Participation – Västerbotten and Yogyakarta – saving lives through citizen dialogues

Citizen dialogues have enabled the partnership between Västerbotten and Yogyakarta in Indonesia to identify ways of predicting outbreaks of dengue fever.

Västerbotten County Council has been using citizen dialogues for many years now in order to understand citizens’ perceptions of medical and health care in the county. The dialogues are conducted both in small settings and in larger, organised meetings. Integrating dialogues was, therefore, a natural response when the Council entered into a Municipal partnership with Yogyakarta in Indonesia.

Yogyakarta suffers from recurring outbreaks of dengue fever, and the ability to act quickly to protect people when the number of dengue cases starts to rise is, therefore, vital. But an early response requires good forecasting tools and efficient communication.

These are the issues that Västerbotten County Council and Yogyakarta City Government have been addressing within the framework of their Municipal partnership.

Working together, they are creating a forecasting system for outbreaks of dengue fever, based on local disease and weather data. The forecasts give the authorities and the local population up to twelve weeks to act in order to reduce the risk of infection.

But the formulation and delivery of the warnings are of key importance in ensuring that people pay attention to and act on them.
“You need good communication within the organisation that delivers the warning, between the organisation and the local community, and between different stakeholders in the local community and population,” says one of the Swedish project coordinators, Åsa Holmner. 

The prototype warning system will now be developed and tested in Kotagede, a sub-district of Yogyakarta.

“Our experience of implementing public health measures in Västerbotten shows that anything we do must be rooted in local cooperation and that if the measure is to be sustainable, it must be perceived as important and relevant to the target group,” says Maria Nilsson, the other Swedish project coordinator. 

The scheme starts by collating written and verbal know-how gained from talking to people working in the health care and medical sector, to the civic authorities, and to Kotagede residents. The idea here is to quantify the need for information, to identify target groups and key functions, and to decide on the correct message and communication channels. 

This is followed by workshops attended by stakeholders in Yogyakarta and Kotagede. The aim of the workshops is to discuss the results obtained and conclusions drawn from the information gathering work. A few selected target groups are also offered education and training.

Both of the project’s parties believe that it has been mutually beneficial. 

Erlita Puspita Sari and Anwar Dwi Cahyono, the Indonesian project coordinators are agreed. “What we’ve taken from this is a new way of thinking. The civic authorities are not “the focal point” – they are “part of a team”. We often used to base our work on our own opinions: now we’re listening more to what other people think.”

The partnership has also given the Västerbotten County Council the opportunity to sharpen its own civic readiness skills. Dengue fever is clearly not a problem in northern Sweden, but there is much to be gained from creating warning systems for such issues as heatwaves and climate-related diseases.

Both parties have also found examining their own operations through the eyes of their project partners to be educational. It has enabled them to identify both the strengths and the weaknesses, not only of their own operations, but of the communities in which they live – and that lays the foundations for development.

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