LGIU@40 Collection: Participation

Participation is the cornerstone of our democracy and, by extension, local government and its mandate. With turnout at local elections often low and disengagement with traditional politics on the rise, a key theme of our LGIU@40 campaign is participation. What would the effect be on local government if people really participated and were enabled to participate in many different ways?

This collection brings together our key work on the theme of participation, including major reports from our Local Democracy Research Centre, member-only briefings, free-to-read articles and our Global Local newsletter.

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LGIU’s 40th anniversary comes at what feels like a critical juncture for local government. Longstanding challenges such as finance and increased demand on services and infrastructure are butting up against more existential threats to communities like climate change, populism and unregulated, poorly understood technology.

Our LGIU@40 campaign, while utilising our unrivalled experience of working with local government is very much about the future. Identifying three core themes – participation, trust and finance – we have been working extensively with our members and the wider sector on a set of new ideas for how local government could work better in the future. A manifesto – to be published at the end of the year – will provide a blueprint for how we can move from aspiration to action and build the foundations that local government needs to navigate the challenging times we all face.

The challenges faced by local governments around the world are sadly familiar. We have seen pressure on council finances – to the point of failure for some councils in England  and at the same time we have seen hugely increased demand across many of the most expensive core services that local government provides. Without effective participation, a partnership between citizen and state, we’re unlikely to solve these traditional challenges.

Yet the next forty years will bring new challenges to local government. Some are threats: populism and climate change. Some are double-edged swords: technology and a rapid pace of change, globalism, a more connected world while individuals can feel more isolated and communities more polarised.


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Local government finance 💰

This edition highlights innovative practice and shares resources to help you make the best of your budget. We go beyond the bottom line with findings from LGIU’s Local Democracy Research Centre, which is currently exploring local government funding and finance systems from around the world.

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Defending local democracy

Local democracy is essential to national democracy – it provides both the foundation and the mechanics of voting, representation, coordination and implementation of national policy. Critically it’s the aspect of democracy that each of us as citizens is most likely to interact with, but perhaps the least appreciated.  We must be able to engage with our communities to underpin trust in our local electoral administration even in the face of huge challenges and direct attacks.

We’ve recently launched groundbreaking new research on the impact of voter ID  in the UK on these vital systems of democracy and the people who run them. Feedback from electoral administrators has been glowing with feedback about feeling heard and our findings have been shared in Parliament and in the press. We’ll continue to work with our membership around the globe to highlight this vital work.

new provocation piece by Ian Cowie the Chief Executive of the City of Gosnells  looks at how technology could change the way we vote and our collection (link) highlights how councils are using technology to support better engagement and participation. As we have always done, we will be working closely with our members and stakeholders on identifying innovation, testing and curating this learning to share with local governments and their communities worldwide.

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Building agreement on climate action

Scientific consensus around the impact of human behaviour on climate change is increasingly matched by public awareness of the problem. This involves a recognition that while governments have a role to play, for example in negotiating international settlements, setting emissions standards and perhaps even using fiscal instruments to change behaviours, this is matched by personal responsibility for the way we live. Policy-makers need to win people over to support intervention, work with those who feel shortchanged, and persuade those who are unsure, while acknowledging those who disagree entirely with even the concept of climate action. This requires deliberation, debate, education, engagement, and empathy – the ingredients of building democratic consent.

Our recent report launch on Net Zero and Local Democracy: building and maintaining public support showcasing outstanding examples of working with communities in the face of fringe efforts at misinformation, our interview with Oxfordshire County Council as pioneers of climate action, and the range of work on climate governance and effective engagement all highlight the challenges and ways ahead.

The power of participation


We can only meet the profound challenges posed to our current model of local public services through a new relationship between local government and the community and through a vastly increased element of citizen participation in the design and delivery of those services.

There’s a developing consensus around this. And there’s lots of innovation and best practice; there are citizen juries, participatory budgeting, digital engagement platforms and good old fashioned town hall meetings. But there are also pitfalls, setbacks and challenges to overcome.

At LGIU we’ve been working to support our members in developing thinking and practice around participation for decades.

This collection brings together some of our best recent material across different aspects of participation including our Global Local on the power of participation – showcasing LGIU resources on local democratic engagement while asking critical questions about the future of local government as part of our LGIU@40 programme. We know that local government works best when it is connected, informed and engaged and we hope that this collection will support that for our members.


The LGIU Local Democracy Research Centre's work on participation

Net Zero and Local Democracy: building and maintaining public support

This report highlights how local democracy is essential to achieving our net zero emissions, but that maintaining democratic consensus is challenging in current circumstances. We highlight some of the different ways councils in the UK have experienced this and how they are navigating this crucial and sometimes controversial arena, while capacity and resources are at a premium.

Download the report: Net Zero and Local Democracy: building and maintaining public support

The impact of voter ID: The views of administrators

This is a significant new research report on democracy in the UK from the LGIU’s Local Democracy Research Centre and funded by the JRSST-CT. Based on in-depth research with the people who run elections it raises serious issues with the UK’s electoral infrastructure, finding that voter ID has introduced a series of new pressures to a sector already under severe strain.

