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From Local Government to Local Governance

Written by Peter McKinlay on January 25th, 2011.      0 comments

From Local Government to Local Governance.

In countries such as New Zealand, Australia and England we are used to the idea that we elect local governments which then do things to their communities, quite often for reasons which are hard to relate to any community aspiration or engagement. It's probably one of the reasons that voting turnout at local government elections has been trending downwards for a number of years, and communities are increasingly demanding direct engagement in decision-making on the matters which concern them.

We could be on the verge of very significant change. The English government's localism initiative is being marketed as devolving decision-making to the local level and indeed going further - getting government out of peoples' lives so that they can take their own decisions.

But it's not just government. Some of the most far-reaching thinking is coming out of local government itself. The Lambeth Borough Council has just released the final report of its Co-operative Council Commission, The Co-operative Council: Sharing power: A new settlement between citizens and the state. The basic theme is putting the resources of the state at the disposal of citizens so that they can take control of the services they receive and the places where they live. More than just volunteering, it is about finding new ways in which citizens can participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

There is an emphasis on moving from councils doing things to their communities to doing things with their communities, through initiatives such as shared decision-making, participatory budgeting, co-production and a long-term objective of transferring most decision-making to a mixture of employee and community owned organisations. This is not just some form of hand on heart do-gooder approach; it is a serious and constructive approach to a wealth of research demonstrating that the effective design and delivery of services which impact on the quality of life of local communities is best undertaken in partnership with those local communities.

And this is not the only sign of an increased emphasis on community participation from within local government. We are just commencing a project [we could put in a link here to the what's new bit I am just about to do] with a series of Australian partners looking at different approaches to community governance. It will compare and contrast two different and growing practices: local authority led community planning for individual communities within the local authority district; and the community planning initiative of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank's community banking network - an exciting development in local governance.

Straws in the wind? Or the first signs that the nature of local government and local governance (and as a consequence also of the way higher tiers of government interact with the societies they govern) is going through fundamental change, and that governance itself may be shifting from essentially top-down to bottom up?




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