Improving Government responsiveness in Croatia – key to meaningful citizen engagement

Published on: 10/08/2015
Last update: 09/10/2017

The general problem we wanted to tackle was the wide spread attitude among citizens and CSOs that taking part in public consultations is meaningless as they rarely find out what happened with the comments the send to Government bodies.

So, the focus was on regaining public trust and motivating citizens and CSOs to get involved in public policy making. In addition to improving the legal framework for the right to access information and establishing and independent Commissioner for access to information, it was essential to improve how the Government responds to citizens' comments on laws, other regulations and acts.

Therefore, a new requirement was integrated in the Government's Rules of Procedure obliging all Government bodies to submit, with their draft legislation, a report on the process of publis consultations, containing feedback on all received comments - whether they were accepted or not, and if not, explaining reasons why not.

We basically institutionalized the concept "We asked - You said - We did" in everyday practice of Croatian Government bodies.

Description of target users and groups

The initiative targets the public as a whole or rather all the citizens. In that sense it was the very idea behind the intiative to involve as many citizens as possible and to do it in a way that is open to all. Specifically, building the process of consultations the procedures in place were designed not only for citizens as individuals but also for groups of citizens, such as interest groups, organizations and businesses.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Implementing the 2012-2013 OGP Action Plan, the Croatian Government adopted the Amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Government of the Republic of Croatia (Official Gazette 121/2012), stipulating that all draft proposals of acts and other regulations that are part of the governmental procedure have to be accompanied by reports on consultations with the interested public.

The goal was to create an obligation for the public bodies to provide citizens with the information on the policies they are proposing but also to integrate their input into the final drafts of legislation.

Thus the decision was made that a draft legislation cannot be submitted to the Government without also reporting on the process of public consultations. Moreover, the new Law on Access to Information, which entered into force in March 2013, introduced additional requirements for all public bodies (at national, regional and local level) not only to proactively publish all draft acts for public consultations, but also to publish reports on outcomes of consultations.

Reports must include feedback on all received comments, which includes explanations in cases when comments are not accepted.

These new normative requirements proved to be essential for Government responsiveness and a key factor of regaining citizens' trust and willingness to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the Governement in procedures of developing new public policies. The second complementary part og the OGP reform process pertained to establishing an institution which will effectively promote and ensure the right to access information.

The goal was to not only change the legislation in order to enable the best possible standard for accessing information but also to provide a mediator between the Government and the citizens and an office where citizens can report ig their requests have not been answered.

In order to ensure sustainability and to reduce the problems with Government responsiveness in this field a new Act on the Right to Access to Information (Official Gazette 25/2013) describes in detail 15 items which have to be published by a public authority in an easily searchable format on its web page.

Main results, benefits and impacts

The goal was to engage citizens on one hand and to ensure that their requests and their input is taken under consideration in the best and quickest possible manner. In 2013, a total of 374 public consultations were held. This is a big increase - almost 160% compared to 144 consultations in 2012 and 675% compared to 48 consultations held in 2011.

A more proactive and responsive approach of Government bodies to public consultations also resulted in increased interest of citizens, as 8,299 legal and natural persons submitted their commets to draft proposals of acts or other regulations in 2013 (an increase of 73% from 2012 and of 4,697% from 2011).

In order to ensure that the citizens receive the information they reqiure the Act on the Right of Access to Information was harmonised with the the Croatian Constitution for the purpose of exercising the principle of transparency and access to information, and elements of the European Commission Directive 2003/98/EC on the re-use of public sector were integrated into it.

The Office of the Information Commissioner has been established. Croatia thereby gained a government official elected by the Croatian Parliament for a 5-year term. In this way, not only has the function of an independent body for the protection of the right of access to information as a body of second instance in resolving complaints been strenghtened but its competences have been defined in detail, particulary concerning access to clasified data and implementation of the test of proportionality and public interest.

Return on investment

In addition of ensuring legal requirements for Government responsiveness, we have developed training workshops on conducting meaningful and effective consultations that have been integrated in the regular program of the State School of Public Administration and are continuously conducted and very well attended by all government bodies.

Public consultation coordinators have been appointed and trained in all ministries and government bodies, as champions of consultations across public administration. Regular coordination meetings of all public consultations coordinators are organized in order to ensure continuous peer-to-peer support.

Based on previous efforts and lessons learned, new central system of public consultations will be soon integrated into the new Government portal. Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs produces regular annual reports (adopted by the Government) on performance of all ministries in regard to accepted standards of public consultations, with special emphasis on the quality of feedback.

It is through combination of all these measures that sustainability of this initiative will be ensured.

The Constitutional Court brought a landmark decision abolishing an act that didn't pass proper public consultation stating that "it is democratic character of procedure of adopting an act that can make it constitutionally acceptable or not", thus contributing to optimism regarding sustainability.


Type of document
Open source case study