On the occasion of the International Day of Democracy and building on the work of its Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights and the International Observatory on Participatory Democracy, UCLG gathers the voices of its membership around the world on emerging priorities to reinvent participatory local democracy agendas.
From the Durban World Summit to the Pact for the Future
Bringing together local government reflections on how the next generation of local participatory democracy will look like and what will be their role in shaping this transformation has been a key priority for UCLG for a long time now.
Building on the Durban Declaration, the UCLG membership committed to face the global trends in the decade of action by being more attached than ever to the origins of the municipal movement and as guardians of democracy.
The 2019 Iztapalapa IOPD Conference provided an initial space of exchange to address these goals also after right to the city and human rights approaches.
Throughout the pandemic, the IOPD and the CSIPDHR provided new spaces of collective reflection within the larger UCLG community and the Durban acquis, including the Manifesto on Transparency and Open Government. On one hand, these discussions focused on the evolving role of participatory democracy practices within local governments’ responses to the crisis. On the other hand, these also addressed the impacts of the crisis on the most vulnerable and excluded, uncovering the links between participatory democracy, urban equality and territorial justice.
At present, UCLG is aiming to contribute to the renewal of the social contract that will need to underpin the new Common Agenda promoted by the United Nations through a Pact for the Future, that is based around three axes: People, Planet, and Governments. The axe around Government aims to define governing in partnership, by placing communities at the core of the decision-making mechanisms, building peace and prosperity. The transformation of the international system and the development of a next generation of multilateralism are key priorities.
Read the thoughts of our leadership feeding our policy. Share your thoughts with UCLG-CSIPDHR and the IOPD through the global conversation at #DemocracyDay!
- Advancing democracy and human rights from the bottom-up
The local level and local actors are paramount new frontiers to protect, revamp and advance participatory democracy. This is key to tackle the disruptive political and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the long-term democratic crisis. Local environments are home to adaptation, innovation and cross-fertilization, where residents build their political values based on conviviality and self-government.
« As we begin to enter recovery, we cannot forget that universal accessibility is a human right and fundamental to promoting more equitable planning and to realizing a recovery that works for all people. Accessibility for all is not a new priority but I believe it is now urgent »
Mohamed Boudra, Mayor of Al-Hoceima, President of the AMPCC
« As cities and regions, we are ready to drive forward the transformation we believe in. We believe in taking decisions hand in hand with our communities that allow us to promote peace, human rights and equality agendas. Care must be at the heart of our work as mayors, but also at the heart of our development models: Giving a voice to the voiceless, prioritizing life and defending solidarity »
Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona and Special Envoy of UCLG to the United Nations
- Addressing inequalities and exclusion: Leave no one behind
Since their inception, local participatory democracy practices aimed at addressing inequalities of all kinds. The process of renewing these practices is now recognizing both old and new forms of exclusion while fostering the participation of those who participate less after social inclusion goals. Enshrining the rights-based approach can help local governments enhance the social impact of these measures.
« Participation is a key feature of our social inclusion policy. Our participatory democracy projects are especially aimed at fostering youth engagement and the development of most deprived city areas. We equally integrated migrants’ association in local policymaking, as to ensure that our relationship with this community is not only based on providing support, but fostering also their civic engagement and belonging to the city »
Imen Ouardani, Deputy Mayor of Sousse
« We need to understand and take to heart the reality that migration is neither new nor reversible and that migration flows will increase in the coming years. Indeed, local and regional authorities have a crucial role in supporting migrants’ inclusion and removing barriers to their contribution to the local fabric, and to ensure they are seen as our neighbours»
Carola Gunnarsson, Mayor of Sala, Vice President of UCLG for Europe
- Achieving more balanced territories: Leave no place behind
For participatory democracy mechanisms to truly reach all residents, local policies are increasingly implemented in a decentralized way so that all city areas, especially those more deprived, can have easy access to participation channels. These efforts are linked to participatory upgrading processes and often result in a rebalancing of resources towards better addressing spatial inequalities within the city.
« How can we motivate everyone to participate? Our local participatory budgeting experience was based on raising awareness at the neighbourhood and community level as well as on decentralizing deliberation processes. It was only at the conclusion of the process that we celebrated a final meeting gather representatives from all neighbourhoods »
Achille Azemba, Deputy Mayor of Douala 3 (Cameroon)
- Being part of a culture of participation: Building citizenship through Culture
Participating in local public affairs and city life at large is a meaningful pathway to build citizenship and residents’ political awareness. The local level is a fundamental space to foster a culture of participation across society, based on recognizing different forms of civic engagement and learning to respect differences and celebrate diversity. Overall, this is key to combat populism and demobilization.
“We need a broad cultural perspective, deeper dialogues on the relationship between humanity and nature, on scientific research and evidence, on the time and resources we devote to cooperation and solidarity. This can help us work to heal the wounds of the past, and lead the way towards creative cities and societies.”
Uğur İbrahim Altay, Mayor of Konya, UCLG Copresident
« We adopt an affirmative approach to participatory democracy, fostering residents who tend to participate less to join spaces of civic engagement. To do so, we created participation mechanisms targeting specific groups, adapted our communication strategy so that it recognizes our residents' diverse needs and established more solid partners with associations working on human rights awareness at the local level. Our understanding of participation is intertwined with that of human rights education and full citizenship »
Emmanuel Carroz, Councillor of Grenoble
- Renewing residents’ trust: More accountable governments
Today, democratic institutions face exceptional legitimacy challenges propelled by disruptive political, social and technological processes. Introducing participatory democracy practices can help renew residents’ trust, while reinforcing government efforts to become more accountable. Local governments are an ideal platform to promote this action plan given their proximity to residents’ day-to-day priorities.
