISI and DCU assess the conclusions and summarize them in a regional report, with the support of and in consultation with the Universities. V. Coordination in carrying out of the research by country and the main findings The selection of Municipalities was organised by shortlisting those that presented the established conditions for the study: those with the greatest level of poverty, focussing on the Poverty Reduction Strategies of central governments and located in areas where Irish Aid works through cooperation with CSOs. Later on, the Universities began a relationship with the CSOs present in those Municipalities and together they selected the definitive Municipalities involved in the research. In Honduras, the Municipalities selected were: Naranjito, from the Department of Santa Bárbara; Gracias and Lepaera, both from the Department of Copán. In El Salvador, Municipalities of Torola and Guatajiagua, from the Department of Morazán, and Cuisahuat, from Sonsonete, were selected. In Nicaragua, the Municipalities selected were Esquipulas, San Dionisio and San Ramón, all of them are from the Department of Matagalpa. In Honduras, UNICAH coordinated with CSOs from the selection of the Municipalities to the collection of primary information, in the Municipalities of Naranjito and Lempira, with the Organismo Cristiano de Desarrollo Integral de Honduras (OCDIH); in the Municipality of Gracias, with the Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales (ASONOG); and in the Municipality of Santa Rita, with Comité de Acción Social Menonita (CASM). In El Salvador, for the Municipalities of Torola and Guatajiagua, UCA carried out the research in consultation with Fundación Segundo Montes; and in the Municipality of Cuisnahuat, with the Asociación El Bálsamo. In Nicaragua, PROCOMIN-UNAN coordinated in Esquipulas with the following CSOs: Cooperativa de Taxis Señor de Esquipulas (COTAERL), Cooperativa Agropecuaria Crédito y Servicio (CAES), Organización de Desarrollo Municipal Rural (ODESAR) and BANCENTRO; in the Municipality of San Dionisio, PROCOMIN-UNAN coordinated with Casa Materna and Programa Campesino a Campesino; and in the Municipality of San Ramón with Centro de Servicios en Salud y Medio Ambiente, CESESMA. The main tasks in local development for the Local Councils studied were: In Honduras, activities related to education, health, infrastructure, roads, drinking water and basic sanitation, production and electrification. In El Salvador, the same issues along with environmental activities; while in the Municipalities of Nicaragua health and education are excluded for being considered issues concerning the Central Government exclusively; budget management and implementation of Taxpayer Law are identified as main tasks also. The main findings of the research are as follows: Local Councils do coordinate with CSOs and, indeed, there is much valuable experience in the coordination of actions for local development. The types of CSOs with which Local Councils studied coordinate their main activities of local development are: in Honduras international NGOs, NGOs involving different committees, community development groups and academic communities have been identified; in El Salvador, while CSOs do coordinate with Local Councils, these were not identified; in Nicaragua, NGO’s such as ODESAR, HUMBOLT, POPOLVUH, Operación milagro and Medicus Mundi, among others, have been identified. Local Councils do have the chance to access resources from external cooperation, in most cases, however, indirectly, through central government. The use of these resources is not set locally, due to the institutional weaknesses of the Local Councils, including incipient coordination with the CSOs. Regarding current Municipal Administration and its relation with International Cooperation, it has been identified that there are financial development workers who are providing technical support for the different areas of work of the Local Councils. In Honduras, their identity has not been revealed; in El Salvador, AECI, JICA, USAID and GTZ have been identified, and in Nicaragua the presence of Catalana, SABADEL and MASNOU has been identified, supporting social projects, such as dining halls for children and schools. Regarding tasks of local development, there is little University presence in the Municipalities studied. It seems that their involvement is achieved more through relations between CSOs and Universities than because of the initiative of the Universities or the Local Councils. Regarding Cooperation agreements between Local Councils and Universities, it has been found that, either there are no agreements or there is no record of the agreement, as in the case of Nicaragua. However the presence of the CSOs in the Municipalities studied is wide and of a diverse nature; there is, however, little evidence of formal cooperation agreements between CSOs and Local Councils, except in one case in Honduras, between the Local Council of Naranjito and OCDIH, for training, municipal management and environment, risk management and gender activities. Relations between CSOs and Universities regarding local development actions in the Municipalities studied are not yet very significant, but it is encouraging to identify that they are emerging and strengthening. The study did find CSOs and Universities in the Municipalities, working on local development, as is the case of ASONOG, in Honduras, which signed collaboration agreements with