A “community manifesto” is produced collectively by citizens who deliberate and decide on a set of common priorities. It is typically presented to candidates and political parties during a campaign period to secure their commitment to addressing the community’s priorities. In some cases, communities may organize candidate debates to hear from candidates about their plans to address the priorities.
Purpose: Because the community manifesto results from an act of community engagement, it serves to unite the community around shared concerns. In this regard, it can be a powerful tool in influencing the priorities and follow-on actions of candidates and political parties. The heightened expectation that a community manifesto creates can also enliven more citizen interest in the election process and the subsequent performance of elected officials. The manifesto then serves as the basis for ongoing monitoring and community influence over government policymaking.
Considerations: Community manifestos are often considered a viable tactic used by geographic communities at the local-government level. However, manifestos are also created by sectoral interests groups, such as those concerned about health or education. Similarly, manifestos are created by women and youth networks to elevate their priorities and focus political parties and electoral candidates on relevant policy positions at the national level.
Groups have created community manifestos by:
- Developing a questionnaire that asks citizens what they believe the most pressing issues are within their community;
- Disseminating the questionnaire to as many members of the local community as possible, ensuring the inclusion of women, youth, older adults, people with disabilities and other traditionally marginalized populations;
- Collecting the questionnaires and using the findings to identify community priorities;
- When possible, putting the issues up for deliberation and a vote in the community to identify three to four priorities;
- Compiling the priorities into a community manifesto in a format similar to that of a candidate’s platform;
- Presenting the community manifesto to candidates and political parties during individual meetings, public forums and debates; and
- Encouraging the candidates or political parties to respond to the manifesto.
Gathering information about a community’s priority issues can be challenging. Opinions can vary widely, and some issues may be polarizing, whereas other issues might enjoy broad consensus. Simple online survey tools like Survey Monkey8 or Google Forms9 can help to better understand what issues community members agree on and what issues are of highest priority. Data collected through surveys can help ensure community platforms represent the opinions of the community in a way that interviews or roundtables might not fully capture. For more information, see the Section II chapter on data collection and analysis.
In the post-election period, monitoring groups can use community manifestos and public forums to hold elected officials accountable to citizen priorities. It is also a means to continue the dialogue between citizens and public officials to build more constructive relations and establish a participatory culture where issues and ideas can be openly discussed. For example, groups have organized public forums and participated in city council and municipal meetings to discuss progress on citizen priorities outlined in the community manifesto and ways to improve performance, and to incorporate citizen priorities into budgeting decisions. Groups have also organized one-on-one meetings with mayors and municipal representatives. Informed by the community platforms and public forums from the pre-election period, these post-election initiatives foster citizen participation and maintain or increase political space. Though this type of engagement between citizens and public officials usually occurs at the local level, some groups have been able to discuss these issues with national-level government officials.
During Liberia’s 2017 elections, NDI assisted CSOs in organizing their communities to identify a set of priority issues, capture these priorities in a community manifesto, and facilitate meetings with candidates to share the priorities.
8 “Survey Monkey,” DemTools, updated December 16, 2021, https://dem.tools/guides-and-tools/surveymonkey.
9 “Google Forms,” DemTools, updated July 28, 2021, https://dem.tools/guides-and-tools/google-forms.