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Dortmund, Germany

Participation, Politics and Impact

Migrations und Integrationsagentur der Stadt Dortmund

December 19, 2012

Putting a face on the political process and initiating dialogue leads to increased political participation

While 28% of the population in Dortmund have a migrant background, only 5% are represented on the local council. Clearly, their voices are not being heard.

Dortmund, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia with a population of 580,000, is not unique. The gap between political leadership in Germany and the people they serve was widely reported in the 2011 study, Diversity seeks Council: Councillors with a migration background in German cities, by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and Stiftung Mercator). While Germans with a migrant background make up almost 20% of the population (and over 25% in cities), they are significantly underrepresented in Germany’s political parties, parliaments and ministries. On average, only 4% of all council members have a migration background.

Addressing the Problem

To address this gap, the City of Dortmund looked to its 2008 master plan on Migration and Integration that had been developed through a participatory process. Since improving the representation of migrants was already a theme within the plan, launching Politik Mit-Wirkung (“Politics with Impact”) was a natural outcome. The project aims to increase the political participation of ethnic communities, coordinated by the city’s Migration and Integration Agency and its advisory Integration Council (Vorsitzender des Ausländerbeirates der Stadt Dortmund), “Mit-Wirkung” is a play on words, suggesting both “Politics with Impact” and “Politics with Participation.”

The chairman of Dortmund’s Integration Council, Adem Sönmez, had already emphasized the need for a change in the status quo at the official launch of the master plan participatory process in 2006: “The political participation of immigrants is very important. We, as representatives of the migrants, must have decision-making authority and not only an advisory role.”

Putting a face on the political process and initiating political dialogue are the primary strategies used to engage Dortmund’s minority communities. To start the process off, the Integration Council and the Migration and Integration Agency held information sessions with district mayors, city managers, and local politicians to determine their willingness to talk about their political careers. To help participants identify with the politicians, a particular preference is put on politicians with a migrant background. After potential participants are pre-selected for their interest in “imagining their political career,” a public session is set up to discuss all the issues around taking up political work.

Success

The district of Huckarde hosted the first Politik Mit-Wirkung event in September 2011, bringing together local residents (with or without a migrant background) and representatives from three different political parties to talk about their experiences and what role their migrant background played (if any). Their message concerning the importance of political participation of all residents was well-received and many participants completed political party membership applications. Due to the positive feedback from that first event, more sessions have been organized in other districts. Today Politik Mit-Wirkung has become an integral part of the city’s political integration strategy.

Making it Work for You:

  • Find people who want to share their experiences and act as possible mentors.
  • Include politicians from various parts of the political spectrum and who may have different experiences in terms of the role their migrant backgrounds in their work.

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