Read the full report here.

Voter ID report launch recap

Watch the recap of our voter ID launch where Dr Greg Stride from LGIU’s Local Democracy Research Centre summarises our latest report, The impact of voter ID: The views of administrators. This research has been funded by the JRSST-CT.

Watch the recap now.

Delivering participation around the world

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Practical tips to get the most out of your community engagement

As councils across Australia are experiencing financial pressures, SGS Economics and Planning’s Liz Webster draws on her own experience to propose practical tips local governments can employ to optimise community engagement processes, reducing costs while still meeting community and legislative expectations. Read here. 

Rethinking a plural, participatory ‘local state’

Dr Madeleine Pill discusses the state-society relationships of local governance and the need for better engagement between local governments and citizens. This article focuses on creating participatory spaces through institutional innovations, which broaden the range of agency, expertise and resources available to care for place. Read here.

How local government can improve political literacy and democratic engagement

In this article, Matteo Bergamini, CEO and Founder of Shout Out UK, reflects on their recent work with the GLA and sheds light on the ways local authorities can encourage political literacy and democratic engagement. Read here.

Neighbourhood engagement: how local government can effectively deliver participation

Despite legislated participatory measures enacted to enable decentralised government, neighbourhood issues are not always addressed. This briefing focuses on the South African experience of community engagement and participation, but many of the concerns are common to other countries, including the UK, Ireland and Australia. Read here.

Participatory democracy and the role of elected members

Over the last decade, the mechanisms for how citizens can participate more fully in decision making have been strengthened, but what does ‘participatory democracy’ represent for elected members? A panel – including a former president of COSLA, an MSP, and a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh – discuss the issue. Read here. 

Promoting participatory planning in a rural community – the case of Asdee, Co. Kerry

This briefing explores the promotion of participatory planning in rural communities using the village of Asdee as a case study. Read here.

Fingal Migrant Integration Forum – a vehicle for participatory democracy

This briefing looks at the Fingal Migrant Integration Forum, as a vehicle for participatory democracy, which provides a platform through which the diverse voices of the people of Fingal can be heard by the council. Read here.

Young people and democracy

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Are young people losing faith in democracy? It’s complicated…

Evidence shows that young people participate less in civic life than older people, they have low levels of trust in political leaders and they are hugely under-represented on elected bodies. This briefing examines the evidence around young people and their commitment to democracy and looks at both sides of the debate. Read here.

Global Local: Young people and democracy

This edition of Global Local examines young people’s view of democracy and how local government can better engage our youngest citizens. Read the newsletter here.

Youth Assembly on Climate Change – another innovative action underpinning participatory democracy in Ireland

This briefing provides a background into the Irish Government’s Youth Assembly on Climate Change initiative, a representative forum for young people to discuss environmental issues. It details the debates the assembly held with supported research and facilitation, the recommendations created by the assembly, and the successes of the scheme as a whole. Read here.

Improving young people’s engagement in Scottish local government

A legacy report for the Year Of Young People 2018 has been launched, and it gives a snapshot of how all 32 Scottish councils engage and liaise with young people on key issues that affect them. The report aims to fill the void that has led to young people in certain areas of Scotland being left behind in local policy making. Read here.

Hear here: The Perth and Kinross Youth Voice Forum

This article details Perth and Kinross Council’s experience in organising their successful Youth Voice Gathering program. The council showcases the lessons they’ve learned to improve diversity, accessibility and flexibility in the gathering as well as some of the forum’s surprising outcomes. Read here.

How Kirklees Council’s pioneering Democracy Friendly Schools programme is inspiring young people to get involved in local democracy

When the Kirklees Democracy Commission embarked on their exploration of what it would take to grow a stronger local democracy in Kirklees, the experiences of young citizens led to a long term commitment to change things, for the next generation – and beyond. Read this article here.

Technology and it's role in participation

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Using technology for public participation

Public participation globally has been made more difficult by Covid-19 measures. How have local authorities globally adapted to sustain participation? We consider here the challenges and strengths of using technology, including an account of what has been happening in South Africa. Read here.

Global Local: Using technology for better community engagement

This edition of Global Local explores how local governments can better utilise digital technologies to improve public participation. Read this edition here.

Lessons from social media and local government engagement in Canada and the UK

What role does social media play in local government service provision and community engagement? This briefing explores this question and gives examples of how councils in the UK and in Canada have used social media as a means of delivering their message, and engaging more actively with service users. Read here.

Participatory budgeting

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PB or not PB: question time for participatory budgeting

This briefing explores participatory budgeting, universally known as PB, specifically looking into the history of PB, how it is defined, and reviewing many studies of PB around the world. Read here. 

Participatory budgeting – a third sector perspective

This briefing looks at the ways local authorities are involving communities in Participatory Budgeting (PB) and working to meet the Scottish Government commitment for 1% of local budgets to be subject to participatory budgeting by 2021. Read here.