Sigal Vasser, Lior Tal Sadeh and Heftsiba Deshen
Let us imagine a society based on the following four democratic principles: dialogue, social involvement, participation and accountability. In this society, individuals know their neighbors and understand the other. The unique voice of each person and the important voice of each community and culture has a true place. People learn from each other, act caringly both towards themselves and their environment, take part in shaping the decisions that influence their lives and ultimately sustain mutual relations, based on accountability, with the leadership and institutions of the society in which they live.
Accountability. What a word! Accountability begins with A and ends with Y, that is, full and comprehensive; it is to hear the other’s “account” or expressing your own. It is “accounting” for the other. It is holding the other “accountable”.
To create a society based on a sense of accountability, in the full sense of the word, is a most challenging task, almost utopian.
Accountability is in fact an essential, transformative change that allows being touched and changed by another. The words of renowned Israeli author Amos Oz are beautiful and to the point: “The world is not a museum… touch a stone, touch a living thing, touch the other. How does one touch? If I had to sum it up, I would say: with love. Every man and woman touches one another and even changes one another with their love. As well as parents and their children. Brothers and sisters. People and their friends. Individuals and their culture, heritage and ancestors. People and their homes. As long as the contact and the change are mutual, ‘bidirectional’: while you change the people who are close to you or your environment or your landscapes, prepare to be touched and changed by them. While you shape the world, let the world shape you”.
In a process of change that advances democratic culture, the four principles mentioned above are intertwined and seek to create the change in which we touch the other with love, in which we change and are changed. There is overlap between pairs of principles and between all four of them. Like a Rubik’s cube, we can begin to take action from one direction, one principle, and lean on the other principles to advance the process. In many change processes, the action will incorporate: dialogue, participation, and even activism promotion. Ultimately, we will see as a final product, different expressions of the principle of accountability, between the individual, the community and the system. In other words, accountability between the individual and the community, and between the individual and the system, are achieved when all the other principles are at their best.
In order for accountability to take place, there must be a high and deep level of dialogue, which builds trust. Deep dialogue is a necessary condition for connection between individuals and groups who differ from each other. In a space of accountability, the level of partnership and participation is high (on the ladder of participation). In addition, the product of active social involvement in domains that transcend the boundaries of the self and the group, is often a new interpersonal domain, which gives rise to accountability.
The Democratic Institute developed, with the support and partnership of the San Francisco Federation, a model that works directly and clearly based on accountability. It begins with it and strives toward it at the same time. We call the model: “Gevanim with the Local Authorities”.
In this model, a new relationship is built in three respects – between the leadership and itself, between the leadership and the residents and between the residents and themselves. Two processes occur simultaneously. First, the authority leaders undergo a gradual transformation of changing the roles between the residents and the authority leadership and its officials. Second, the residents undergo a gradual transformation from being customers, consumers of the authority, to residents with a perception of ongoing dialogue and creating shared responsibility. They strive to create a partnership of truth in which they have a sense of accountability towards and with the authority and its representatives.
We will briefly get to know the main milestones of the model and the process on three main levels
The first stage: preparing and building the foundations. This stage includes building the call with the partners from the authority leadership: establishing a small steering committee, defining roles and working methods, establishing a large steering committee for broad municipal backing of the process, establishing work regularities, defining and clarifying the goals, formulating criteria for group selection, advertising calls for proposals and selecting the group members.
The second stage: Creating the group. This phase includes getting acquainted within the group and introducing the group and authority entities, building trust and bringing up expectations from the process.
The third stage: Mapping the domain of action. This stage includes: getting acquainted with the challenges of the space, the opportunities, identifying values of the group members in their connection with the local space, identifying different stakeholders and becoming familiar with their views.
Of course, all the stages are moderated by expert guides. The guidance is such that allows the stages to occur at a high professional level. Guidance that allows building a foundation for a sustainable mechanism for the model, which trains the participants to independently maintain the thinking and action later on. In other words, an integral part of the model is creating shared responsibility, and therefore, the authority’s and residents’ dependence on experts who accompany them.
Such a model allows tailoring a fitted suit for each authority using generic tools. In other words, the process I have described here repeats itself more or less at each site in which the model is implemented, but the challenges and goals vary greatly between authorities.
And what are the results? Officials at the authority gradually learn to become participatory leaders. The residents gradually learn to work in partnership with the authority rather than against it. The head of the authority enjoys the growing trust, the challenges of the defined space are addressed effectively, quickly and professionally, and everyone acquires a sense of meaning. In fact, the model works from the first moment out of a perception of shared responsibility, and throughout the entire process, considerable progress is made de facto toward a culture based on accountability.
However, we must take caution – the model presented here has not yet been tested on enough local authorities. It runs these days in neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Rishon L’Tzion and Rahat. As the experience with it grows, we expect to be able to enhance and adjust it more. This short article should not be seen as a summarizing document, on the contrary, it is an initial document that presents the milestones of a program in formation. Beyond that, if the readers of the article believe they have ways of improving the model and making it more successful, we invite them to respond to it and offer their suggestions.
This article was written on Passover eve, 2022. The story of the exile from Egypt seems to actually be the story of transition from a rigid and criminal hierarchical culture, to a democratic culture. First we must be liberated from slavery, then undergo a complex transitional phase in the desert, struggle with the entry into the land of Israel and its settlement – only then can we begin to build the partnership. Every such stage is perhaps an eternal symbol of a process necessary for transformation from a culture based on power to a culture based on dialogue, social involvement, participation and accountability.
And on a personal note – while writing this article, attacks and threats wage on the streets of Israel. The pain, anger and helplessness have shaken us all. Just before Passover and during the month of Ramadan, we wish us all success in moving towards a culture of accountability, and we hope that the Institute’s various activities, such as the Gevanim model described here, can aid in this process.
[Sigal Vesser and Tal Sadeh are Co-Directors of the Democratic Institute. Hefziba Dashan is Director of the Gevanim Program at the Institute].
 Amos Oz, Love of the Land – Versus Nature Preservation. “Room for Thought,” Jeremy Benstein, Heschel Institute Publications, 2000, 108-9 (In Hebrew).