23, July, 2012

Increasing Citizen Participation in Local Governance: Latin America’s Local Citizen Councils

Since the 1980s, Latin American countries have used local councils formed by citizens and public authorities as an effective mechanism to create citizen participation in designing local development policies and programmes.

Local citizen participation has long been acknowledged as a useful tool to enhance public policies: it improves policies’ responsiveness to the population’s needs and quality as citizens make creative and innovative proposals to solve development challenges. In the last two decades, countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru have developed new mechanisms to foster citizen participation at the local level by creating citizen participation bodies, or what we term here, local councils. These are institutional spaces where citizens – represented by civil society or community-based organisations, academics and the private sector – come together with municipal authorities to discuss and make decisions about local development and governance issues. In particular, by allowing greater participation of groups that were historically left out of decision making processes, such as women, youth and indigenous populations, these local councils have made local governance more inclusive and representative. This Brief analyses the experience of local councils in Latin America, highlighting key outcomes, design features and contextual factors that enabled their implementation.

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Key Lessons:

  • Local councils have a greater chance of improving public policies’ responsiveness to the population’s needs when they are plural organisations, where different groups of the community or municipality are represented and where decision making is equally shared between political authorities and citizens.
  • These bodies’ success is more likely if both local government and citizens are fully committed to strengthen citizen participation and allocate time and efforts to these mechanisms.
  • A comprehensive law providing a strong framework can facilitate active and influential local councils.

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