UNAH-CUROC for professional training, by implementing the Planning and Development Masters. There are also cooperation agreements for the development of the Municipalities, through training and strengthening local departments, and in the area of research. Similarly FOSDEH, in Honduras has signed cooperation agreements for professional training with UNAH-CUROC. Although the shortage of resources is the first difficulty identified, it is not the only limit to promoting local development processes in these Municipalities. Regarding the main difficulties that Municipalities face in implementing their local development tasks it has been identified, in addition to the lack of economic recourses, the lack of logistical support from Central Government, the lack of qualified staff to design and implement projects and specialised jobs, the lack of technical tools and equipment, and even the bad condition of the rural roads have been identified as difficulties in implementing local development projects. Given that the selected Municipalities studied are among those with indicators of greatest poverty and exclusion within their countries, it would be expected that the focus and implementation of the programmes and projects in the PRS frame were reflected in concrete local development activities. However, that is not the case. Regarding the PRS, and relations between Central Government and Local Councils within them, the findings in Honduras and El Salvador and Nicaragua differ greatly due to the fundamental differences in the type of PRS in those three countries. In Honduras difficulties of communication with the Central Government have been identified, there is an excess of bureaucracy, the PRS is not well structured, and it is limited to a payments - submission of reports system, which forces local governments to pay for the projects before getting the funding from central government. It is also considered that the difficulties the PRS has in achieving development in the Municipalities lie in the fact that the PRS doesn’t tackle poverty directly, there are few resources allocated according to the level of needs, and processing work is very slow. Furthermore, there is a lack of planning, links between PRS objectives and projects are not clear, there is a lack of qualified staff and the PRS is managed at Central Government level with little decentralisation to the Municipality. In El Salvador, research shows that none of the Municipalities have a defined strategy for the reduction of poverty or with operative plans addressing this issue. And, similarly, the Municipalities in Nicaragua do not have a PRS emerging from the Central Government; although the previous Government designed a National Plan for Development, the current Government has not continued with it. Despite growing expectations around the PRS, it doesn’t seem that the difficulties that Local Councils face, regarding access to their funds and the implementation of respective projects, can be avoided without the active participation of CSOs and the support of the Universities in the short to medium term. In this way, among the mechanisms required for the PRS to contribute more and better to local development are the following suggestions: to start from municipal strategic planning that allows the development of the potential of the municipalities and its involvement to the requirements of the environment; that technical capacities be developed in local governments; more resources be allocated to poorer Municipalities; technical assistance be provided to develop and implement projects; more time be given for implementing projects; CSO active participation taken into consideration; that there be transparency in the accounts; payments be made quickly, with simple and straight-forward procedures, and with only one payment; PRS be decentralised, among others. The requirements of local councils from the universities are as follows: 1. Training and capacity building, both at university level and technical training, in the following areas: strategic planning; budget design and implementation; municipal management; management of resources; tax and financial administration; policy impact; organisation and social leadership; design, monitoring and evaluation of productive, forest and environmental projects and their impact, municipal legislation: regional planning, environmental legislation, tax and other legislations; production, productivity and agricultural processes, among others. 2. Research is required in socio-economic issues; design of strategies and local development policies; development potentialities at a municipal level; identification of the most vulnerable sectors and options for development; management of micro basins; migrants and remittances; promotion and development of tourism; biodiversity; productive practices and agricultural productivity; local economic development with a gender perspective and its link to PRS; protection of vital elements –water, forest, air; economic investment, social and environmental projects; auriferous studies; marketing studies in the food sector in order to produce better basic grains and milk; revision and update of municipal ordinances appropriate to the economic reality of the municipality. 