In 2017, The President of Kenya His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta announced his new plan, the ‘Big Four’, to guide the development agenda of the country in the period 2018-2022.

The Big Four focuses on key basic needs that are critical in uplifting the standard of living of Kenyans on the path to becoming an upper middle-income country by 2030. The agenda priorities are affordable and decent housing; affordable healthcare; food and nutritional security; and, employment creation through manufacturing. These four areas are expected to bolster strong inclusive economic growth. Urban areas present the greater confluence of enablers for the delivery of the Big Four.

This comes against the backdrop of a fundamental change in the relationship between Citizens and their government anchored in the Constitution of Kenya (2010), placing citizens at the core of decision-making on matters affecting them. In particular, Article 174c gives powers of self-governance and enhances their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State.
Significant strides have been made by the government towards the institutionalization of public participation amongst them being; development of public participation guidelines and policy and the strengthening of institutions (urban boards and citizen forums - section 22, UACA 2011) as a precursor to improved service delivery. While such efforts are commendable, the nature and mode of engagement however has little convergence in the modes and delivery and approaches amongst stakeholders.

The citizenry now have greater and better opportunities to be involved and meaningfully engaged in the development of their counties and the nation. Citizens groups are deploying various models of citizens’ engagement with varied levels of success. Some of these models have included the Local Urban Forums (LUFs), the Resident Associations, and Community Action Groups (CAG), amongst a host of others.
Experience from these models have demonstrated that four key elements are important for effective citizens engagement; One, is citizens to have confidence and trust amongst themselves and on their government; two, is for a conducive environment to exist that facilitates dialogue and consensus building; three, is for information and knowledge to be readily available and accessible; and, four, is for accountability to prevail at all levels of engagement.
The commitment by the counties in the 5th annual devolution conference held in April 2018 in Kakamega to strengthen public participation in all facets of governance, service delivery and management is a clear indication that Citizens are a key asset and enablers in the realization of the Big 4 agenda. They form the much needed labor force to achieve the Big Four and as well occupy the position of beneficiaries of successful delivery. Besides having opportunities, the citizens have roles and responsibilities in the realization of the Big 4 Agenda. However, the core strength of the citizens lies in their ability to organize and coordinate this valuable asset. Dialogue amongst the citizens sets a good premise for citizens to appreciate and leverage their asset worth to enable successful delivery of the Big 4 Agenda.
As the roll out of the Big 4 Agenda therefore commences, deliberate efforts must be made to ensure effective and productive engagement of citizens. Opportunities, avenues and platforms for dialogue and public participation should be created to enable citizens give their views based on the diverse interests and representation on the implementation of the Big 4 agenda and also get informed on the impact of the agenda. This will not only trigger a proactive and constructive engagement of the citizens with the state actors but assure ownership among the citizenry while ensuring that the ultimate Big 4 initiatives benefits the citizen.
Informed by a dire need to strengthen collaboration amongst stakeholders in the approaches and instrumentation utilized for effective public participation, The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) and Civil Society Urban Development Platform (CSUDP) have partnered to initiate and facilitate urban dialogues in counties anchored on the Town Hall Format. The first series of these Town Hall dialogues seeks to inspire debate on the practical role urban citizens can play towards the realization of the Big 4 agenda within their urban localities.
With “Opportunities and roles of citizens in the realization of the Big 4 Agenda” as the theme,  the initiative aims at providing citizens with a forum to positively identify the opportunities and prioritize their roles in the realization of the Big 4 Agenda at the County level. Through Town Hall Forums, the citizens will engage with the County Government to generate consensus on the Big 4 Agenda and discuss about the roles and responsibilities of both the state and non-state actors.  Pilot Town Hall Forums take place in Eldoret, Kakamega, Kisumu and Kitui with the plan of having similar forums in other Counties. It is only through structured citizens’ engagement that the outcome of the Big 4 Agenda will reflect the hopes, aspirations, roles and opportunities of the citizen.

Henry Ochieng’, CEO, The Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA)
George Wasonga, CEO, The Civil Society Urban Development Platform (CSUDP)