« Policy discussions must begin from the local level and close to the citizens. Even though the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and had a disruptive impact over government agendas, it also opened many opportunities to work with civil society and residents »
Johnny Araya, Mayor of San José and UCLG Copresident
« The Regency of Wonosobo introduced a human rights law which allowed us to foster participatory democracy mechanisms. This allows local government representatives and residents to engage in dialogue, including representatives from different areas and vulnerable groups. The pandemic taught us to adopt a more affirmative approach »
Fahmi Hidayat, Human Rights Director of Wonosobo
- Enshrining accessibility: Caring for everybody to be able to have a say
Local governments count with a good experience in creating specific institutions dedicated to fostering the participation of those who find participating in public affairs more challenging (migrants, youth, women). These efforts are increasingly incorporating universal access and caring approaches so that no resident is left behind from public affairs due to administrative, social or economic barriers.
« We need to overcome structural barriers to participation in decision making by carrying out decisions in a holistic manner and through inclusive mechanisms »
Madelaine Alfelor, Mayor of Iriga and UCLG Treasurer
« Developing local participatory democracy mechanisms allowed our local government to better identify hidden social realities and ways to address them. We therefore became aware of the importance of putting in place mechanisms that can help everyone to participate. However, we first need to recognize how not everybody finds access to these mechanisms»
Ilhem Ben Sala, Councillor and President of the Municipal Council for Participatory Democracy of L’Ariana
- Coming together with self-organized residents: Commoning
Local governments can find inspiration in the right to the city to better recognize grassroots-led initiatives as alternative forms of participation. Formal and informal channels of participation can benefit from each others’ potential to mobilize residents' efforts to improve the urban environment or social care tasks. There are many ways by which local governments can provide support to these initiatives: offering formal recognition or material support, introducing democratic standards…
« Local government officials face mistrust by many residents. We have to work inside the institution to address this, but also outside of it. We have to ensure a balanced relationship with all associations and grassroots’ initiatives, so that no one can affirm that his or her voice is more important to that of the rest. It is also a matter of enhancing our democratic culture. Helping residents feel more entitled to have a say in how the city should be or how we could get there. Democratic participation can help residents gain confidence and self-esteem »
Rocio Lombera, Director of Participation of Iztapalapa
- Ensuring an inclusive and accessible digital transition
The pandemic propelled the shift towards digital mechanisms of participation as alternatives to physical spaces of participation. Digital innovation can help reach larger audiences and enhance accountability. However, it can’t replace the social function of physical spaces of participation (accessibility, socialization…). Digital participation should firmly address the digital divide and build upon open-source software to ensure transparency and non-commercial standards.
« We recognize our local government agenda as modern, sustainable and feminist. We are in favour of open data and becoming more accountable through online channels. However, we must remain aware of all tools that can reproduce inequalities and benefit only specific social groups. In Latin America, the digital divide is so big that we can’t base a participatory democracy process in online participation only. In fact, I believe our priority should be to take back the streets and participation in the public space due to its social function »
Fernando Collizoli, Director of International Relations of Quilmes
«As we enter the recovery, we need to ensure that digital technologies are no longer seen as commodities but as part of the commons, the public goods that belong to all. The smart cities and regions that we need will only be possible through empowered citizens. »
Jan Van Zanen, Mayor of The Hague, UCLG Copresident
- Addressing the climate emergency through climate justice
It is clear that we are starting to learn how to live with the climate emergency and that this will affect especially the most vulnerable: how and where they live in the city. Participatory democracy can help bring more attention to their needs according to climate justice standards. It can also help channel mobilization in favour of climate action, providing more legitimacy to local agendas on the ecological transition.
«We need to transform our ways of living, our consumption and production patterns while protecting our common goods for the current and future generations. We need to change the mindset and the existing relationship we have with our surroundings and natural ecosystems. This means that the recovery processes have to be done with us, local and regional governments, in dialogue with the National authorities and through a different relationship with the multilateral system.»
Li Mingyuan, Mayor of Xi’an, UCLG Copresident
« Cities are largely responsible for this climate crisis.. This means they must assume a leadership role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Many local governments are already taking innovative measures in this regard. Citizen participation must be a tool for transformation at the service of the fight against climate change. We must coordinate and stimulate collective intelligence to build more sustainable cities and territories while raising awareness among the population and political leaders.»
Marc Serra, Councillor of Citizen Rights and Participation of Barcelona
- Placing democracy and rights at the heart of sustainable development
In adopting participatory democracy and human rights as policy priorities and guiding principles for local action, local governments make a bold statement in favour of what kind of world they want to live in and how can we advance towards it. Co-creation, self-government, inclusion, equality and diversity are necessary values to ensure a meaningful and coherent implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and local actors are ready to provide a significant contribution to this goal.
« It is the task of the international system to recognize the difficulties we will face and to contribute to the transformation of the current international system into an inter-urban system that will take advantage of the strength of our territories and that can contribute, through dialogue between the spheres of government, to the next generation of multilateralism »
Thembisile Nkadimeng, UCLG Co-President
« Citizen participation is a central ideal of any democratic political system, even though this ideal changed over time. At present, there is an urgent need to rethink our assumptions about representation and address the growing disengagement many residents feel from democracy. To understand the needs of these dissatisfied citizens, we first need to bring public administration closer to their doors through proximity networks. We must understand their reasons and then co-create solutions. We must learn how to do it: Cities are schools of democracy; places where we care for it every day through words, but also actions »
José Manuel Ribeiro, Mayor of Valongo and member of the UCLG Policy Council on Opportunities for All, Culture and City Diplomacy