3. Technical support is required in financial and municipal tax administration, tax collection, auditing, project design and evaluation; municipal management and leadership; agricultural production and production techniques; for irrigation projects in the low lying area; in productive work and planning productivity; preventive medicine; measurement of environmental impact; for the design of content of training needed and evaluation of results; for the recovery of portfolios, implementation of law in national and international cooperation management; in programmes of distance learning and partial attendance, among others. III. Conclusions and recommendations CONCLUSIONS: Local development is a comprehensive process in which the living conditions of all the people in society improve in a sustainable way, materially as well as socially, culturally and politically. The living conditions of most of the people who live in the Municipalities studied in this research show that in these Municipalities the implementation of local development processes is still very incipient or has not started. Local Councils have limited economic resources and suffer severe institutional weaknesses that do not allow them to develop projects that could impact positively in the reduction of poverty in the Municipalities studied, and even less to implement projects or programmes targeted at local development. Local development processes, as an alternative to fighting poverty and the deterioration of human, natural, economic and social resources, involve collaboration, coordination and commitment from every actor present in the Municipalities; in other words, that there is participation from the CSOs and agreement between the Local Councils and the CSOs. These processes need the development of training and capacitation processes, research and technical support directed at implementing and developing better planning, management and management-administrative practices, the same as development and strengthening of management, implementation and leadership capacities in the CSOs and the Local Councils. Local Councils are completely aware that, in order to optimise their local development actions, they need to improve their qualities to plan strategically, to administrate, to manage and to implement local development processes. They are also prepared to coordinate actions of institutional strengthening, education and training that are needed, with the CSOs and the Universities. Though the number of national and international bodies present and working in the Municipalities studied that are involved in local development processes in coordination with the Local Councils are limited, it is clear that this needs to develop in the future. The CSOs, which generate social changes for the comprehensive development of the Municipalities, are responsible for coordinating with the Local Councils and the Universities the actions needed to ensure that local development starts from the perspective and interests of the communities in the Municipalities. There is a clear need to formalise through cooperation agreements the relationship between Local Councils, the Universities and the CSOs, in order to implement the programmes and projects needed for education and training, technical support and research in the different areas: social, economic, environmental, cultural and political, with strategic vision, for local development. RECOMMENDATIONS The research includes the following recommendations about the role that the Universities could play to support the Local Councils and the CSOs in local development: Formalisation of cooperation agreements between Universities, Local Councils and CSOs. In the agreements the partners, in their respective and very well specified duties and responsibilities, commit to designing and implementing programmes and projects of formation and training, research and technical support, with strategic vision, for the local development of each municipality. Involvement of Universities in the Executive Committees which issue the strategic lines of development in municipalities, with full consensus between the Local Councils and the CSOs. Design and implementation by Universities, in close consultation with the Local Councils and the CSOs, training and educational development programmes as well technical support programmes, in issues identified as priorities for optimising local development processes. In general, these are: strategic planning, administrative and management systems, design of feasibility, marketing and agricultural commercialisation studies, and studies in forest management, tourism and in small business; provision of facilitators in strategic planning, management and lobbying, among other issues. Identification and development by Universities in close consultation with the respective Local Councils and the CSOs of each municipal area, of research agendas on the priority issues for local development in each municipality. Among these issues are strategic planning, implementation of management administrative systems, design of diagnosis, feasibility, marketing and commercialization studies, issues for lobbying and policy promotion that affect local development. That the Universities create degrees, diplomas and postgraduate courses with easy access for leaders, technicians, managers and local civil servants and CSOs. The issues must be those prioritised for strengthening the institutions, for the development and strengthening of capacities for planning, management, administration and local and business direction, supervision and measurement of the impact of projects and programmes, and lobbying on public policies, among others.