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Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć is promoting transparency and civic engagement at the local level as key ingredients in a democratic society. She is transforming the relationship between citizens and local governments by facilitating dialogue between both parties and promoting the shared benefits of this new relationship.
Democratic changes were introduced in a rush after the political transformation of Poland in 1989. In many instances these changes have not fully taken effect throughout Poland. For the most part, the relationship between public authorities and citizens remains dominated by secrecy and mutual suspicion. During communist rule, citizens were taught to be passive actors in the political realm and therefore, to this day, have developed neither the skills nor the perceived need to be informed about the political process. Most people do not understand the role transparency plays in public life and few think to ask for information that is by law open to the public.
The Citizens Network Watchdog Poland is present all over Poland. Their members are local specialists who have been active in their various fields for years. They live in towns of 5 thousand inhabitants as well as cities of two million habitants. The Watchdog Poland also cooperates with thirty experts: lawyers, sociologists, economists, IT specialists through the resource and knowledge centers and 500 volunteers. They run three Centers: on the right to information, on watchdogs and on local civic budgets. Every year her organization providesadvice on more than 1,000 issues involving access to public information and civil rights.
By raising awareness about the mutual benefits gained from citizen participation in public life, Katarzyna is building a new transparent relationship between institutions and citizens throughout Poland. She is implementing the idea of transparency and participatory government at the local level where it is most visible and most needed. At the citizen level,
Katarzyna finds and trains local leaders as “watchdogs” to
normalize the behavior of citizens asking for information from their governments and taking an interest in public life. At the institutional level, she is introducing the practice of public officials inviting citizens to become partners in the governing processes, thereby becoming truly citizen–oriented.
Through her actions she wants to contribute to a state in which
the administration is reliable and open to citizens’ needs. An
administration that is ready for dialogue and to be controlled by the society, as well to be held accountable for decisions and actions it undertakes. This can only be possible when citizens are both aware and active in the process.
In 2001, Katarzyna was invited by a friend to become engaged in the Warsaw Civic Group and its “Against Corruption” course, where she learned the work of a watchdog. She started interventions in cases involving citizens reporting grievances against institutions in Transparency International Poland.Although one of the cases was successful, Katarzyna understood that through interventions, even on a massive scale, she could not systematically change things. She then began her work to change the culture of public institutions so that grievances by citizens against public institutions do not happen in the first place.