Local Democracy Research Centre

The Local Democracy Research Centre brings together experts from local government and academia to do practical research on some of the key challenges for local democracy around the World.

We are developing a broad, international programme that engages universities and local authorities to develop new ideas and approaches for governance, municipalism and citizen participation.

Our research is guided and supported by LGIU members around the world and we are seeking partners to work with us on projects, collaborations, research, fellowships, exchanges and PhDs. Please get in touch to find out how you can get involved.

Current projects

Funding systems for local government – international comparisons

The shape and scale of funding for local government has an enormous impact on the real level of decentralisation. Systems of local government finance differ significantly around the world, with varying outcomes for local autonomy. The Local Democracy Research Centre has commissioned experts at the University of Northumbria, led by Dr Kevin Muldoon-Smith, to look at how local government is funded in England, Germany, Italy and Japan. The project will build up a unique system-wide perspective of local government funding in different places and policy areas. The first two reports and a detailed overview of the research are available. Find out more.

The implementation of voter ID

At the Local Democracy Research Centre, we conduct detailed research on the important issues concerning local government and local democracy.

That is why, funded by the JRSST Charitable Trust, we are researching the implementation of voter ID – the biggest change to in-person voting for decades. By surveying and interviewing electoral administrators, we will build a picture of how this new policy, one of the greatest changes to in-person voting in years, has been managed by local elections teams. Find out more about this research.

Building democratic support for local climate action

The Local Democracy Research Centre at LGIU has partnered with Browne Jacobson to investigate local government’s democratic leadership on climate action. The research explored how councils are building consensus and support among local communities for big decisions around decarbonisation, as well as the challenges of doing so in the context of a rising cost of living and other pressures on council budgets.

The final report is available here.

The role of the monitoring officer

The Local Democracy Research Centre, together with Browne Jacobson and Lawyers in Local Government, are investigating the changing role of the monitoring officer in English local government. The monitoring officer’s responsibilities – to ensure legal governance and conduct in local government – are essential for good democratic governance. We are asking a series of questions, including:
  • What are the contextual challenges and tensions for monitoring officers?
  • What are the existing models, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • What skills, capacities, resources and structures does a successful monitoring officer require?

The state of local government finance in England 2023

Investigating the state of local government finance is vital for understanding the capacity local governments have to deliver their essential services, the pressures faced by their staff, and the truth behind the spending decisions councils have to make.

This year the LGIU’s Local Democracy Research Centre is surveying chief executives, council leaders, directors of finance, and council cabinet members for every English council to construct a detailed picture of local government finance in 2023. Find out more about this research.

The future of social care in Scotland

In response to the proposed centralisation of social care services in Scotland we are working with experts at the Birmingham University’s Health Services Management Centre to investigate what the impact will be for local authorities. The proposed reforms generate a set of questions about how the shift to care boards will achieve the goals of realising human rights, supporting people to thrive and ensuring communities that flourish and prosper.

Through policy analysis and interviews, our partners are exploring what LGIU’s Scottish membership and wider stakeholders perceive to be the benefits and challenges presented by these reforms.

Inclusive local economies

This project, with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, will explore the potential to create stable local economies that support strong social and environmental outcomes without economic growth. This work will build on CLES’ recent work on the ‘Future of Economic Development’ and will involve a practice-led commission for local economic reform, which will examine the opportunities and barriers to shifting the emphasis in local economic strategy from growth to stability.

The result will be a ‘roadmap for reform’ for local economic development and strategy, with practical recommendations and steps UK local authorities can take to shift the emphasis in local economic strategy from growth to stability.

PhD – Implementing the National Plan for the Islands

The LDRC, in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands, Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles councils (all LGIU members), has set up and funded a PhD to analyse the implementation of the Scottish government’s National Plan for the Islands. The candidate, Adele Lidderdale, will be working in close partnership with the local authorities. This is an exciting partnership that we hope will be the first of many similar collaborations between researchers and local government.

Parking strategies and innovation

We know from our members that parking can often be a challenging service for local authorities to deliver and one where potentially conflicting strategic aims can intersect. LGIU – supported by RingGo – has been carrying out research into local government parking strategies and management arrangements and the views and awareness of future parking innovations and options. The research was based on anonymised data gathered from a survey of the sector and in-depth interviews with senior local authority parking decision makers. A report – Parking strategies and innovation – exploring our findings (published July 2023) is now available.

Previous projects

Image by jwvein from Pixabay

Devometrics – measuring decentralisation

The LDRC commissioned researchers from the University of Kent to develop a metric for assessing how far power is decentralised across different scales, geographies and policy areas. Paolo Dardanelli and Kieran Wright have assessed existing metrics, which tend to gloss over the range and complexity within local government systems. They built an alternative model to address this gap and tested it through interviews and a workshop with LGIU member councils in England. The final paper, which you can read here, proposes a new framework that attempts to capture the reality of local government autonomy.

Relationships not structures – systems for health and care

In partnership with Browne Jacobson the LDRC has been investigating the role of local authorities within local systems for health and care. We have drawn out useful insights from the wide literature on “systems thinking” and conducted interviews with senior council officers about their efforts to coordinate better health outcomes across local areas. The report, Local health systems: relationships not structures, was published in April with an in-person launch event in Westminster. Read the report.

Climate change – the benefits of adaptation and mitigation

The LDRC has an ongoing partnership with Kildare Council and the Eastern Climate Action Regional Office (CARO) in Ireland, which explores the economic and social impacts of local climate adaptation and mitigation. A case study report was published in 2021 that brought together innovative practice from around the world, along with analysis of governance and political structures that frame local action. The partnership is currently delivering a programme of training for councillors and officers to embed the lessons from the research and to facilitate new approaches among local authorities in Ireland. Read the report.

Place and wellbeing

The LDRC worked with Queen Mary, University of London, to investigate how councils use lenses like “place” and “wellbeing” to manage growth and achieve broad social aims. This work was supported by Research England.
Read the final report. Read the interim report.

Levelling up, governance and institutions

A series of online workshops with LGIU members in England and Scotland, discussing the future of local government as a set of institutions. The project was supported by the James Madison Charitable Trust.


Following the COP26 conference in Glasgow, and building on our work with the CARO and Kildare in Ireland, we hosted an international briefing session on next steps for local government in tackling the climate crisis. In partnership with the Heseltine Institute at the University of Liverpool, the LDRC hosted an online briefing from experts and council leaders focussing on the implications of the conference for local government. Attendees joined from across the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia and the USA. Read a report of the discussion.