“Empowering Citizens, Building Communities” - Local First Initiative, Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Morgan Blair Post date: Feb 03, 2016


Since the Dayton Peace Accords were drafted and signed in 1995 to put an end to the three and a half year Bosnian War, it has become increasingly important to stress the significance of developing stable institutions, rule of law, human rights and respect for minorities in order to cultivate and guarantee democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)[1]. The Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has operated in the region since the conclusion of the war, and has been striving to create and consolidate durable and sustainable peace and democracy in order to address former grievances and prepare for future challenges.

The OSCE has developed and implemented a number of projects in the region from a variety of angles in order to strengthen democracy. The Local First Initiative was launched in 2009 in an effort to engage the local communities and increase their influence in local and federal politics[2]. The OSCE posits that democracy begins at the local level and it is therefore essential to not only provide locals with an opportunity to make their voices heard, but also ensure that they can make a difference.

The Local First Initiative can be broken down into the following key goals, objectives and components:

  • Goal: to deepen citizens’ engagement with municipalities in order to ensure an equitable and accountable allocation of public goods and services.
  • To promote citizens’ ability to make demands of their local municipalities, hold them accountable for their promises, and to mobilize action to improve their communities. To teach municipalities the institutional capacity necessary to respond to the demands of their citizens in an efficient and transparent manner.
  • The project consisted of seven components, each comprising of a number of different elements; there was no requirement to complete all seven components.
  • Most municipalities focused on one or two components, which usually included the Municipal Assembly/Council Support, Municipal Management and Accountability, and Media/Communication.
  • A majority of the participating municipalities completed their specific components, but the OSCE faced difficulty in implementing the Youth Access to Employment component.


The main problem the OSCE hoped to address was that although there had been improvement of governance at the municipal level, it was often not uniform among citizens and therefore made for uneven stagnation and mobility[3].  Certain groups of citizens were often left out of the governance process, so the Local First Initiative became an effort to change the approach to meet the needs of both civil society and the municipalities. The OSCE hoped to improve the level and quality of engagement between the locals and their respective municipalities. Each component addressed issues that may have been particularly rampant in certain municipalities especially government unaccountability, marginalized members of society, and ineffective media and communication.


The Local First Initiative included seven components which were offered to the interested municipalities and designed to match their individual needs in order to develop their strategies in particular functional areas. It consisted of the following seven components:[4]

  1. Municipal Assembly/Council Support- create constructive and professional relationship between the executive and municipal assembly/council, place interests of citizens before political or personal gain;
  2. Municipal Management and Accountability- develop core competencies required by an effective, efficient and accountable municipality, demonstrate capacity to manage resources effectively;
  3. Community Engagement- develop the capacity of citizens to make demands of their local governments and take action to benefit their communities;
  4. Inter-Municipal Learning and Support- enable municipalities to identify, cooperate and implement development needs in conjunction with fellow municipalities;
  5. Media and Communication- develop the capacity of the media to act as the communication between the local government and its citizens, serve as a vehicle/forum for the expression of citizens’ views and opinions;
  6. Youth Access to Employment- develop the capacity of young people to take advantage of employment opportunities, help develop a professional network;
  7. Project Management- help municipalities and citizens work in partnership to identify and meet their community’s needs

The flexible approach allowed each municipality to select the component or components that best suited their needs. The implementation process consisted of four steps: first, an assessment/selection of components conducted in conjunction with OSCE field staff. This step was crucial in helping the municipalities to identify development needs and how to best approach those needs. Second, an implementation agreement to identify how the selected components were to be achieved. The implementation agreement was signed by the Mayor and Speaker and ratified by the Municipal Assembly/Council and was therefore considered a commitment by the entire municipality. The agreements targeted a period of up to twelve months. Third, action plans were developed covering a period of at least three months and identified specific, realistic and achievable activities to be undertaken during this period. The fourth step was the implementation of the plans that were to be assessed at the end of each three-month period. Assessment measured progress against the initial implementation agreement and led to development of new action plans for the next three-month period until the component was completed. A key detail to this step was the requirement to publicize results and ensure that municipal assemblies/councils and citizens were informed throughout the process[5].


