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International workshop report: How Local Governments Support Citizen Engagement

Author: Willie
Published Date: 20 February 2008

This report is from what is thought to be the first international event to focus on the roles played by elected representatives and government officials in enabling citizen engagement to work, organised by the Institute of Development Studies and held in the UK between May 29 and June 4, 2007.

Around the world over the last decade, we have seen an explosion of interest in creating more participatory forms of governance. At once seen as an approach to revitalizing democracy, delivering local services and regenerating local communities, participatory governance involves a shift from narrow ideas of local government to broader concepts of community governance, in which multiple actors play a part in public policy and the delivery of public services, from the neighbourhood, to the local and sometimes to the regional levels.

In the United Kingdom, as in many other countries, there has been increasing recognition of the need for a policy framework that supports citizen engagement in local governance – an agenda often referred to as ‘new localism.’ In October 2006, the Department of Communities and Local Government published its Local Government White Paper, entitled ‘Strong and Prosperous Communities’, which emphasized the importance of strong local leadership, empowered citizens and responsive services. Community participation is seen as central to these changes and the Government intends to encourage and support them, not only in the most deprived neighbourhoods, but across the board. The White Paper sends out a strong message that communities should be able to influence decisions, take direct action if they so choose, seek redress where services are failing and call providers and politicians to account.

Similarly, in July 2006, the Department for International Development released its White Paper on ‘Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor’. The White Paper emphasized that the fight against poverty requires governance institutions that are characterized by capacity, accountability and responsiveness, and also argued for the active involvement of empowered citizens.

Similar calls for participatory governance, in which government officials, elected representatives and citizens work together, are emanating from dozens of other policy statements, including from the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, the Council of Europe, and United Nations agencies among others. In many countries, changes in legal frameworks now enable participation in local governance as a right of citizens through requirements for participation in planning, joint decision-making, monitoring or budgeting processes.