LPSA Thematic Working Group on Local Democracy & Inclusive Governance – Open Meeting – March 4, 2024

LPSA’s Thematic Working Group on Local Democracy, Inclusive Governance and Community-led Development aims to bring together government officials, policy practitioners, scholars, civil society organizations, and citizens who share an interest and expertise on local democracy, inclusive governance, and community-led development. The LPSA Local Democracy, Inclusive Governance and Community-led Development open meeting was held on March 4, 2024, 8:00 AM ET; 1:00 PM London; 2:00 PM Berlin; 3:00 PM Johannesburg; 4:00 PM Nairobi; 6:30 PM New Delhi; 8:00 PM Bangkok.   

The meeting was led by LPSA Co-Chair Augustine Magolowondo, Chief of Party at Democracy Works. Augustine initiated the discussion emphasizing the importance of diverse perspectives on local democracy and inclusive governance. He outlined the purpose of the conversation as sharing experiences and understanding of local democracy.  The meeting format included two 15 minutes introductory remarks from each panelist followed by open contributions and reflections.  

The first panel speaker Prof Colin Copus, an emeritus Professor of Local Politics in the Department of Public Policy, De Montfort University and Director of the Local Governance Research Unit critiques the ineffective decentralization in England, highlighting its centralized control, confusing council structures, and lack of true autonomy for local governments. Despite promises of devolution, power remains concentrated at the center, with new entities like combined authorities bypassing traditional local governments. The system is plagued by political dominance, limited fiscal autonomy, and an image problem, hindering genuine decentralization. Copus warns against emulating England’s flawed approach, urging policymakers to learn from its failures and adopt a more open, democratic model for effective decentralization. 

The second panel speaker Esteban Szmulewicz, a lawyer (Universidad Austral de Chile), Professor at Universidad Católica del Norte (Chile), PhD Candidate at Leiden Law School (The Netherlands), currently a Fellow at the Salzburg Global Seminar, and Researcher at the Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo (CED, Chile). He highlighted positive developments in citizen participation and access to information, praised by international institutions. However, he noted challenges such as the gap between legal advancements and their implementation in local governments, exacerbated by territorial inequalities. Szmulewicz emphasized the dominance of mayors over city councils, limiting oversight and exacerbating centralization. He also stressed the importance of inclusivity, particularly in gender representation, which lags at the local level compared to national politics. 

Nicholas Travis, a public finance specialist and part of the LPSA Secretariat presented findings on the subnational governance structures in Sub-Saharan Africa using LPSA’s LOGICA framework. He highlighted the diversity of governance models and the limited autonomy of many local governments. Travis emphasized the importance of functional responsibility alongside autonomy for meaningful empowerment at the local level, impacting service delivery and urbanization. The panel discussion was followed by 30 minutes of Q&A sessions moderated by Augustine Magolowondo. He concluded the meeting with closing remarks, invitation to interested individual to join the working group as co-chairs and the details of the next quarterly meeting. 

A video of the meeting is available on YouTube. The links below provide access to the video segments of the different agenda items.

The next Local Democracy Working Group open meeting scheduled on May 8th, 2024. Reminder: You can join any LPSA Expert Working Group free of cost and receive reminders and updates by opting-in to one or more working groups as part of your LPSA Membership registration

No.Agenda ItemContributor
1.Welcome RemarksAugustine Magolowondo
2.Perspectives from Around the World
United Kingdom (see slide deck)
Chile (see reflections)
Colin Copus
Esteban Szmulewicz Ramirez
3.Informing the Debate: Initial Exploration of the State of Local Government Institutions in AfricaNick Travis
4.Q&AAugustine Magolowondo
5.Closing & Any Other BusinessAugustine Magolowondo