The OSCE worked with about one to two municipalities per component per field office. At the time, the OSCE had thirteen field offices[6]. The main actors during the implementation process of each of these components were generally the Mayor, Speaker, and Municipal Assembly of each of the municipalities[7]. For the Inter-Municipal Learning and Support Component in which municipalities who had identified similar issues and were linked to support one another, individuals were identified to represent each of them[8]. These individuals were usually the most competent in the areas addressed. The Youth Access to Employment Component involved a number of young people in the identified areas who lacked economic stability or opportunity. Training staff was provided to these individuals to help them start a business or create a support network[9].


The Local First Initiative project was completed in 2012 ahead of the October municipal elections. While a vast majority of the participating municipalities completed their specific components, there were still some that did not have all the procedures and practices in place for effective and accountable governance[10]. The 2012 elections brought a great deal of negative political discourse and subsequently slowed progress in local governmental reform. Since then, however, many new administrations have showed renewed commitment to build upon and sustain achievements of the Local First Initiative[11].

For the most popular components, Municipal Management and Accountability (MMA), Municipal Assembly/Council Support (MA/MC), and Media and Communication (MCC), the OSCE worked with about 14, 20 and 17 municipalities respectively over the four-year period. Implementation generally took less time for the MCC component[12]. Of the 14 municipalities engaged in the MMA component, 8 achieved all governance standards. The remaining made progress but failed to achieve all elements of the component. The Mission also assisted 17 municipalities in the MCC component, but only 10 met the required standards. Of the 20 municipalities who participated in the MA/MC component, 18 achieved the required standards[13]. Critically, the Youth Access to Employment component did achieve its desired results. Youth employment was and remains a huge issue in BiH and by 2011, the OSCE decided to shift its focus away from this component because they did not have the resources to address a problem of this scale[14]. In 2009, only two job fairs were held (attended by 2000 participants), but a total of 27 municipalities held youth entrepreneurship training workshops (400 participants). 28 people succeeded in registering their own private businesses and 150 young people were employed. These numbers increased only slightly in 2010[15].


In regards to the initial goal set out by the OSCE to “deepen citizens’ engagement with municipalities as a means of ensuring equitable and accountable allocation of public goods and services,” the Local First Initiative can generally be considered a success. In order to “graduate” from the components in which the municipalities participated, each of the elements, which included extensive step-by-step detail, had to be completed. Additionally, the assessment reports were publicized after each three-month period, which helped to increase municipal accountability. A majority of the municipalities who engaged in the MA/MC, MMA, and MMC components successfully completed each of the requirements and made progress in resource management, accountability, transparency, and citizen participation. The main concern following the conclusion of this project is the limited effect the Local First Initiative had on youth access to employment. Although it was and remains to be a significant problem in BiH, the lack of resources proved ineffective when the component was implemented. According to the OSCE project file, among the multitude of problems faced by the young people in BiH, most place unemployment at the top of their list of concerns. Greater attention should be addressed to the youth unemployment problem in BiH in order to create a more active citizenry among the young population.

[1] Ambassador Gary D Robbins, Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina

[2] “Local First,” OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, p. 1

[3] “Local First,” OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, p. 2

[4] “Local First,” OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, p. 3.

[5] “Local First,” OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, p. 4

[6] William Richard, Head of Communications and Reporting Unit, OSCE BiH

[7]  “Local First,” OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, p. 4

[8] “Local First,” OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, p. 32

[9] “Local First,” OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, p. 51

[10] 2012 Annual Report, Local First Initiative, p. 1

[11] Ibid.

[12] William Richard, Head of Communications and Reporting Unit, OSCE BiH

[13] 2012 Annual Report, Local First Initiative, p. 2

[14] William Richard, Head of Communications and Reporting Unit, OSCE BiH

[15] 2012 Annual Report, Local First Initiative, p. 2