Australia, England & Wales, Global, Ireland, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

Welcome to the family LGiU Australia: why localism and globalism can and must go together

Photo: Hannah Muirhead 2019

This week we are launching LGiU Australia, a new service providing councils with the information, insight and ideas they need through policy briefings, a daily local government news digest and shared best practice. Our ambition is to create a network through which we can share policy innovation from around Australia and from around the world.

This initiative is rooted in our belief that a global perspective takes us to the heart of the local and that localism and globalism can, indeed must, go together.

At LGiU we have argued for many years that localism is important for three reasons

  • Localism has a democratic premium. All things being equal we should seek to give people the most influence possible over the places they live in, the public services they use and the lives they lead.
  • Complex problems are rarely solved by centralised one-size-fits-all solutions. Innovation must be local, responsive to specific contexts and drawing on the creativity and civic capacity of local people.
  • The really difficult challenges we face cannot be solved by institutions (of state or market), or communities or by citizens working alone but require a collective, collaborative engagement of all parts of the public realm.

And of course, local government is essential as the institutional form that facilitates and legitimises localism.

This is a familiar argument. But there’s a risk that it can take us inwards towards a limited conception of place rather than outwards to a global perspective. We need to resist this. Localism is not parochialism and no council is an island. We need connected localism; connected across service areas, across different parts of the public realm and across geographies.

It’s true of course that every place has its unique character and it’s true that local government has different structures and responsibilities. So here in Australia for example, local government is not as dominated by party politics as it is elsewhere and has a primary relationship with state not national government. And everywhere has specific challenges, for example many councils in Australia are still at the forefront of recovery from the devastating bush fires.

But there are also common issues that unite councils across the world both by virtue of our shared humanity and, structurally, because many of the challenges local government faces are global in their scope. Climate change, demographic shock, affordable housing, community resilience, big data, AI, economic development, technology shifts to name but a few: all global trends that come home to roost in local communities across the world and all issues that councils across the world are grappling with.

In that context it makes sense for local government to pool its collective intelligence and learn from the experiences of others. Recent LGIU work has shared stories about community engagement in London, urban densification in Johannesburg, combatting illegal dumping in West Sydney, digital government transformation in Estonia, early intervention on domestic abuse in Scotland and many, many more.

But these lessons are hard won and are not always obvious. It’s not as simple as just sharing best practice (is there even such a thing as ‘best’ practice?). `we have to attend to the hard work of unpicking the skeins of similarity and difference. Sometimes, it’s not about the solutions, but the structure of the problem, the methodological approach, or the questions asked en route to a different outcome.

There are no easy answers; no glib solutions. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz once said; “If we wanted home truths we should have stayed at home”. But if local government is at its best when it is informed, engaged and networked, then we will all gain value from global perspectives, lessons and relationships.


Watch/listen to Jonathan and fellow panelists Ellen Witte and Mark Davies on the video feed from our panel discussion “Tackling Bis Issues Locally” – which was streamed live from our launch event in Melbourne. 

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